appreciating your taxes – but without the ‘bosses’ whose salaries you pay


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.

visa fees into Uganda lowered by 50%, making Uganda tourism the cheapest thrill in Africa…another missed opportunity


The first part of that headline above is the kind of thing we call another missed opportunity.

Today is July 21, 2016.

I am approaching the highly exciting news that Uganda has amended the cost of single entry visas payable on arrival at ports of entry from US$100 to US$50, effective today.
This piece of news is of great economic significance for the entire country at large as it makes us more attractive for tourists in general because it enables our tour operators to offer more competitive packages (especially when you consider that you get a lot more wildlife and other tourism-related experiences for your bucks when you spend in Uganda compared to other countries in the region).
It also brings to an end many months of agonising, lobbying and jostling with the government to lower these fees – which were increased in July last year from US$50 to US$100.
I am not here to talk about the tourism aspects of the announcement, but the COMMUNICATION around it – because THAT  has made the excitement of this announcement is as tasty as a soggy piece of photocopying paper.
Which WAS the ‘official communication’ around this – A BLACK AND WHITE PAGE OF PHOTOCOPYING PAPER with not even a watermark to indicate that it was a genuine and authoritative government document. If it wasn’t for the two holes that indicate that a punching machine was used to make the document appropriate for insertion into a file, one would not believe it to be official.
Here it is:
Tourism Visa Fees Lowered
See, ‘Circular 3, 2016’ is on a letterhead of the Directorate of Citizenship & Immigration Control whose email address (which I am copying this link to) is imm@africaonline.co.ug – a domain that is surprisingly ‘co.ug’ rather than ‘go.ug’ that would make you believe it is run by the government.
Maybe the ‘co.ug’ means it is businesslike? No – the email address bounces back mail!
I swear  – see:
Anyway, the sogginess of the announcement is mostly because the people announcing it have taken that annoyingly lazy and ubiquitous path of scanning a document and WhatsApping it around and claiming to have communicated.
The missed opportunity here is massive – which reminds me of the saying often attributed to Thomas Alva Edison, that inventor of things such as the lightbulb: “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work,” he is reputed to have said!
Whoever is in charge of announcing this Single Entry Visa change was clearly afraid of doing a little bit of work around it.
This is the kind of announcement that needs:
  1. To be accompanied by images and graphics of happy, smiling tourists of all ethnicities very excitedly receiving change or balance at Entebbe airport as they pay for their entry visa, with mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the backdrop waiting to receive them.
  2. To go into funny video memes depicting the excitement at paying much less to holiday in Uganda.
  3. To be translated into as many languages as exist countrywide and then circulated to all embassies.
  4. To get posted online onto ALL government websites.
  5. To get posted online onto ALL websites of Ugandan embassies and foreign missions.
  6. To be given to ALL tour and travel and hospitality companies to share no their platforms and websites.
  7. To be made colourful and vibrant and welcoming and enticing – which even nursery schools do when they paint their walls in bright colours and use smiling cartoon characters, so that parents and children alike choose them rather than a mango tree…
  8. To be carried VERY LOUDLY AND PROMINENTLY by the Uganda Tourism Board, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, and everybody with an interest in seeing our tourism numbers grow.
  9. To be given to the three Tourism Marketing and Public Relations Promotion Firms contracted a few months ago to promote Uganda, so that they make a big meal out of it in those markets they are covering – the UK and Northern Ireland, Germany and Europe, and the United States.
It is not too late to salvage this and do all the above.
For God and My Country.
Update: @PaulKaheru asked for a sample poster and I have to share this, below, which was released an hour or so after this blog post and would have made for a much, much, much better announcement than the letter sent by WhatsApp – so kudos to the Minister:
Hon Frank Tumwebaze Visa Fees Lowered
Slide1

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.

how to celebrate being appointed minister


Uganda Flag Waving

AS you make your way to the swearing-in ceremony today, you might be poised for an appointment to a Cabinet position – either as Minister or Minister of State.
If you do get onto that list, first and foremost, do NOT do things in the usual manner – so the first thing you should do is AVOID thanksgiving parties.
By all means, do go ahead and hold prayers at your church or mosque of choice, but don’t do the reception.
Consider all the angry comments that have been loudly made these last six months alone about service delivery and the need for efficiency, and resist the urge to throw a lavish set of parties (one at your Kampala home for friends and relatives, and another in the village constituency for ‘voters’).
Instead, compute the cost of those parties, and divert that money towards something nobly long-lasting like equipment or furniture and fittings at your local schools or hospitals.
An average party could cost up to thirty million shillings (yes – Ushs30million!). THAT sum should not be spent on perishables such as scholastic materials and medicines. Instead, make a lasting mark that will even come in handy when you are next heading out on the campaign trail.
Then, after announcing to all and sundry that you consciously and deliberately dropped the idea of throwing a one-day fete for the option of filling schools and hospitals with life-changing, long-lasting equipment, bid them farewell and head off into a retreat.
The retreat is with the officials of your Ministry – whether you’re just joining a new one or you’ve been re-appointed to the one you were in before. Take them into an inexpensive location and spend serious thinking time establishing three things from the last term of office: 1. What has gone well 2. What could have been done better 3. What did you (the ministry officials) or we (if you were a Minister before) learn.
On the way back from the retreat, your first salary should have landed onto your account. I strongly suspect that most Ugandans would appreciate it if you spent a little of that money and invested it in learning learning about the field in which you have been appointed Minister. Don’t apply for a university degree or anything so drastic (yet); buy a couple of books and take a short course from a very good set of professionals.
It should be helpful if a member of cabinet is given advice and guidance by the most proficient people in the field whose national policy they are going to take charge of.
Thereafter, make it firmly clear that you will NOT make any public statement for at lest a month. That will give you enough time to study the situation in your ministry and confirm that things are actually as they might seem or should be.
During that month you will identify the right staff to work with and establish the procedures that will ensure you are actually as efficient as Ugandans want the government to be. From spelling mistakes through time keeping to the big things like handling procurement sensibly and without corruption or the wastage of tax payers money, you will spend the first month laying down terms of engagement and making them all sign the dotted line.
Do it right and your administrative experts will ensure that you never get to any event late, therefore avoiding that murmuring audiences do when they insult guests of honour arriving late at events. Plus, your speech writers will be subject experts who ensure everything you say is on point, and not so verbose that you sound like a character out of a movie made by people who think that African politicians are mostly variants of Idi Amin at his most comical.
That first month is crucial because the whole of Uganda will be watching you closely and some of them might be spitting anger and vitriol just because you have been appointed to a position of authority instead of them, we of little faith.
Use that first month wisely to convince us that you, as an individual, will make a serious difference on the Board of National leadership called the Cabinet. Use that first month carefully to set the expectations amongst your staff that Ugandans have of you, and of this government.
And recite to yourself every day the mantra against which you have been appointed to that job: For God and My Country.

i am going out to vote the right leadership for Uganda


TODAY we go out to vote – and not just for the position of President. Tomorrow (even tonight – Thursday) we start counting those votes. By Sunday we will know who won and be celebrating victory or mourning loss.
On Monday we should get back to work, and to existing side by side with our different political beliefs – the way we do with our different religious beliefs.
That analogy between Political Party ideology and Religion is always ideal.
We live side by side with our different religious beliefs, praying at different times on different days in different ways and we make it work so well that sometimes we intermarry.
Similarly, we should live side by side with our different political ideologies, meeting at different times, in different ways, and making it work so well that we can work together making progress happen for the entire country.
Perhaps it works better in religion than in politics because we pray and worship every day or at least weekly, while our political activity comes round every so many years?
If we were more deeply political on a more regular basis, then perhaps we would be more relaxed and understanding of what this ‘politics’ actually means.
On Saint Janani Luwum day I relaxed enough to pay attention to a personal chore a group of friends had given me – to proofread a political manifesto we drafted after our WhatsApp group had held some heated political discussions.
We are just a group of pals who grew up together doing what boys do, and recently one evening challenged ourselves to be more politically conscious, resulting in an impressive twenty-page document.
As I finished reading its final draft I was downcast that all of us had spent months talking about the Presidency rather than Leadership – because we could all make good national leaders at the different levels we will be voting today and in coming weeks.
Leadership does not mean Presidency, even if the Presidency is at the apex of Leadership in a country like Uganda. And by the way, Leadership is NOT Power; this is a word that Abed Bwanika, Amama Mbabazi and Kiiza Besigye, and various media commentators, have used repeatedly during recent months – but I am happy that my own candidate markedly avoids the word.
Today we all go to vote not just for the Presidency, but for Leadership – under the Political Party or Group we believe presents the best promise and premise for a stable future for this country.
See, the Political Party that wins it is not just the one that wins the seat of President; a President with a Parliamentary majority, for instance, gets more done easier and quicker – as even the United States showed us with the reverse when they “shut down government” for a while not too long ago.
Speaking of getting things done, it is farcical that in all these months we have talked about service delivery and paid little media attention to leadership in the districts where we know the work on the ground literally gets done.
See, we are electing into leadership – not power – the leaders under whom we will work, thrive and prosper; the leaders who will work on the policies that will enable us to work, to thrive and to prosper. The leaders themselves do not build our businesses or our homes, but they must build and implement policies under which we – Ugandans – must do these things.
We must get into our politics enough so we do not sit back and complain that ‘they’ have not done things, the way some commentators laughably yet confidently said last weekend, “There is no foreign policy in Uganda!”
Recently I have felt that the rhetoric, posturing and deceit of this political campaign period – which feels like it has run five whole years – might have blinded some of us to realities around us – echoed by candidate Yoweri Museveni at the debate last Saturday.
Today, we are voting in leaders whose work should be prescribed in a manifesto – a public document that constitutes a series of pledges and commitments. Every day of the next five years we should be calling the attention of those leaders back to that manifesto because it is the public contract to which they should be held.
Every day of the next five years, if that manifesto is ignored then the party in question imperils its chances of success at the next election.
To achieve the goals in that manifesto, however, the party must have the necessary numbers in the caucuses where the lobbying is done, in the full legislature where the laws are enacted, and in the districts where the work is implemented.
For me, that political party is the NRM, headed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is unquestionably the most capable (and by far the most likeable) of the eight potential Presidents arrayed before us.
Because I am voting in an entire swathe of leaders under the NRM – possibly more than 600,000 including councillors – on the strength of a manifesto with clear targets (which, in this case, should already be accommodated in this year’s budget – due for reading in four months’ time and in formulation as per the process cycle since August last year).
I am also voting for change in the way we do certain things because the system and manifesto I am supporting gives me leeway to make a personal contribution to changing things in Uganda for the better.
I am voting NRM not to reward anyone for work already done – but because if those 600,000 leaders and I follow that manifesto, then we will get a lot more done – for everybody – especially if we are vigilant citizens all round. The voters of northern Uganda and Kampala can testify to this quite easily – judging from their voting patterns from 2001 through 2006 and 2011, as their protest at the ballot over war and infrastructure (respectively) transformed into heavy support because of the dramatic change and response that we see today. #SteadyProgress.
And I am voting NRM because I have not been given a promise by the other parties around what they will or can do – and believe me, I’ve listened to them. For instance, anyone can complain about the negatives in Uganda today – as indeed we should – but that is not reason enough for me to vote…for the loudest complainant.
No.
I am voting NRM because I like the ideology, believe in it and believe we can live it even when some people do make mistakes or, linking back to religion, fall short of the glory they should uphold.
Because as a country we have made progress under this same NRM, and I know we can continue this progress.
Provided WE stick to that ideology WE CAN make good. We CAN make Uganda greater than it already IS.