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Who is taking over their jobs?

By John Njoroge

The jury is still out on whether Uganda has been a success in terms of economic policies. A couple of features still stand out. Income inequality has been resilient to all the changes in economic policy.  Income inequality remains a significant problem.

In terms of creating a more equal society, Uganda’s economic reforms have not been that much a success. However, there have been some gains. There has been an increase in social spending.

This has been partly due to increased tax revenues, supported by economic growth and high commodity prices. Uganda’s vulnerability to changes internationally is not unique but it does suggest that the broader structural transformation of the economy away from primarily agricultural exports has not yet been completed. In that sense as well, Uganda’s economic ‘success story’ can be questioned. Overall, unemployment rates have remained almost unchanged even during the recent growth upturns. Unemployment is not just an economic problem, it is a socio-political one and it’s a security issue as well. In the wake of the widening global economic crisis, most developing countries are facing a sharp deceleration in FDI and exports, and prospects of a severe slowdown in GDP growth.  This slowdown will inevitably affect, albeit with a lag, employment and earnings.

To all appearances, paid employment is very much a defining feature of an African’s internal sense of well-being and validation in the community

With unemployment very high in Uganda, the various job vacancies in government seem puzzling. Could it be that for many it’s better to remain unemployed than to work for government or to work in what they may perceive as ‘less than ideal conditions’?

In the months ahead, a number of top leadership positions in government entities and ministries will fall vacant, in addition to those that are presently unfilled and some of which have been vacant for as long as ten years. The contractual tenures of many of the Chief Executives are closing almost at the same time. Interestingly, most of their contracts cannot be renewed since they have reached their maximum limit for renewal.

While in the eyes of many this should not be posing a threat to the nation, it actually is. An in-depth look at why all these positions are falling vacant at the same time reveals a relatively unknown, yet dangerous trend that is likely to draw Uganda into a leadership dilemma in years to come. At least nine core government parastatals or corporations will lose talent due to retirements or expiry of contracts. Some positions in government have been vacant for the most part of the last two years and more. They have not been filled and no plausible explanation has come from the relevant bodies. Many of the positions are head of departments that ordinarily should be filled by the Public Service but political decisions always seem to matter more than competence when it comes to filling them. For some executive positions, it’s ‘the right’ candidates cannot be found!

Top govt positions falling vacant

The position of Commissioner General of Uganda Revenue Authorities (URA) will be vacant in July this year when the tenure of Allen Kagina expires. Kagina has held this position since 2004 and has had all her statutory terms in office. By law, her contract cannot be renewed. She is believed to be one of the top contenders for the position of National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Managing Director, a position that has recently been advertised.

Information available to The Independent is that Damon Kitabiire is her likely successor. Kitabire, a highly qualified and experienced economist who served at the Ministry of Finance for several years and leaving at the rank of Director to join the IMF in Washington D.C. competed for the job of URA Commissioner General together with Kagina in 2004. A reliable source privy to the recruitment information at the time told The Independent that Kitabire emerged the best candidate for the job at the time and was the favourite candidate of the Ministry of Finance but other powers-that-be prevailed and Mrs Kagina was offered the job. During the tenure of former Finance Minister Ezra Suruma, Kitabire returned to the Ministry as Macro Economic advisor. Kitabire currently works at the African Development Bank in Tunis.

The position of Executive Director (ED) of the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE) will be vacant in July. Its current holder Simon Rutega wrote to its Board of Directors in February saying he would not be seeking an extension of his term in office. Rutega is believed to be among the top contenders for the position of Managing Director of NSSF although other sources say he might opt to go for further studies. Rutega has overseen the creation and growth of the USE and under him, it has performed positively, given that trading in equity and financial markets is a new culture to many Ugandans and companies. He has not had a deputy and no clear successor at the moment, creating concerns over the continued stability of the USE. In more advanced nations, such uncertainty as to the future of the Stock Exchange would be of grave concern to the country and would easily affect macro-economic stability.

The position of Executive Director of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) will also fall vacant this year. Its current head Edgar Agaba has held office for the maximum terms and thus by law cannot be reappointed. Like with the USE, Agaba has no deputy and no clear replacement for him is known. Since its creation, the PPDA has performed a tremendous job in streamlining public procurement, though blamed by other stakeholders for increasing the bureaucracy and cost of public procurement.

