By Faruk Kirunda
In Sunday Monitor of January 9, 2022, Mr. Harold Acemah, a political scientist and retired diplomat launched an unwarranted attack on President Yoweri Museveni, albeit skirting his name and using the pseudonym “Sabalwanyi”.
Why do I call the attack “unwarranted”? Because Mr. Acemah makes the mistake of assuming than only he has the right to comment or “find fault” and that when the president speaks he is the offender and those he chides are saints, or something. Not only does the president have the right to speak like all other citizens but it is his responsibility to speak out against wrong doing or whatever is amiss, in this case, being the conduct and nonperformance of particular civil servants in the execution of their roles.
• The occasion at which Mr. Acemah quotes the president as calling civil servants colonial and terming that as “a vicious, unnecessary and irresponsible attack on Ugandan civil servants which could backfire in the corridors of the public sector” was a retreat of political leaders and senior technocrats at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) held at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds on December 24, last year.
Uganda is a saddled with a problem of corruption which many erroneously and exclusively attribute to NRM as if all the corruption in the world is occasioned by NRM. Did corruption come with the advent of NRM and totally none before that?
Much of the problem or the epicenter of corruption is domiciled in the civil service where Government workers, free from political or overhead responsibility and assured that they cannot face an electoral backlash for their actions create fiefdoms where they preside over all manner of impropriety knowing (or believing) that the political class serves “on contract” and could be out of the way the very next day. Such corrupt civil servants are so rich and powerful that even line ministers find themselves powerless doing anything about them.
Besides, because all they are occupied with is “for God and my stomach” designs, they are considerably responsible for service delivery challenges we are witnessing. They siphon funds meant to give services to the public as well as generally being inefficient, negligent and even mean. They are so detached from the public, lounging in air-conditioned offices unlike politicians who, by the nature of their job, must interface with the people regularly or face their wrath every few seasons. Meaning, that for any misdeeds, politicians receive a fair share of their penalty.
But who penalises civil servants whose terms are “permanent and pensionable” when they fail national development goals? Who penalises them when they sabotage policy implementation or delay projects unless contractors have parted with a share of the contract sums for their deep pockets? And, exactly, what acts is Mr. Acemah defending about these “cherished, angelic” civil servants of his?
It’s an act of extreme provocation and infringement to attack the president for doing his divine duty of holding the people’s servants that he leads to account.
President Museveni, as head-of-state and government, is charged with managing Ugandan affairs the best way he finds fit and he deserves support, advice and information. When he addresses one group, he is addressing everyone who needs redirection. As a politician, where he errs, it’s the collective body of Ugandans that judges him and hands him “a sentence” via elections. The fact that they have voted him over and over means that they appreciate his way of doing things or at worst, that they can still tolerate him ahead of anyone else.
Mr. Acemah is less entitled to claim to represent the voice of Ugandans by using statements such as “Ugandans believe that the answer he gave at the 1986 OAU Summit in Addis Ababa was visionary”. He has no mandate to speak for them. In any case, there are those who agree with Museveni and those who don’t, the same way some may agree with Acemah and others not.
As for the civil servants, is Mr. Acemah their representative? I believe that they have representatives who would more aptly respond if there was a need. As things stand, those to whom the president directed his message got it and will, hopefully, revise their ways. Does the retired diplomat want to say that civil servants are 100% perfect in their duties? If they are, what are the results of their perfection?
Politicians, including Museveni, are human beings. They err, but they have a right to speak or front their ideas, language dynamics notwithstanding, because they have stepped up to diagnose society’s problems and try to find solutions to them. They are practical and almost always willing to be subjected to public scrutiny but that does not mean that they must be rubbed in the mud out of malice and bias.
Politicians are not just players in politics; they are citizens, most with commendable backgrounds as professionals or civil servants, with varying competences.
However, we are not here to compete but to cooperate and take Uganda forward. Anyone who feels offended being asked by the “chief executive” of the country to upgrade their work ethics has no business holding public office or earning tax payers’ money.
Moreover, when the president says that his “fishmongers” seem to be pushing things very well and he is happy with the speed at which they are moving, those “fishmongers” are not working alone; they work with good civil servants who have decolonised, demafialised and depoliticised their minds. The attempt by Mr. Acemah to propagate a gulf between the progressive political class and equally compliant civil service will not succeed. The bad civil servants are few but with a lot of power. Fortunately, the pace of transformation is overwhelming them as Uganda thrusts forward towards its development objectives such as Middle Income and “Vision 2030”.
As for Museveni’s pointed language which the diplomat likens to what colonial lords used on natives back then, what is more insulting than holders of public office literally capturing the state and denying citizens due service?
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary