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!”
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.

where did that mould that produced this fantastic generation go?

Metusera Tibigambwa Katuramu

MANY eloquent and free-flowing eulogies flowed last week from the time Owekitinisa Metusera Amooti Tibigambwa Katuramu passed on till after he was laid to rest.

For a man of his stature and longevity, it was not surprising that everything said was full of praise and acclaim.

Katuramu’s grandchildren read out a poem in memory of the old man, titled ‘Paradoxes of a man of God’ (Philip C. Brewer) that in full described him well, and I especially liked: 

“Strong enough to be weak, wise enough to say I don’t know!…, Important enough to be last…, Great enough to be anonymous…, Leading enough to serve.”

ImageThe nobility in him stood out because of his humility. His poise, even in his sick bed, made us stand firm whenever we left him with his beloved wife Atwooki fussing dutifully and maintaining the tidiest of homes.

The Hoima LC5 Chairman, George Bagonza Tinkasiimire, delivered a short but pointed speech the crux of which went (in Runyoro): “Akacuba k’abantu mulingo gunno, kabuulirra nkaha?” which, loosely translated, meant: “Where did the mould that was used to make people like this disappear to?”

And he narrated how some years ago this noble old man had shown him his tax certificates going back fifty (50) years. Tinkasiimire marvelled not only at the steadfast nature of this senior citizen, but at how meticulous he had been in keeping a full, clean and clear record as evidence of what we already knew about him.

Later, Katuramu’s daughter, Amooti Deborah, told us how her father took her to task when she co-owned a government vehicle. The man found it hard to believe that his adult daughter, whose salary he estimated he knew, could afford the car. She had to present to him all her documentation before he let her keep it – such was his consistency in integrity.

But during the farewell ceremonies, there were five almost-surreal minutes that disrupted that semblance of tidiness, assaulted my sensibility, and made Tinkasiimire’s question stick out.

About six minutes before Tinkasiimire’s eulogy, Vincent Makumbi Nyanzi, Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, had arrived at the funeral ceremony.

Even as his official Mitsubishi Pajero drove up the neat driveway, in Kaitira, Hoima, I hesitated to believe the ministerial flag waving off the vehicle pole on the left hand side was at half mast out of respect for the old man we were bidding farewell.

That respect, I felt, would have been better communicated by an earlier arrival at the ceremony and a much less conspicuous entry; but his driver came right up the house as is the propensity of ‘big’ men’s vehicles, and the thought occurred that if this had been Katuramu, he would never have attracted so much attention.  

Even as I was making a mental comparison, the doors were flung open and I was startled to see a yellow jerry-can right there amid passengers in the back seat. Not in the boot, but next to where the Minister of State was seated, right up against his leg.

My breath caught at the back of my throat much as yours has, reading this; I watched the bodyguard step out of the car and took my time studying the jerry-can long enough to arrive at the suspicion that it held either a) honey or, b) locally brewed alcohol, or c) fuel. The people seated around me did the same and started murmuring about the same jerry-can.

It looked like all the other yellow jerry-cans of that nature – grubby, suspect, and being in the back seat area of a Mitsubishi Pajero: very misplaced.

Quite unsettled, I went up to one of the State Minister’s entourage to confirm that the jerry-can didn’t hold Petrol, the worst of the three bad options in mind, and he smilingly responded to allay my fears:

“No, sir. It’s diesel!”

His back was to the ceremony, and his boss walked down the middle as he said this, across the well-manicured lawn in the shadow of a very neatly-planted copse of Pine trees providing a lovely backdrop for the ceremony in front of the home.

I was faced with a mountain of flabbergast.

The fellow lost his smile when I pointed out that he was in charge of the Minister’s well-being and should not have allowed the jerry-can to be in that place, and I cannot confirm that the offending receptacle was later relocated. I also have no idea about the boot of the Pajero – maybe there was a cow back there…or a brood of chickens…a fish pond, perhaps?

Minister Nyanzi, meanwhile, was once Minister of State for Industry and Technology and also Minister of State for Economic Monitoring.

If I continue with this I will lose my mind…

We need help. We need to work out: “Where did the mould that was used to make people like Metusera Katuramu disappear to?”