The resignation of New Vision’s Editor-in-Chief Els de Temmerman in mid April has also left a leadership vacuum at the corporation. Temmerman, 48, was appointed Editor-in-Chief on December 1st 2006. In 2008 she resigned only to return less than six months later to the same position. The Independent has information that Simon Kaheru, Vice President Gilbert Bukenya’s former Press Secretary and presently a private media and public relations consultant is being considered for the position. Kaheru, who previously worked at the New Vision as a journalist, has also worked with the British-American Tobacco (BAT) as its head of Corporate and Regional Affairs.

The position of Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) is being sorted. The NSSF board, through Ernst and Young, recently advertised for interested parties to apply for the job. Sources intimated to The Independent that a headhunt was quietly going on with the likes of Allen Kagina, Simon Rutega, Richard Byarugaba and Dr William Muhairwe (of National Water and Sewerage Corporation) on the list. The disgraced former NSSF MD David Chandi Jamwa is also believed to be a contender.

The contract of the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Treasury at the Ministry of Finance Chris Kassami will also expire at the end of 2011. Before taking up his current contract, it’s said Kassami had indicated to the appointing authority that he was ready to call it a day after several years of diligent service to the country but the request was turned down and he was asked to serve ‘for one more term’. It is not clear what his next move is likely to be but what is clear is that unlike other government jobs, Kassami has had a strong deputy in the mould of Keith Muhakanizi who is destined to take on the mantle of Secretary to the Treasury.

Bank of Uganda’s Governor, Prof. Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile is also leaving the central bank soon.  Like Kassami, he has had a long time and equally strong deputy – Dr Louis Kasekende. These two institutions, the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Uganda, the two of government’s institutions largely believed to be most organised and systematic. It is no wonder that succession problems do not seem to arise. Notably, with exception of Mutebile and Kassami, all the other chiefs leaving are below 50 years of age, an indication that government is losing some of its top and experienced talent at very early ages. What can and should be done?

In the Judiciary, Principal Judge, James Ogoola and the Deputy Chief Justice Laetitia Mukasa Kikonyogo are also due to retire at the end of the year. Also leaving are Justice Galdino Okello of the Supreme Court (October 2010),Justice Steven Engwau of the Court of Appeal (May 2010), Judge John Bosco Katutsi of the High Court (December 2010), Lady Judge Anna Magezi of the High Court (April 2010) and Lady Judge Caroline Atim Okello (November 2010). It is yet to be established who will be their replacements. However, the responsibility of choosing the new appointees is with the Judicial Service Commission, under the guidance of the constitution.

‘Their retirement is not official,’ Kagole Kivumbi, the secretary to the Judicial Service Commission told The Independent in a telephone interview. ‘The commission will wait for communication from the Chief Justice indicating that vacancies are available. Upon his communication, the commission will apply the Judicial Service Act to select the candidates.’ Kivumbi adds that the commission chooses its candidates from a list of judicial officers who fit the prescribed position. ‘We shortlist them, conduct interviews with the guidance of the constitution and forward the successful candidates to the president for appointment.’

Section 142 of the constitution states:  The’…Deputy Chief Justice, the Principal Judge….’shall be appointed by the President, acting on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and with the approval of Parliament.

According to Justice Seth Manyindo, the retired former Deputy Chief Justice and now Chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission, while appearing before Parliament recently, ‘the judiciary is already understaffed by about half. The current number of judicial officers stands at 250 but the optimal number required for the smooth operations and reduction of case backlogs is about 500, so we need to recruit about 250 other judicial officers.’

For an arm of the government so important in the rule of law and already agonisingly understaffed, the loss of such high calibre talent will be highly felt. The problem at the judiciary is particularly compounded by the recent interest the Executive has developed in the independent workings of the judiciary. President Museveni is on record complaining that some judges are unsympathetic to the Movement government and that he needed to appoint more ‘cadre judges’ to the bench. The most recent appointments to the bench right from the High Court to the Supreme Court have greatly mirrored his wish. Justice George Kanyeihamba has been the most outspoken voice from the bench and a critic of the executive and what he perceives as its excesses and undemocratic practices. He has since left the bench.

The outgoing Principal Judge a, former colleague of President Museveni at Dar es Salaam University, has been very critical of the executive’s excesses towards and interference with the independence of the judiciary, particularly the infamous November 2005 High Court siege by the ‘Black mambas’ ‘ a ruthless hitherto unknown military squad with an unclear command structure. Judge Ogoola, in his usual poetic style, described their actions as ‘ a black day for the rule of law and a defilement of the Temple of Justice.’

