time to shout: call me the minister!


cabinet hermanmiller.com
A cabinet (Photo from http://www.hermanmiller.com)
NOW that the Cabinet List is out and most of us are not on it, let’s get round to getting some actual work done by the government rather than prattling incessantly about these venerable persons at the helm of our country’s Executive management.
I use the words quite deliberately because they are befitting of a lot of the commentary going round on social media and even in otherwise sober conversations around the appointments to Cabinet announced this week.
The Ministers, numerous as they may be, constitute a small percentage of the people that must make Uganda work – even though they are an important percentage of those people. On a couple of forums this week I noticed that not too many of our (otherwise educated) commentators don’t really know what the job of the Minister is or who actually does what within the Government.
This is in no way to downplay the importance of Cabinet Ministers, as they are the heads of the government departments they are assigned to. They are heads of those government departments, however, as part of the Executive Branch of the government, which government works for us, the people.
As such, they are our employees – you and I the taxpayers (please don’t bring up tax defaulting and arrears, that’s a whole different topic).
The word ‘Minister’, according to some dictionaries and studies of etymology, was used in Middle English (the olden days of those countries) in the sense of “a person acting under the authority of another” – which is what they basically are – persons acting under the authority of the President, who is running the country on our behalf, chosen by the majority of us because of the promises he made.
The Latin origins of the word ‘Minister’, though, translate it directly to “servant”, derived from ‘minus’, which means “less”.
See, in reality Ministers are not and should not be Lords, who in the monarchical structures were nobility born into position. They are appointed employees charged with working for the people.
In the local reality of our more local government structures, however, the Minister only ‘oversees government policy’ as most people say. That makes the Cabinet Minister the equivalent of a Board Chairman of a corporate body (or company), who generally supervises the management team on behalf of the shareholders. The Board determines what should be done and sets strategy, as the Ministers should do, and keeps checking on the work of the management team to ensure that they stay on track.
The management team, headed by the Chief Executive Officer, is the one that actually does the work – and in the ministries, that is the Permanent Secretary. That Permanent Secretary, together with the Under Secretaries (Chief Operations Officer, perhaps?) and Commissioners (Senior Managers?) and the rest of the technocracy, are the people who draw up plans and budgets, then spend our money to deliver services to us.
Who are these Permanent Secretaries and other technocrats? Do we have a list of them anywhere? Do YOU know them? Do you talk about them at a level with as much excitement as you do the Cabinet Ministers?
In the media, the world of business serves up comments, opinions and updates of business managers of corporate bodies rather than the Board Members, while the world of politics serves up the reverse.
Could there be a link between the lack of public scrutiny and attention we pay to government departments and their perceived level of delivery, as opposed to that of private entities?
I am one of those who will not hesitate to call up the Chief Executive of a corporate body to complain about poor services, as many of you out there would shout out at the top of your voice in an irritating restaurant situation: “Call me the Manager!”
It is never: “Call me your Board Chairman!”
Why?
Because it’s the manager and their team that do the work, or are supposed to. THAT is the belt of government we should be calling out as often as possible – NOT the Ministers.
Again, this is not to downplay the importance of the Cabinet Ministers; they ARE important as well, to ensure that the strategy the technocrats are implementing is OUR strategy, but more importantly when we are caught in a health centre and find that a doctor is not in position to attend to our sick, we need to be able to call out in the direction of the government: “Call me the Manager!” before we get to the Board Chairman.

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