In Summary

President Museveni’s gist of the letter is to reduce wastage of the meagre public resources, yet to me that is not the fundamental problem. Corruption did not stop economic development in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Argentina or South Korea.

On July 17, President Museveni wrote a three-page letter to the Minister of finance, suggesting the abolishment of government agencies and authorities which are wasteful. In that letter, President Museveni raised 10 questions than the answers he sought to provide. In last week’s article, I dealt with five questions and in this second and last part I deal with the remaining five issues.

6. “When I agreed to the formation of URA many years ago, it was for two reasons. First, there was too much corruption in the customs department of the ministry of Finance. Secondly, since we could not yet raise the salaries of the whole Public Service and needed increased tax collection for the government, I agreed to have a better paid group to handle that unique area of State efforts that was causing so much leakages. This should have been a temporary and isolated intervention not one to be proliferated”.

The beginning
In 1988, when the exotic revolutionaries had just taken power, Tanzanian legendary socialist and academician Abdul Rahaman Babu was invited by both President Museveni and the late Eriya Kategaya to give socialism parental advice to the dear leaders.
I met Babu one evening at Fairway Hotel where he was staying to get a bird’s eye view of what he thought of both Museveni and Eriya Kategaya. Babu told me a story that in the early 1980’s, he was invited to Nigeria by the then president Shehu Shagari where he listened to a sycophantic personal assistant to the president repeatedly flattering the president that he (Shagari) was making history.

Irritated by the repetitions, Babu asked Shagari to chase the sycophant out of the room so that the two could engage in meaningful and uninterrupted discussions. At that time Shagari told Babu that he had decided there and then to give Babu any job he wished in Nigeria because he found him to be honest and bold.
Babu told the president that if he was going to accept any job, it should be the one of keeping the president at the same level with the concrete realities on the ground. He feared that when a president loses contact with the realities on the ground, he becomes a liability to both the country and to himself.

When I read the above point six in Museveni’s letter, Babu’s words of nearly 30 years ago come to my mind as vivid, as if I had just talked to him last weekend. The most important job that Museveni should give to a Ugandan is that of a man or woman with a strong backbone who will be able to tell Museveni that “comrade, this letter is not necessary”, or that “comrade Museveni, you have forgotten this and you need to refresh your mind”.

This is the sort of service that needs people like Mr Amanya-Mushega, Augustine Ruzindana, or James Kakooza. How can Museveni of 2017 forget that it was the Museveni of 1987 who rooted for the creation of URA? It was the Museveni of 1987-90 who wished to establish URA on the basis of “built to last”, yet he is now saying that URA was supposed to be a temporary institution?
How can President Museveni suggest that URA should be reduced to a department of customs in the ministry of Finance, yet no one within his inner circle was able to advise him that such an idea would be too injurious to the economy of Uganda?

Is it not the same Museveni who has been praising URA for increasing tax collections from Shs5 billion in 1986 to Shs13 trillion as of 2016? Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, the Governor Bank of Uganda, often says: “If something is functioning well (the economy), why fix it? Why would anyone disrupt URA which is functioning well? My view is that URA should be audited to establish whether or not it is following the three principles of scientific management; A) Target B) rewarding the people employed and C) evaluate to see if principle (B) achieves principle (A).
7.”How much are we spending on these authorities, agencies, etc? I want the figures”

The above point proves that Museveni wrote that letter hurriedly; otherwise he should have waited for the figures to be provided to him in order to write a more informed letter or article. It is not proper for the President to give the impression that he does not know something he ideally should have known before giving a speech or writing an opinion or a letter.
President Museveni’s gist of the letter is to reduce wastage of the meagre public resources, yet to me that is not the fundamental problem. Corruption did not stop economic development in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Argentina or South Korea.

In fact, Uganda’s expenditure on public administration at 21 per cent of GDP is among the lowest in the whole world compared to say Denmark where expenditure is as high as 58 per cent of the GDP (2014 figures)
8. “Is it not high time we reconsolidated the State by having only two categories of servants; the policymaker, regulators and implementers on the one hand and the money-makers running the few government parastatals on the other hand?”

The unsettling words are “the few money-making parastatals”. This is the ideology of plateauing, and staying poor. Instead of aiming at few money-making government companies, the idea should be to have hundreds of government money-making companies. Kenya has about 200 public companies which give government $10 billion (about Shs36 trillion) in annual dividends, more than Uganda’s $8.2 billion Budget for 2012/2018. China’s economy is built on the back of public companies.
9. “What if the non-commercial portions of the State employees were consolidated, rationalised, downsized and all of them better paid?”

Similarly, the catchword here is “downsizing “public servants. The objective of serious governments is to create full employment, not to downsize. Uganda’s public servants at one per cent of the population pales below that of Botswana at 50 per cent of the population. We need a huge formal sector with a high-wage economy in order to achieve viable domestic economies of scale.
10. “I want efficiency with no further delays. You have up to December 20, 2017, to propose a plan to Cabinet”.

The catchword here is efficiency. We are back to where we started: Fredrick Taylor’s three principles of scientific management 1) Target 2) Reward/Facilitation 3) Evaluation. Where these three principles are absent like in Uganda there can never be efficiency. Even when one principle is absent, there can never be efficiency.

The writer is a journalist
cheeye@ugandaconfidential.com