Uganda can merge, ab­sorb govt agen­cies, but with­out re­think­ing the hu­man re­source, its useless

The East African - - NEWS -

“It is also ob­vi­ous that the gov­ern­ment is des­per­ate to col­lect more taxes to fi­nance its bud­get. Some in­vestors will be af­fected by this tax mea­sure but those who are very ag­gres­sive on in­vest­ment exit plans mayt not be af­fected,” Plaxeda Namir­imu, a tax direc­tor at PWC Uganda, told

in an ear­lier in­ter­view. Tan­za­nia, which is also star­ing at a bud­get short­fall of 5.3 per cent of GDP, in­tro­duced new tax­a­tion mea­sures as it sought to fund its $14.21 bil­lion bud­get. Fi­nance Min­is­ter Dr Philip Mpango did not change the fixed tar­iffs on lo­cally pro­duced non-petroleum ex­cis­able prod­ucts in­clud­ing al­co­hol, soft drinks and to­bacco but in­creased the ex­cise duty rates of im­ported non-petroleum prod­ucts by 5 per cent. Dar es Salaam also re­placed the Paper Tax Stamp from Septem­ber this year with the Elec­tronic Tax Stamp, which it said will en­able the gov­ern­ment to ob­tain pro­duc­tion data from man­u­fac­tur­ers in real time. Dr Mpango is also push­ing to widen the tax base by for­mal­i­sa­tion of the in­for­mal sec­tor.

The re­cently an­nounced "merg­ers," a process of col­laps­ing, merg­ing and ab­sorb­ing au­tonomous state au­thor­i­ties/ agen­cies into gov­ern­ment min­istries is likely to pose more chal­lenges than an­tic­i­pated. That thou­sands of civil ser­vants are go­ing to lose jobs is a given.

That there will be at­tempts to can­ni­balise and liq­ui­date phys­i­cal as­sets is also ex­pected. But the hu­man re­source chal­lenge of man­ag­ing per­son­nel who will be lucky to be ab­sorbed from the agen­cies be­ing col­lapsed into the min­istry de­part­ments will re­quire more than care­ful han­dling.

In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter and Cab­i­net spokesman Frank Tumwe­baze has al­ready hinted at a prob­a­ble ego prob­lem, where a direc­tor gen­eral or ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor or what­ever grandiose ti­tle they bear of a hith­erto pow­er­ful au­thor­ity will be re­luc­tant to be ab­sorbed into a gov­ern­ment min­istry where s/he will at best be a com­mis­sioner.

Ac­tu­ally, Mr Tumwe­baze talked of “if” and “will­ing­ness” of such hith­erto big peo­ple “agree­ingg” to be­come min­istry staff. This is be­cause the state au­thor­i­ties, as the word "au­thor­ity'' im­plies, have been big and their top po­si­tions pos­si­bly at­tract more pres­tige and envy than those of Cab­i­net ministers.

For such peo­ple to start reporting to an un­der­sec­re­tary may not be easy, to put it mildly.

But how did we get here? Twenty-five years ago, pri­vati­sa­tion was all the rage. Most state en­ter­prises were sold off to “get gov­ern­ment out of busi­ness” and then reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties were set up. Be­fore we knew it, there were as many au­thor­i­ties/agen­cies were as many as the paras­tatals that were sold off — about 150 — and they were deal­ing in bil­lions, and tril­lions of shillings. And steal­ing half of the money.

A re­cent ju­di­cial com­mis­sion of in­quiry found that Ush4 tril­lion was stolen in as many (or as few) years from the Uganda Na­tional Roads Au­thor­ity.

If you think that is bla­tant, con­sider the grotesque­ness of the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity hir­ing a debt col­lec­tor to get its money from the Min­istry of Fi­nance – suc­cess­fully.

The new au­thor­i­ties were dab­bling in the mar­ket and the man­agers were be­hav­ing like any cor­rupt busi­ness­man. Peo­ple called the fren­zied loot­ing in the au­thor­i­ties a pol­icy re­ver­sal be­cause they were be­hav­ing like the dis­cred­ited paras­tatals.

Now the "col­lapsed-merge-ab­sorb" move is also be­ing seen as an­other pol­icy re­ver­sal only the words paras­tatal and mixed econ­omy are no longer in cur­rency.

The height of hu­man re­source ob­scen­ity was wit­nessed in the au­thor­i­ties that started pay­ing board mem­bers monthly salaries plus other al­lowances, con­trary to the tra­di­tion that board mem­bers are only paid a sit­ting al­lowance, for a max­i­mum of four sit­tings in a year.

Now, the chal­lenges of man­ag­ing and su­per­vis­ing man­agers from such an obese and rot­ting en­vi­ron­ment when they get ab­sorbed into min­istries where the of­fi­cial pay is a frac­tion of what they were used to. The head of a col­lapsed au­thor­ity who has been earn­ing $10,000 a month would have to ac­cept $700 as a com­mis­sioner of a gov­ern­ment depart­ment, about 1,400 per cent pay cut.

But salaries are not the big­gest prob­lem. Pub­lic of­fi­cials sur­vive on al­lowances for which claims are very cre­atively made. Inpsec­tion trips around the coun­try are imag­ined, ap­proved and paid for. Trips abroad are made but for a frac­tion of the days that are paid for and so on.

Now imag­ine a former au­thor­ity boss who has been the one ap­prov­ing such cre­ative claims, to start ap­ply­ing for them to a "mere" min­istry un­der­sec­re­tary. To get any such al­lowances to sup­ple­ment their salary s/he would have to ‘dance' be­fore the un­der­sec­re­tary to sign ap­proval. Can such a per­son work ef­fec­tively?

An au­thor­ity boss has the dis­cre­tion to pay for med­i­cal treat­ment of a mem­ber of staff's sick mother abroad.

Af­ter be­ing ab­sorbed into the min­istry, the former au­thor­ity boss would have to ‘‘dance'' for their own med­i­cal bills to be re­funded.

These may not sound like core is­sues for the func­tion­ing of a gov­ern­ment depart­ment, but then, the sys­tem is still so re­liant on hu­man re­source that and once the hu­man is dis­con­tented, their out­put will be af­fected.

Our of­fices are clut­tered with com­put­ers that be­come ob­so­lete be­fore their ca­pac­ity is util­isd by up to 10 per ent. We are still a very ba­sic so­ci­ety that re­lies n the hu­man mind to feed the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. And now our min­istries are go­ing to be in­fused with a dose of dis­grun­tled hu­mans.

Pic­ture: File

pc VAT on all oil prod­ucts, and an in­crease in In­ter­net and mo­bile money trans­fer fees.

Pic­ture: File

A gov­ern­ment re­port notes that the func­tions of the Uganda Na­tional Roads Au­thor­ity are du­pli­cated in the Depart­ment of Roads and Bridges in the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port.

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