By Andrew M. Mwenda
Before resigning as President Yoweri Museveni’s Principal Private Secretary (PPS) in 2010, Amelia Kyambadde had served as private secretary to Museveni from 1979, spent five years in exile in Sweden and later returned to the same job in 1986. Currently, she is the Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives and the Member of Parliament for Mawokota County North, Mpigi District. The Independent’s Andrew Mwenda and Julius Businge spoke to her about making the transition.
What were your achievements at State House?
When we joined State House in 1986, we found a lot of confusion there because there were no structures in place. The situation there was terrible. We started afresh by putting in place systems to ensure that the President finds it easy to serve the people. As time went on, things got better and eventually we managed to make a breakthrough especially as far as government activism was concerned.
Part of the reasons as to why we succeeded was that we ensured that there was at least proper coordination among government ministries and departments. The main challenge then was the absence of national data and so planning became a very big challenge. By 2010 we had the impression that everything was fine and that all systems were in place for all institutions to perform to our expectations.
So what forced you to resign as PPS?
Like I said, we had a belief that our system, institutions, civil servants were all performing well. But whenever I visited my area (Mawokota) I was never impressed by what I would find on ground. The situation in Universal Primary Education (UPE), health centres, and other infrastructure like roads was bad. Yet, we would get reports from the line ministries saying that things were going well. After realizing that the reports were not true, I started taking special interest in my constituency.
I would visit schools all the time. I found that most of them were half built, some were not even there, pupils sat on stones and teachers were not attending classes. Yet, at State House we used to pride ourselves in figures that many children were in school.
I got so depressed and asked myself what legacy we were going to leave behind. That is when I said instead of being PPS, let me go and be part of the Legislature and argue out some of these things and ensure that we enforce them. I also joined Parliament with the intention of making my constituency a good example for others in the country.
Would you tell the President about the situation on the ground?
Yes I did. He was shocked. That was health, other infrastructure such as roads and schools, boreholes and bridges were equally bad. There were many other challenges and I told the President that these districts were running down this country. At some point he wanted to lockup all district officials but I said to him that was not the solution. I told him we needed to find out exactly what was happening instead of locking up these officials.
The good thing the President listens. I started looking around for help and that is how I started Twezimbe Development Foundation (TDF). I must thank Madhivan who contributed Shs 25 million to that maternity and put in electricity, solar power, running water, did toilets, worked on the floor among other things.
We worked on the facility and now there is a difference. We deliver up to 60 babies a month, which is a good number compared to the past. Now mothers have been attracted from the traditional birth attendants to this health centre. I also gave support to other health facilities in my area.
How would you get this money?
After establishing Twezimbe, I started lobbying for support from donors and other institutions. The President also contributed but I started thinking that the President needed to support facilities in the whole country and not just in Mawokota alone. Many people came onboard and contributed and I really thank them for doing that.
Apparently, we have four sub counties in my constituency and each of them has a Health Centre III, we also have Health Centre IIs. They are well distributed and are now functioning well because of the support they receive from Twezimbe Foundation and the government.
So when you went to Parliament, did you find other MPs having the same attitude as you to be servants of the people?
No, they did not have the same attitude. It is terrible. I have talked to some MPs and some have advised me not to go back to my constituency. They say; what are you going to do? Where are you going to get money from? They tell me; wait until after five years and then go back. Others say they are in Parliament to get rich. So, I have been here asking myself; did I come here to be part of this? I have been frustrated by some of the members.
Any difference in attitude between Opposition and NRM MPs?
I think the Opposition is there to oppose though some are hardworking. There is also what I would call frustrations by the ministries, but it also goes back to the budget allocation. To be honest, I have failed to understand the priorities of some of the sectors and I do not understand the people who allocate funds. Some have enough funds others don’t. We need to think about that and do actual implementation.
In your view as a minister, what exactly is it in these ministries that stops civil servants from delivering to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money?
That is another frustration that I wanted to bring out. We must admit that there is a lot of corruption, which has seriously eaten up the entire community from top to bottom. This bothers me a lot. Two, there is no commitment.
For instance, go to 5th floor at Mulago Hospital and see. I admit they are improving in some areas. But why would it be in that state when you are talking about sufficient budget allocations to these sectors?
Same with agriculture; the institutions responsible are not performing well. That is why I go back to planning, there is a problem. We need to up our game.
The MPs are supposed to hold public servants and ministers accountable. Why are they not raising these issues?
There are issues to do with collective responsibility. Members are not doing what they are supposed to do and that is a very big problem, which needs a solution from all of us. This issue of collective responsibility is not good in my view.
We need to discuss issues affecting the people we represent. It is the reason why they vote for us. We should not criticize the system all the time; we should instead work towards achieving good things for our people.
As an MP and a minister, what does the President say when you report to him some of these issues?
Like I said, the President does listen. When he is told about something in the Trade Ministry, which is not working, he will call me to find out why. He has got that approach. But, I think he needs to punish some of us. If I am not performing let him take action. We are taking things for granted now, we are not performing to the levels the public and other people expect us to.
That is what I find very frustrating. We have to separate loyalty from performance, I think, if I am not performing, the President should let me go home. Some of the nonperformers are fond of running to the President all the time.
I do not do that. Recently, I handled the traders’ strike for five days on PVoC on my own; I did not go to him because I feared the issue would be politicized. I told him to leave me to resolve it. There are other issues I have dealt with without the president’s [intervention.] This is what we should do. We do not need to put him on pressure [unnecessarily].
But when you were at State House and everybody was running to him for every small issue, what was your attitude then and what is your attitude now that you are no longer there?
At that time it was not as bad as it is now. But we would find amicable ways to solve some of the issues. I used to handle some of the issues without even involving him. But now there is a gap. There has been a turnover of PPSs. You don’t have to change these. Someone has to organically grow into that job from within. May be this is not being done, a reason why the President is being involved in everything today.
So, do you think you were making a better contribution to this country at State House than by being a minister and an MP?
No, (laughter) I had to leave. Maybe I did not leave behind a proper succession plan. But it is always my prayer that the team does good work for the President and for the country. I did not have much to contribute there because I realized our people on the ground were not being served.
When you overstay in a place, you start to think that you know everything and you do not want to be advised. When you reach that point then it is better to move on. During my time we had streamlined all departments and everything was well-organized and the President was happy with my team.
Let us come to your ministry here. Do you think our manufacturing sector is growing well?
The sector is growing in foods and beverages mainly at a high percentage but it is not integrated in the value chain. We are trying to guide players to look at the value chain to involve our farmers to supply inputs so they can improve their welfare.
Value addition is our priority and it is what we are preaching to our investors. Our people have to benefit so we can fight poverty. Our ministries need to cooperate and work together so we are able to grow at desired levels. Other countries have actually ensured that these ministries work in harmony. It is something that we should do.
What do you think Uganda should do to resolve some of the challenges it is facing?
We need to adopt a multi-sectoral approach. We have to stop personalizing these offices for the good of our people. Rwanda has a more integrated approach on all these issues; it should serve as an example for us. We need to improve our performance by focusing on what we are doing. When we travel abroad to learn things let us ensure that these ideas are reflected in what we are doing.
We need to bring the young generation, which constitutes 75% of our population, on board. They should play a role in the system because they are the leaders of tomorrow. They do not need to be disgruntled. Let us support the small and medium enterprises and women organizations among others. Let us identify and bring onboard genuine investors so they can contribute positively to our economy.