Par­lia­ment Ap­prov­ing De­ci­sions for all the Wrong Rea­sons

By: Winnie Watera

Par­lia­ment pro­nounced it­self on  the cab­i­net when it started vet­ting the Pres­i­den­tial ap­pointees for the var­i­ous posts. The vet­ting process comes at the dawn of Par­lia­ment pass­ing the mo­tion to vary the num­ber of Cab­i­net Min­is­ters from 21 to 31 and other Min­is­ters from 31 to 49 bring­ing the to­tal num­ber to 80 on 17th May 2016.

The cen­tral ar­gu­ment for the in­crease by Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni is, in­clu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion; un­for­tu­nately, most MPs in fa­vor of the mo­tion were of the view that an in­creased num­ber of Min­is­ters will au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late into im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery. Not sure whether to be be­wil­dered at the fact that main­stream me­dia and so­cial me­dia was awash with sen­ti­ments on the is­sue (it hap­pens af­ter every gen­eral elec­tion) or at the fact that it is ap­proved when­ever it ap­pears on the or­der pa­per then FD­C’s Hon. Franca Akel­lo’s words came to life and rightly so. Dur­ing the de­bate on the mat­ter, she said, ‘I know the NRM al­ways gets what it wants and am sure that this mo­tion will pass…’ Granted that we have RDCs, a host of tech­ni­cal of­fi­cers in min­istries, pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sors, and 80 min­is­ters. All these are a ploy to dis­trib­ute the “na­tional cake” with lit­tle re­gard to their value ad­di­tion.

If Ugan­da’s his­tory has taught us any­thing, it has taught us that this is not the case, am not sure there any ev­i­dence-based pol­icy analy­sis at­test­ing to the no­tion; it has, how­ever, re­it­er­ated that in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal units and rep­re­sen­ta­tion has not had any cor­re­la­tion with im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery but has one to in­creased pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture.

Uganda has for a long time had a very bloated cab­i­net and look­ing at the state of ser­vices at the mo­ment there is a lot left to be de­sired. Am not obliv­i­ous to the pos­i­tive strides that have been made over the years, the health bud­get has in­creased, from UGX 852 bil­lion in 2012/​13 to UGX 1,270 bil­lion in 2015/​16 and Ed­u­ca­tion from UGX 1,592 bil­lion to UGX 2,315 bil­lion in the same pe­riod. How­ever, when we jux­ta­pose the work on the ground in these sec­tors cou­pled with the num­ber of Min­is­ters and the funds al­lo­cated to these sec­tors, re­sults do not tally. It goes with­out say­ing that the prob­lems fac­ing our ser­vice de­liv­ery are be­yond what our MPs ar­gued that day, few min­is­ters.

Firstly, Min­is­ters are just po­lit­i­cal heads, a ve­hi­cle through which po­lit­i­cal al­lies are re­warded of­ten than not, their ap­point­ment may have noth­ing to with their abil­ity to per­form in a spe­cific min­istry. Sec­ondly, the no­tion is not fea­si­ble in terms of con­ti­nu­ity; the rate of turnover in our Par­lia­ment is re­ally high, it’s about 65% of MPs and Min­is­ters, a ma­jor­ity are never re-ap­pointed or re-elected. Im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery does not hap­pen overnight, so if we are peg­ging it to min­is­ters’ ap­point­ments, it’s de­plorable.

There are a cou­ple of is­sues hin­der­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery in Uganda, for in­stance, the fact that pub­lic ser­vices have ex­panded faster than the skilled la­bor or the pop­u­la­tion (one of the fastest grow­ing in the world) has ex­panded faster than the gov­ern­ment cares to ad­mit and plan for. This is cou­pled with ab­sen­teeism, cor­rup­tion, in­com­pe­tence, ap­a­thy, poor plan­ning, in­ad­e­quate funds and the list goes on and on. These are real prob­lems around which real con­ver­sa­tions have to be tai­lored so that real so­lu­tions and mod­els that work best in ad­dress­ing the un­der­ly­ing causes of fail­ure are found. Halt­ing the ex­pan­sion of pub­lic ser­vices in fa­vor of im­prov­ing qual­ity or align­ing the ser­vices avail­able to the num­ber of peo­ple could be a start, not fur­ther ex­ac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem of gross pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture as is the case now.

The 1995 Con­sti­tu­tion, ab­ro­gated pre­vi­ous con­sti­tu­tions in a bid to de­moc­ra­tize Uganda, Par­lia­ment in the process was given im­mense pow­ers like vary­ing cab­i­net num­bers, re­gard­less of whether it is or not the will of the peo­ple. Cab­i­net is more of a tool for pa­tron­age and po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal and does lit­tle in pro­mot­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery. The ruth of the mat­ter is, years down the road, po­lit­i­cal loy­alty and dom­i­na­tion of the rul­ing par­ties at all lev­els has risen above the tenets of democ­racy and not all de­ci­sions fa­vor the will of the peo­ple.