New Vision (Kampala)

16 January 2013

Uganda: Bigirimana - a Case of the Hunter Becoming the Hunted?

President Yoweri Museveni has again defended Pius Bigirimana who finds himself at the centre of a scandal where colossal sums of money have been stolen from the Office of the Prime Minister where he is the Permanent Secretary.

Legislators at the on-going retreat at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi, repeated their call to the President to suspend Bigirimana, but Museveni insists that it was Bigirimana who blew the lid off the scam where more than sh60b is believed to have been stolen.

The President could be right. Two years back, Bigirimana wrote a book - Abundance Mentality: My Autobiography - in which he criticises the indiscipline and excesses in the public service, but that little attention is apparently being paid.

"Workers commit acts of indiscipline all the time in the full view of their supervisors, public assets are misused, working hours are not observed, procedures are not followed, but relevant rules are still not invoked," Bigirimana stated.

But today, Bigirimana says he is the hunted man for attempting to implement his long-held convictions about corruption in the public service and how it can be stamped out.

Despite his plea of innocence, critics such as National Resistance Movement deputy spokesperson Ofwono Opondo and city lawyer JB Kakooza, describe him as an incompetent senior public servant.

"The permanent secretary as the accounting officer is also the chief executive, who should not simply blow the whistle because he has full authority to suspend and interdict any errant junior officer and order internal inquiries once an anomaly is detected in work methods, and no one, except the public service commission or courts of law, can, on appeal, halt it," Opondo said in an article in the New Vision of November 23, 2012.

Similarly, in his column published in the Sunday Vision of November 11, 2012, Kakooza says although Bigirimana is not yet criminally liable for the loss, but as the accounting officer, he is liable for the offences committed by his subordinates.

Although Opondo and Kakooza try to punch holes in Bigirimana's plea for innocence, it is undeniable that the thoughts Bigrimana raises in his book on corruption, mediocrity and incompetence in the public service, are not just instantaneous utterances spewed out in 2011.

They are views anchored in knowledge and informed by years of unquestionable experience in the public service, thus deeply held convictions to have the public service reinvigorated to stamp out corruption.

"Certainly, when your actions seem out of step from the norm, people will find it hard to believe," Bigirimana says. "We are dealing with a highly sophisticated web of criminals and it takes more than courage to tackle impunity in this country," he observed.

Bigirmana says for two years, he had suspected something was grossly wrong with their accounts but that he wondered how the auditors always gave them a clean bill. He then ordered for a forensic audit by the Auditor General's Office that the scam was exposed.

How believable is Bigirimana?

In his book, Bigirimana, whose illustrious career in the public service spans over two decades, observes that poor work ethics and corruption are some of the biggest obstacles to the smooth operation of Uganda's public service.

He observes that most public servants today are devoid of discipline and, therefore integrity.

"Integrity is the most important attribute a person can possess, especially if you are going to work in the public service where you will be entrusted with people's lives and with large amounts of money which need to be looked after and distributed wisely," he says.

Similarly, Bigirimana emphasises that the public service is synonymous with incompetence due to major challenges resulting from inefficient methods of recruitment, lack of motivation and indiscipline.

"When recruiting staff, the public service must always try to find the most competent people available in terms of knowledge, skills, practical proficiency and at the same time needs to identify the best disciplined people in terms of attitude and behaviour," he counsels.

It does not matter, Bigirimana cautions, how good or clever the political leaders are if they do not have an efficient and effective civil service backing them up and implementing their plans and initiatives.

Notably, Bigirimana attributes the stagnation in the public service to employing less than intelligent and diligent people, a problem he blames on the subjective nature of the oral interviews they do.

"It is a very subjective method of assessing anyone's practical abilities and it is also open to manipulation since no hard record is kept of the interview questions or of the candidates' responses," he reasons.

The absence of objective and competence-based selection methods, Bigirimana notes, has given to the public service unprecedented room for mediocrity. As a result, people with limited intellectual capacity and questionable integrity are heading departments and institutions in the public service.

Similarly, according to Bigirimana, the procedure of instituting action against an indisciplined civil servant is thought to be too labourious and leaves room for impunity, noting that even these inadequate rules are not regularly enforced.

He links much of this malaise to a general breakdown of Ugandan moral fabric, especially in the family, from where public servants are drawn.

"Discipline was something that my father and others of his generation went to great lengths to instil in their children and there is a feeling among many people that today's society has been eroded in many ways," he warns.

As an example of the moral paralysis and attitude disorientation that have devoured Uganda, Bigirimana observes that a corrupt man in Uganda today who manages to grow rich is often glorified as being successful.

Conversely, an honest, but poor man is despised as some sort of failure.

"This attitude lies beneath everything and provides a fertile ground for corruption and indiscipline to flourish at every level," Bigrimana warns in the book, advising that continuous efforts to raise society's moral health should be instituted and glorifying indiscipline and corruption should be discouraged.

"When these things are held in contempt, the incentive to behave well and diligently will increase," Bigirimana deduces, adding: "My whole adult life has been given over to public service and to helping my fellow countrymen. It is something I am passionate about and dedicated to doing well."

In light of such passionately held convictions and truisms, it is presumably illogical to say Bigirimana and what he believes in are diametric in one way or another.

Career

Offices held

2008 - to date : PS in the OPM

2006-2008: Undersecretary, Ministry of Health

2005-2006: Undersecretary, Ministry of Public Service

1999-2005: Undersecretary Ministry of Education

1993-1999: Principal Assistant Secretary, Office of the President.

1998-1993: Senior Assistant Secretary, Office of the President.

June-November 1998: Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Local Government

1986-1987: Assistant Secretary/Personal assistant to the Minister, Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

1984-1986: Assistant district commissioner, Mbale district

1983-1984: Assistant district commissioner, Kisoro district

Major projects

Establishment of a government performance monitoring system

Support in the institutionalisation and management of national evaluations

Aligning joint budget support operation of the development partners with government of Uganda's practices and systems

Designing and implementation of Peace Recovery and Development Plan, design and implementation of Northern Uganda Social Action Fund

Spearheaded technical design of Karamoja Integrated Development Programme

Academic qualifications

Masters degree in business administration and a master of arts in development administration and management

Post graduate diploma in development administration

Bachelors degree, majoring in political science and public administration

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