By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Massive reshuffle looms as ambassadors’ contracts expire
On June 20, Henry Okello Oryem, the Foreign Affairs State Minister, complained to the Parliamentary Foreign budget Committee that low funding had left Uganda’s embassies and foreign missions broke, giving the country a bad international image.
But Oryem’s frustrations are only the tip of the challenges Uganda’s Foreign Service continues to face. Apart from dilapidated and condemned embassy properties, almost two dozen ambassadors are working without valid contracts.
The Independent has obtained a list showing that the contracts of 20 of Uganda’s ambassadors still in service were expired, while eight expired two years ago. These include Solomon Ruteega (China), Matayo Kyaligonza (Burundi), Joseph Tumusange (Denmark), Ibrahim Mukiibi (Tanzania), Omar Lubulwa Miggade (Egypt), Nimish Madhvani (India), among others. The contracts of Ambassador Elizabeth Napeyok (France) and deputy ambassador Danny Ssozi (Denmark) expired in August last year. Six others, including Perezi Kamunanwire (USA) expired this February and those for Moses Ebuk (Russia), Aziz Kasujja (Saudi Arabia), Charles Madibo Wagidoso (Beijing) and Moses Sebunya, expired in March this year.
The contracts of ten other ambassadors will expire between June and August this year. Only those for Francis Butagira (Berlin) and Mumtaz Kassam (Rome) are still valid, until Dec. 2013 and April 2014 respectively.
MP Alex Byarugaba, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said government must sort this out.
“It makes ambassadors anxious when their contracts expire and are not renewed, even as they continue working,” Byarugaba told The Independent. “Ordinarily if your contract ends and it is not renewed you are supposed to quit because continuing to work without renewal is an illegality itself.”
The MP said the issue also caused audit queries.
“We brought this anomaly to the attention of the appointing authority through our report.”
Byarugaba said the committee had compiled a report about Uganda’s embassies for the President last year, but no action had been taken. The committee is now seeking a special meeting with the President to discuss it.
However, the expiry of contracts also affects lower-cadre staff in the Foreign Service. More than 14 officers are working with contracts that expired two years ago or will be invalid in two months.
Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume told The Independent this was a “technical matter” that had been raised with the appointing authority and they were waiting for his response.
“In the meantime we cannot recall an ambassador who has been appointed by the President and approved by Parliament.”
Mugume told The Independent that the President was about to reshuffle the heads of mission. “The President wants to consolidate the ambassadors since some contracts are ending in a month’s time.”
Appearing before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in March this year, Mugume said he had written to the president at least five times reminding him of the expired contracts to no avail.
But even if new contracts are signed and new staff posted, the poor facilitation of missions and dilapidated buildings in which they operate, are a concern. Uganda Property Holdings Ltd reports that some mission properties abroad have been condemned for demolition. Ambassadors to South Africa, India, Denmark and Russia have complained of poor funding. Last year Uganda’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi Prof Semakula Kiwanuka handed a resignation to President Museveni, which has not yet been accepted. Semakula’s contract expired in February.
During a retreat of ambassadors early this year, Uganda’s envoy to Berlin, Francis Butagira, was quoted telling the local press that ambassadors were redundant, yet continued to be paid.
Responses regarding the issue of payment have been contradictory. Mugume told The Independent that envoys without valid contracts were not being paid. “When the contract is not renewed you cannot be paid,” Mugume said recently.
Yet PAC earlier established that ambassadors whose contracts had expired were still being paid, and at the time, Mugume said not paying officials would be equivalent to recalling them, which he couldn’t do without authorisation.
“I cannot face the embarrassment of not paying someone who has not been recalled; what will he eat? We end up paying them for the time they spend out there and when they are reappointed, the appointment is back dated. The question would be what if they are not reappointed?” he said.
The age of some ambassadors is another issue as at least four out of the 20 with expired contracts are above 70 years. Three of the ten whose contracts expire between June and August this year are above 70 years. These include Stephen Katenta Apuli, Ibrahim Mukiibi, Perezi Kamunanwire and Moses Ebuk.
Critics say the country needs younger blood in Foreign Service, but Mugume argues that older ambassadors have a wealth of experience and ideas that will create jobs for younger people.
“If you are old and sick, that’s a different matter but if you are old and healthy we need to tap into experience,” he said. “It does not help a lot to replace an experienced ambassador with a young man who is going to spend most of his time learning or partying.”
While the constitution provides no age limit for Foreign Service officers, Byarugaba argued that they should retire at 75 years.
Critics say most of Ugandan ambassadors are political appointees and not career diplomats, which often means that some end up doing little or nothing towards promoting the national interests of the country on the international scene.