Lady Judge Stella Arach-Amoko, the current head of the Commercial Division of the High Court is believed to be the obvious successor to the principal Judge Ogoola. Amoko, according to several lawyers whom The Independent spoke to, is a sobre and knowledgeable judge with the relevant experience. Prior to her appointment to the bench, Arach worked with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. The lawyers generally expressed their sadness at the loss of such talent and experience at the bench. According to a Kampala lawyer Bob Kasango, ‘We are losing a great lot of talent. But these judges were not just talented, they had courage and that is rare. For me what baffles me is why a judge should retire at 65 or 70 but a President who has a greater workload, waits at a later age?’ Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States for example serve for life but have always retired at their own volition. But even at 80 years of age, they posses sharp minds and write very informed judgments. May be it’s time we reconsidered our own situation’

Unfilled positions

As more and more top executive jobs fall vacant, many more remain unfilled. In many government ministries, posts like ‘acting-directors’, ‘acting-commissioners’, acting-registrars, are common. Before an official appointment, it is routine for a board of any entity to appoint an acting head, pending the official appointment or confirmation of a new head. In many cases, acting appointees are left to hold office for far too long, a situation that causes stagnation in the organisational development and is very often a disincentive to young talent.

The practice both delays and stagnates institutional development and motivation. Those in acting positions are often too timid to take bold decisions for fear of not being confirmed and those below lose the hope of ever ascending the corporate ladder because there is an upward jam. In the net result, the institutional often suffers an acute loss of morale and in the more serious case, an exodus of talent.

The office of the Inspector General of Government (IGG) ‘ a  constitutional office, has not been filled for  close to a year now. After an acrimonious relationship with Parliament, the feisty and motor-mouthed Lady Judge Faith Mwondha finally left office after the Constitutional Court ruled she was not lawfully in office. Her former deputy remains in an acting capacity. Although under the Constitution’s Article 223 and The Inspectorate of Government Act it is mandatory that the Inspectorate of Government shall be composed of three persons, that has never been the case since the formation of the inspectorate. It continues to operate in disregard of the clear position of the supreme law. The office of the IGG is created to, among other things, fight corruption in government. That the executive is not so keen on this important institution, is telling of its commitment to fighting corruption.

Uganda’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is another perfect example. For a Ministry so central to the operations of the State, for the last 10 years, it has not had a substantive Director  of Civil Litigation. The last substantive appointment was the late Nasa Tumwesige who passed on in 2000. Deus Byamugisha was appointed in an Acting capacity until he was interdicted and then retired from public service. He was replaced by Joseph Matsiko also in an Acting capacity until he left the Ministry and joined Kampala Associated Advocates. Robinah Rwakoojo is presently Acting Director Civil Litigation. The same applies to the Directorate of Legal and Advisory Services. Billy Kainamura was appointed Acting-Director over ten years ago and he continues to so act.  Curiously, Kainamura is also the Acting-Solicitor General at the Ministry. He is acting in two crucial capacities.

Others in acting capacities are  Hellen Obura, the Acting-Secretary Law Council; Francis Atoke, the Acting-Administrator General who replaced Jane Kiggundu (now judge of the High Court) and who also was acting; Bisereko Kyomuhendo, the Acting-Registrar General. They have all been in acting capacities for over two years. A more bizarre situation in that Ministry is that some of the officers appointed in the acting capacities are junior to other undeployed senior officers. Before being appointed acting officials, they were deputies of their predecessors.

Dennis Bireije, Cheborion Barishaki and Gashirabake, all at the rank of Commissioners are not acting in any of the above capacities.

Insiders within the Ministry that spoke to The Independent on condition of anonymity, placed much of the blame on the immediate former Solicitors General Lucien Tibaruha and Peter Kabatsi. According to the sources, ‘The Solicitor General is the administrative head and accounting officer of the Ministry. They are the ones who should have brought this crisis to the attention of the Public Service so that recruitment is done or asked for promotions within the Ministry so that these jobs can be filled. As it is, no promotions can take place at certain levels and this has led to stagnation.’ The source cited the dilemma of Kainamura who is himself in an acting capacity and cannot recommend his own promotion or confirmation.

In a country weighed down with talent and so burdened by unemployment, stories like these coming out of the hidden files of government are disturbing. While Ugandans have come to almost accept the sloppiness of their leaders in many areas of public administration and accountability, at least they know or believe these ‘leaders’ are sitting in office. It is totally another thing to have jobs unfilled and tasks unperformed just because someone did not do what they ought to have done.   These are pretty significant jobs, and ones the public ought to be concerned about. Worker productivity is at a risk without department chiefs and this may partly explain the slow rate of government service deliveryThe people responsible for this mess should be answering some tough questions and accounting for their inaction.

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