Looking Museveni in the eye
Economist Fred Muhumuza, who has also served as an advisor to the Finance Minister told The Independent that his anxiety is only about the governor because despite his weaknesses, Mutebile has been that Governor who looks the President in the eye and could push him off certain decisions.
“Technical people are there who can do the work,”Muhumuza told The Independent, “The challenge will be finding someone like that.”
For Finance, Muhumuza said if the president wants; even if Ocailap has reached retirement age, he can hire him on contract.
“Muhakanizi reached retirement but he has been there on contract,” Muhumuza told The Independent.
Major succession has happened before at Ministry of Finance when Muhakanizi took over as PSST in 2013. He replaced Christopher Kassami who had held the job since 2001.
A draft research paper on the performance of the Finance Ministry by Hickey and Bukenya explains that before Muhakanizi came in, at least two other senior bureaucrats who had played a central role in the reform period also left at this time. Another major figure, former Minister of Finance Planning and Economic Development, Gerald Ssendaula, had retired in 2005.
Ssendaula was seen by most as the last of the technically strong and politically respected leaders to hold this position.
Hickey and Bukenya’s paper notes that none of Ssendaula’s successors possessed his combination of technocratic expertise and political heft. Despite some being solid technocrats, none were able to resist the political pressures that Finance was increasingly placed under, particularly in terms of the rising level of supplementary budgeting.
It is Muhakanizi that brought back the reformist zeal last seen under Mutebile.
“He is very good, wants things done, meetings are all to the point, agreement on who does what,” an official is quoted as saying of Muhakanizi in the research paper, “he has brought a lot more vigour – he can wade into the murky political waters with some degree of confidence.” This was partly because of his close relationship with the President.
As a result of this vigour, the paper adds, three major reforms were undertaken during this period, each to address different aspects of the crises identified then; namely the Integrated Payroll and Personnel System, the Treasury Single Account and the new Public Financial Management Act.
These kinds of reforms had last been seen under Mutebile, a seasoned economist and reformer, who spearheaded the design and implementation of the Economic Reform Program that restored Uganda from the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s to much better economic performance while he served as the most senior technocrat at the Ministries of Finance.
“Mutebile was also highly respected, a hardliner, he would tell President over my dead body,” another official is quoted in the paper, “So we technical people were very motivated to work because we knew if we worked hard and did our work it would be accepted”.
In 2001, Mutebile was moved to the central bank as governor.
“When Mutebile proved to be very difficult, he sent him to the Central Bank,” another official is quoted in the paper, “That was the reason, because he (the President) was told ‘over my dead body’. And the whole mechanism softened because the late PS (Kassami who succeeded Mutebile) was not as tough; and Museveni brought in his ministers who would dance to his tune.”
But critics say Mutebile lost that shine along the way.They cite among others, the Hassan Basajjabalaba case amongst other things, when Museveni bailed him out.
In 2011 Mutebile was alongside former Finance minister Syda Bbumba and former Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya accused of irregularly paying out Shs. 142 billion to businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba in a controversial compensation for cancelled contracts to develop markets in Kampala. While Bbumba and Makubuya were later fired, Mutebile was cleared by parliament and stayed on the job.
In another incident in the same year, Mutebile flared tempers when he told a parliamentary committee that President Museveni directed him to draw an unbudgeted US$750 million from the Treasury to buy Russian fighter jets.