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The Civil Service need further Shake Up!

Ofwono Opondo

Nov. 8. 16    
Last week’s reshuffle of Permanent Secretaries (PSs) who are the Accounting Officers in their respective ministries by President Yoweri Museveni was long overdue, and should come as a relief because some of them had become the obstacles to efficient and effective management. Many PSs had stayed in the same ministries for long, building fiefdoms and small warlordism, yet resources under their care were being abused through flagrant neglect, deliberate duplication, wastage and corruption which they were either unwilling or unable to tackle.
The reshuffle should equally be accompanied by another round of legal and administrative reforms to overhaul old and archaic civil service traditions including its Standing Orders, rules and regulations to bring them into line with democratization, transparency, liberalization, and new technology for efficiency. If not done, ‘deadwood’ behaviour and practice will continue to haunt the civil service even when the personnel may be educated and of a young generation.
This has been, the first time, in a long period, that President Museveni has removed PSs who are below the retirement age of 60 years, and having a valid running contract! It would appear, therefore, that many of them had taken his patience for granted, and perhaps falsely believed they were the ‘sacred cows’. In total, nine PSs out of 28 were dropped. These, follow a short line of three PSs who left earlier either through courts of law having been charged with criminal offences, or are on interdiction for abuse of office.
As Accounting Officers, PSs are responsible for the internal planning, coordination, control and management of resources, and staff in their respective ministries. They tender policy advise to the political leadership. They are also supposed to coordinate and build functional synergies with other ministries and stakeholders for the proper implementation of government programs. Without shifting blame from the often overbearing politicians especially ministers, the PSs, can therefore be held directly responsible for the entrenched multiple malaise of complacence, weak administrative control, and slow decision-making which often lead to the various forms of wastage including corruption. In the ministries of education, and health, for instance, the PSs and their ministers were no longer on good terms and even taking pride to fight endless wars on the public tufts including in the media without any form embarrassment or restraint. The fights had sucked in other civil servants across government letting indecision to fester, and corruption to thrive as the backstabbing continued.
The shake up, is therefore positive as it is aimed at improving management, resource allocation and control, including the multiple layers of staff and agencies under the permanent secretaries. It is hoped that a major shake –up will now continue down the lane to the technical and administrative staff of government ministries and agencies, who are directly responsible for planning and the efficient implementation of government programs which many of them abandoned long ago, preferring to stay on their jobs for self-aggrandisement.
Some PSs had become hands-off managers, leaving their Under-Secretaries, principal accountants, procurement officers, transport officers, and internal auditors to fiddle around with policy formulation and implementation as well as resources. In doing so, many PSs avoided taking direct personal responsibilities for any failures in the on-going mismanagement of their respective ministries. They had also left their junior officers to equally build fiefdoms of their own making internal as well as mult-sectoral coordination within government unachievable. Many of these officers could no longer be transferred because they had compromised the Civil Service chain.
It is common for instance to find a principal accountant, internal auditor or procurement officer working in the same ministry for over a decade running, and each time a transfer comes, it is shot down and they remain, while resources are evidently not being put to good and efficient use, or even abused. It is equally common to find a transport officer whose vehicle fleet and fuel management is so poor or questionable staying on the job without the PS raising finger, most likely because they have been brought into the corruption loop.
Without launching a witch-hunt, police, ISO and IGG should coordinate the identification of newly acquired properties owned by civil servants and other public officers especially in rural areas, so that they are made to administratively explain to their respective PSs how they got them. If, an officer cannot adequately explain how they accumulated wealth and property beyond their ordinarily known official incomes, then, that should be reason to ask them to resign. This, in my view is one way to deal corruption a good blow and clean up the public service without incurring intractable legal costs. Amendments should be brought to the civil service standing order requiring all public servants to take new oaths.
Complacency is entrenched and many civil servants just sit around desks and don’t bother, often frustrating projects, if those projects don’t benefit them directly as individuals. There ought to be easier ways to discipline errant officers who have taken advantage of the archaic civil service rules knowing they will be protected. The president has demonstrated that he has rolled his sleeves, let all of us public servants roll ours too to do a better job for Uganda.