When President Yoweri Museveni released his long-awaited new cabinet on June 6, it took everyone by surprise because only days earlier he had laughed off complaints by the Speaker of Parliament about his failure to name a new Cabinet.
Having been sworn in on May 12, Museveni’s Cabinet list has been in the kitchen for almost a month; it will surely be a great aroma to the taste, so everyone thought. Instead, the list has generally with some analysts wondering why he still clings on old guards.
Museveni, 72, who has been in power for 30 years, will be ineligible for reelection in 2021 if the Constitution is not amended by Parliament to remove the 75 years age limit. If the status quo is maintained, Museveni then should be announcing his final cabinet. Ideally, it should be a transitional team; serving the purpose of preparing the country for political succession. The population was therefore looking forward to a Cabinet with their thinking inclined in that direction.
To some, the new list satisfies that requirement to a certain extent but some, it smacks of the same old thinking that focuses on gaining political capital as opposed to better service delivery and preparing the country for middle income status, Museveni’s theme song in recent years.
In the new Cabinet line-up, Museveni retained 37 members of his former team but has increased the Cabinet to 81, including Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda who retained their jobs as vice president and prime minister, respectively. Most of those who have been ousted lost their parliamentary seats. However, Irene Muloni and Kahinda Otafiire have been retained though they lost their seats. They are mature, experienced, and hard working, and have largely kept themselves away from scandals, which makes them good role models to their younger colleagues.
Notable among those dropped was Dr. Crispus Kiyonga, who was an ever present in Cabinet for 30 years. He lost his Parliamentary seat in addition to losing all the Kasese District MP seats to Kizza Besigye’s Opposition.
In trying to read the president’s mind from the new Cabinet, Robert Kirunda, a Law don at Makerere University, says the president is trying to stabilise his cabinet and to show that there is representation from across the board. He however, described some of the appointees on the list as “jokers” who might not go beyond parliamentary vetting. Commenting on the Ministry of Finance appointees, Kirunda observed that the new lot lacks seasoned people in addition to absence of a technical angle to the appointments. Kirunda said the President previously made a right choice for this ministry when he appointed Maria Kiwanuka, who came along with other experienced people. But that is no more. Kiwanuka was kicked out in March last year during a cabinet re-shuffle.
One appointment that has caught the fancy of many is that of re-known lawyer William Byaruhanga as the new attorney general to replace Fred Ruhindi who did not resurface after many years in cabinet. In recent years, that particular portfolio has proven problematic with all the previous occupants of that office going in the bad books of the Uganda Law Society over their controversial interpretation of the Law and the Constitution. Byaruhanga, not being a politician, has been welcomed as a good choice, but the real test will be if or not he will be willing to make unpopular decisions so as to appease his boss.
Another choice that has been hailed as forward looking is that of Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, formerly the director general of health services at the health ministry. As a technocrat, Aceng has been tipped to build on her efforts in the health sector now that she occupies the highest position at the ministry. Given that it is the second-best funded sector, analysts say the choice of Aceng, who is said to be an honest civil servant, was also intended to create confidence in the donors on whom this sector desperately depends for funding.
Similarly, after numerous scandals in the sector, the new custodian for the powerful ministry of works and transport is Monica NtegeAzuba, who has been a member of the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) board. She replaces John Byabagambi. UNRA is still reeling after a commission of inquiry uncovered the embezzlement of trillions of shillings at the hands of former minister Abraham Byandala.