Uganda: More Reshuffles, Less Change

Kampala, Uganda — Ramathan Ggoobi and Lucy Nakyobe who a month ago were rumoured to be joining cabinet have been rewarded with top posts in the civil service in the latest reshuffle of government by President Museveni after cabinet, and the army.

Long serving Secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi, who has been at the ministry of finance since graduation from Makerere University was sent to Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) as Permanent Secretary. Muhakanizi is not in good health and many saw the transfer as the road to retirement.

His replacement is Ggoobi, an economics lecturer at Makerere University Business School, working closely with government. He sits on the board of Uganda Development Corporation, was on Museveni's 2021 election committee and is a known protégé of Gen. Salim Saleh, the President's young brother influential in running government.

Used to the idealism of offering economic commentary on Twitter, Ggoobi will have to brace himself for the cold reality of running the government's cheque book coupled with the foot dragging and corruption that has been the tonic of Museveni's government for decades. He will no longer have the luxury such as in 2019 when he tweeted about Muhakanizi decrying the level of government debt yet being the very person tasked with the responsibility of reining it in.

Museveni appointed Nakyobe, State House comptroller, as the new Head of Public Service- a position responsible for pushing for effective and dedicated public servants; streamlining recruitment of government employees, handling pension matters and ensuring integrity at a time when there is rampant abuse of public office in ministries, government agencies and departments. Nakyobe was replaced by Jane Barekye who has been a staff at State House.

The President has named a new batch of permanent secretaries as the government battles the economic devastation wrought by Covid19, now well in its second year, with a second lockdown underway in the country to stem the spread of new infections. Some of the new names include Irene Batebe (Energy), Kate Lamaro (Education) Joseph Musanyufu (Internal Affairs), Amin Zawedde (ICT).

Traditionally touted as the drivers of the government, permanent secretaries wield a lot of influence in how ministries spend money and execute government work such as implementing policy, awarding of tenders, rollout of projects, and emergency response. Their administrative duties and technical roles often lead to disagreements with ministers who are tasked with providing political guidance to ministries they head. The two are eventually tasked to work around their differences.

As the most senior civil servant in a ministry or department, they are the ministry's/department's accounting officers responsible for the monitoring and execution of the department's budget and are therefore responsible for the overall management of the department.

In previous scenarios, Museveni has appointed permanent secretaries to fix perceived malaise at ministries only to get rid of them once they cross certain lines. In 2016, Museveni fired long serving PS at Energy Kabaliisa Kabagambe after stories of corruption became a mainstay at the ministry. He replaced him with a young and ambitious Stephen Isabalijja who apart from being board chair of Uganda Electricity Generation Company (UEGCL) was little known in Energy circles. Isabalijja was fired less than a year later after he cancelled an MoU with a Chinese energy conglomerate.

It is possible that Isabalijja did not understand the politics of the energy ministry including Museveni's closeness to the Chinese. The energy ministry is at the heart of two hydropower projects; the still under construction 600M Karuma and the commissioned 183MW Isimba. As chair of UEGCL and PS, Isabalija and Kaliisa respectively squabbled over the supervision of the projects.

Denis Kusasira, a lawyer and expert in energy industry, told The Observer at the time of Isabalija's firing that Isabalija sold himself as "somebody who knew something about the industry and the president believed him" although he turned out not as expected.

"The energy sector is one of the key priority areas you need for your vision 2040 and middle income status so you would require a well-tested, experienced individual to manage it," a source who preferred anonymity at the time Isabalijja was appointed told The Independent, "I don't know if Isabalija was the right choice or not but you needed someone who has been around and will hit the road running and not someone who will start from scratch."

The new PS at the ministry is Irene Batebe who has been Acting Commissioner, Directorate of Petroleum at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. Batebe, a chemical engineer, replaces Robert Kasande who at the time he replaced Isabalija, had also been a long serving staff at the ministry. So at a critical ministry like energy, the President is choosing continuity and less of a new infusion of energy.

Same case was with Diana Atwiine who was plucked from the State House Health Monitoring Unit where she was sort of an ombudsman for the health sector. After years of grumbling on how the sector is wasting away and facilities including how Mulago Hospital was being run down, Atwiine, Museveni's personal doctor was given the top job to fix things. She told the parliamentary health committee in 2016 while heading the State House Unit:

"The referral system broke down long time ago. Mulago has been reduced to Health Centre IV treating malaria and we are lost into non-issues. I don't expect Mulago to treat malaria, we need to go back to the basics and see where we went wrong."

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While appointing her PS, Museveni felt she would replicate her gang bursting at the health ministry but she is now on the spot for accountability of covid19 donations, donor loans for managing the pandemic and other logistics disbursed for handling the crisis.

Museveni publicly rebuked her at a function held at State House last month for failing to procure 42,000 ICU hospital beds to manage COVID19. Although the argument has been made that it was beyond her capacity to procure the beds, she has been making rounds about the difficulty of the job including blaming the country's procurement laws. Sources also say that a number of directors and commissioners at the ministry of health complained about being passed over for a State House employee.

Atwine has kept her job but the fights at one of the most crucial ministries are not relenting as the country battles covid19. Other voices say novices like Ggoobi have to understand their place in a set up dominated by people like Muhakanizi who have established networks and loyalties in many levels of government. In his long stint as Secretary to the Treasury, Muhakanizi's tentacles are said to spread to Uganda Revenue Authority, Bank of Uganda and other accounting officers whom he supervised in the countless government agencies.

Musical chairs

Museveni has also been faulted for playing musical chairs in the appointment of what should be the most senior public servants. Vincent Bagiire moved from ICT to Foreign Affairs, Adolf Mwesige from Defence as minister to Clerk to Parliament, Aggrey Kibenge from Education to Gender. In 2016, he moved Alex Kakooza from Works as Undersecretary to Education as PS, Rose Nassali from Education to Judicial Service Commission. Patrick Mugoya, though a career diplomat did time at Internal Affairs being moved back to Foreign Affairs.

Although the work of the PS is essentially administrative, employees at ministries say getting a PS who is not well versed with the issues can set back progress.

In other changes, Museveni appointed former deputy managing director of National Social Security Fund Geraldine Ssali as PS at the ministry of Trade and Industry. A third General was added to the Internal Affairs; Lt. Gen. Joseph Musanyufu joining Generals; David Muhoozi and Kahinda Otafiire.

Museveni claimed to have retired five permanent secretaries in 'public interest'. These include Jane Kibirige (Clerk to Parliament), Patrick Mugoya, Guwatudde Kintu, Kivumbi Lutaaya and Benon Mutambi.

Museveni appointed former minister Beti Kamya as the new Inspectorate General of Government (IGG). There has been no substantive IGG for more than a year since the former IGG took up a position as a Judge of the Court of Appeal. The office has been overshadowed by the State House Anti-Corruption Unit headed by Col. Edith Nakalema. In addition, it is not fully constituted with any deputies as the two former deputies ended their terms and one; Mariam Wangadya was appointed the chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission.

The Inspectorate of Government once lost a corruption case it was prosecuting after one of the accused ran to the Constitutional Court arguing that the office was not properly constituted.

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