The Sunday Vision, my work-er-mater, published a great piece on time keeping yesterday (online at http://www.sundayvision.co.ug/detail.php?mainNewsCategoryId=7&newsCategoryId=428&newsId=668347) that told how complicated it can be getting the time right in Kampala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampala) city.
I know there are some out there who read the article and recalled the number of times they realised how late they were going to be walking into a meeting, and so stopped outside the meeting room door and adjusted the time to cover the loose twenty minutes. Of course, no-one ever stopped a meeting to allow you to pass your watch around as proof that you were let down by the timepiece.
Except Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, Prime Minister of Uganda, for whom I once acted as meeting secretary when he stood in for the Vice President as Chair of some committee to consider one or another urgent government matter. First to face his wrath was yours truly when I stepped into the room not more than two minutes after he had – all of us having just been informed of the change of arrangements.
“And who are you?” he asked, still settling into his seat at the head of the table.
“Simon Kaheru, Press Secretary to His Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda,” I fired back in full Yes, Prime Ministermode, brimming with confidence at being so sharp, astute and punctual, as it was 1102hrs, only two minutes past the appointed meeting time in spite of arrangements having been changed – with my help in many ways – with only five minutes to spare.
“You are late!”
I couldn’t believe he was going to hold this against me, and began to protest with good reasons such as my having been the one calling up everyone else to inform them that the Prime Minister would be chairing rather than the Vice President – a service I could have left out since they would have realised this on entering the meeting room, but a service I thought necessary to provide in order to achieve the underlying goal of reminding them all of the meeting time.
“This is unacceptable, Mr. Press Secretary! Are you here to take the minutes?” he asked, still in an angry tone of voice.
“Well…,” I began, phrasing a polite refusal, since I was only here to notify him that everybody else he expected was going to be late for the meeting. Very, very late.
“Then sit down and take the damn minutes!”
He sounded like Hitler.
So for the next thirty minutes my note folder, some Commissioner in a ministry I can’t recall, and I sat down peacefully and listended to the punctual professor pontificate on the tardiness of Ugandans overall.
“Madame Minister you are late!” he shrilled when a lady minister began stepping into the room, causing her to retreat momentarily, startled.
“This is disgraceful!”
“But Honourable Prime Minister,” she began to protest, causing me to wince in anticipation of his impending correction as to the form of address (Right Honourable). None came.
“There is no excuse acceptable under these circumstances. This meeting was set one week ago. I am the Prime Minister and I am here on time. You should be ashamed of yourself. Even these officers are here before you, what example are you setting as a leader of government?!”
One hour, ten minutes, three humiliated cabinet ministers, and four cowering other officials of government later, the meeting actually began. With a five minute warning from the Right Honourable Prime Minister on the ills of poor time keeping and the impact it has on the management of government affairs.
That’s not the reason I try to keep time though – it’s just correct to do things at the time you say you are going to do them. It’s so obvious that nobody needs to write, talk or complain about it. But we all know that the 0800hrs meeting will start at 0830hrs, meaning that the 1000hrs meeting will start at 1100hrs because it would have started at 1030hrs but the 30-minute delay must be built in anyway, and so on and so forth until you find that it is October 18, 2011 and you are using a calendar that reads July 27, 2009!
Solutions? Just keep the damn time as you say you will, dammit!