SHORTLY after I started walking around the Independence Grounds at Kololo attending the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Tax Payers Appreciation week, I felt the urge to ask a few people there for their motivation to attend.
The responses didn’t surprise me until I got to a tent being manned by a friend, Andrew Mwandha, whose company – Tata Motors Uganda – manufactures and supplies large and small motor vehicles.
He was surprised when the crew that he had hired to erect banners and other merchandising materials asked him for a favour – they needed a little personal time so they could go round the stands.
“In Uganda we have a problem!” Andrew told me, “People are desperate for health services! My guys are here running from corner to corner to get free dental treatment, blood tests and yellow fever injections! We need more health services!”
Most of the people I had struck up conversations when I got there told me they had come for the free government services. But, I argued with Andrew, that didn’t necessarily mean that these services were scarce round the country.
“Some of these people told me they hadn’t tried to get the services at the regular government offices or departments near them because they didn’t believe they would get the services,” I explained, suggesting that these services might be available on ordinary days but these people don’t try accessing them.
But I had no back-up for that thought (I can’t call it a position). After talking it over for a while we walked around a little bit and found my target – URA Assistant Commissioner for Public and Corporate Affairs (therefore, Head of that department), Vincent Seruma.
Andrew left Vincent and I talking about various observations and opportunities in a manner that seemed anguished.
I had enjoyed my visit except for one missed experience – the opportunity to meet with the Chief Executives or Senior Officials of the government organisations present. Vincent was also irked by that but other things as well, as the last paragraph here will hint at.
My logic was that the leadership of the government agencies should have taken the opportunity of the event to present themselves to the taxpayers – Ugandans – who pay their salaries and fund these organisations.
Earlier on, Economist Ramathan Ggoobi had challenged the government (URA, to be honest) to conduct an ‘Accountability Week’ instead of an ‘Appreciation Week’ and we variously explained that accountability was officially presented annually during the State of the Nation and Budget Addresses.
Nevertheless, he had a point and the leaders of these organisations could have done a lot better that week by being the ‘Accounting Officers’ they are paid to be, in more than financial terms.
I had hoped they would be manning their tents and stands alongside their mid-level managers and hired ushers, interfacing personally with Ugandans of the more ordinary walks of life than they do at those large events with tents and statements like, “All Protocol observed…”
If the Chiefs of these government agencies had been there they would have seen the long queues of people eagerly seeking services even though they pay taxes daily to receive these services – again daily – without much hassle.
Then the leaders would have had the opportunity to explain to their employers – those Ugandans – where they could go for these services in their districts and villages without having to wait for a once-in-a-year event like the URA Tax Payers Appreciation Week.
If these ‘Bosses’ lacked the necessary directions, though, they would be challenged – as leaders should be – to create solutions for these people who pay their salaries and fund the purchase of their large four-wheel drive vehicles, comfortable offices, and all the perks that go with being called Executive Director, Managing Director or Chief Executive.
We would surely appreciate that.