The only policy/plan that Uganda has not yet written is the policy on implementation!
Indians have an ancient proverb which says that before we can see properly we must first shed our tears to clear the way. After years of agonising, the last couple of weeks have cleared the way for me to see properly the genesis of our national problems.
I have realised that as a country, we are actually on the same page. We are speaking the same language. Only that we are on a wrong page and speaking the wrong language. Economists call it normative economics. The “we should…,” “we need…,” “we ought to…” language.
Mr. President, while delivering the State of the Nation speech last week you said, “We need to capitalise Uganda Development Bank (UDB)”. You also said, “We should reduce imports and expand exports” and that “We need to capitalise National Housing and Construction Company.” On other occasions I have also heard you saying, “We should reduce post-harvest losses that farmers face.”
We need…., we should…, we ought to…is not the language that a ruling government should speak, let alone a government that has managed the country for 30 uninterrupted years! We expect your government, Mr. President, to say, “We have finalised the UDB capitalisation schedule and it is as follows: in FY2016/17 we have allocated Shs.100 billion, and this will be scaled by Shs.100 billion per year for the period 2017/18 – 2020/21”
Your government, Mr. President, should then go ahead and tell us what you agreed on in cabinet and/or NRM Caucus as far as other key challenges that are currently impeding the country are concerned. For example, we will celebrate if instead of saying “we need to reduce imports” you stated, “We have finalised the strategy for building domestic capabilities of our local entrepreneurs to raise their productivity and competitiveness.
“Beginning next month, we are going to embark on building regional one-stop-centres for business development services (BDS). At each centre, we are going to provide home-grown training, consulting, technical and managerial assistance to local entrepreneurs.
This will help to upgrade their production, value addition and marketing skills to enable them capture the local and regional markets. For this purpose, we have allocated and secured Shs.400 billion, by cutting public administration expenditure.”
Let’s stop rhetoric
We have also heard a popular rhetoric from government, thus “We need to export in order to reduce the balance of trade deficit”. Instead of this, Ugandans are waiting for the day a government official, let alone the President, will stand in front of them and say, “We have agreed to build export competitiveness.
We have hired a team of experts (both local and foreign) and it is tasked to build clusters of potential, self-selecting exporters along each of the following value chains, for the start: coffee, animal products and cereals, starting next month.
These will work in sync with the BDS centres to deepen and broaden the knowledge base of at least 1000 local companies in areas such as design, quality control and information related to markets and marketing, as well as technology. The first phase must be delivered by June 2018, after which the next phase that involves another set of three products will start.”
Instead of the endlessly uttered “we should reduce post-harvest losses,” government should announce its plan of building regional agro-processing centres, fully equipped with facilities for cleaning, drying, storage, value addition, transporting, cold chains, etc. We all appreciate that resources are not enough. Let us phase these activities both in time and space. For example, we may start with the worst cases of post-harvest loss.
In a recent study, for example, we found that Ugandan farmers on average lose up to 53% and 46% of beans and maize respectively in the first month after harvest. We also found that these losses increase to 57% and 60% respectively if the farmers attempted to speculate the prices by keeping their produce for a period of up to three months after harvest.
Now, when I hear government talking about giving farmers more seeds of beans and maize as a strategy of increasing their productivity and production, without helping them first to deal with the above mentioned ‘obscene’ post-harvest losses, I sit on the ground in astonishment! We have talked about these things again and again. Personally, I have addressed countless workshops and meetings of leaders, technical people and ordinary folks across the country.
We have shown, with a pilot project in Kapeeka Nakaseke District that these things we are talking about are not theories; they can be done in the real world. They have been done in all successful economies. What the hell is stopping us from doing the simple things that are within our capacity?
Uganda is suffering from a serious implementation crisis. We spend a lot of our time, possibly up to 90% of the time, doing policy and plans. I often joke that the only policy Uganda has not yet written is the policy on implementation. I pity the guys at the National Planning Authority (NPA). What plan haven’t they written?
Delivery Unit is not sufficient
A quick scan through the budgets, both the national and local government budgets, will reveal that only about 60% of the budgeted-for activities this year were aligned to the NDP II. Yet, not even budget alignment would guarantee implementation.
Someone thought that by creating a Delivery Unit (DU) in the Office of the Prime Minister government will deliver the plans and other government pronouncements. Well, time will tell whether Dr. Ezra Suruma’s DU can perform miracles.
Given the uncoordinated nature of government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), sloppiness in government, and the observable lack of political will to deal with apathy, lethargy and the sheer lack of urgency among public servants in this country, I don’t see the DU performing the miracles.
And it all boils down to a single factor: leadership. Uganda is not being held back by a lack or resources or inadequacy of human resources or poor implementation strategy — factors that often cause implementation failure.
Uganda is being let down by poor, or in worst cases a complete lack of committed, disciplined and accountable leadership. Let’s ask ourselves; why do things work, for example, in the army — our mighty UPDF? Any well-meaning Ugandan agrees that the UPDF is the best performing institution in the country.
Mr. President, I have for some time been closely following the goings-on in the UPDF. I know that this institution too was at one time rotten. We all remember the days when our army used to make headlines only for the bad reasons — paymasters disappearing with soldiers’ wages, procurement of undersized uniforms, ghost soldiers on the payroll, procurement of junk military hardware, etc.
We know when the turning point happened in the army. It was in early 2000s when the late Gen. Aronda Nyakairima took charge of the UPDF as army commander and later as the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF).
I had the opportunity to observe Aronda’s leadership acumen and work ethic at a relatively closer range. I wasn’t, therefore, surprised when I saw the UPDF rapidly transforming into what it is today.
Of course, Aronda worked with and through others to give the army the good foundation. He left a template where future commanders may base to strengthen the army. He went to Ministry of Internal Affairs and what he did there in the short period he led the ministry will forever change the hitherto no-go-areas such as immigration, National ID, etc.
The “lamentation club”
The female version of Aronda resided at the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) — another hitherto “mission impossible” institution — in Allen Kagina. We all know the URA story before and after Kagina. Anyone can now takeover URA and hit the targets. The template was built in such a way that anyone can fit in. Allen is another superb leader and manager; committed, disciplined and accountable. Undoubtedly she will turn around the infamous Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) where she was posted recently.
Her personal friend, Jennifer Musisi Semakula, is another living example of what committed leadership can achieve. I know many people have issues with her given that she has stepped on quite a number of toes in her attempt to turn around yet another formerly “mission impossible” case of Kampala. Perhaps no other human being could achieve what Musisi has achieved in this hot potato called Kampala City, the minimal collateral damage notwithstanding.
Other individuals whose leadership capabilities are clear for any unbiased individual to see include: William Muhairwe (the former MD of National Water and Sewerage Corporation), Tumusiime-Mutebile at BOU, the late Nobel Mayombo (at CMI & Ministry of Defence), and a few others I may not have cited here.
Mr. President, I did not pick my mighty pen and paper to blow people’s trumpets; I ended up here in an attempt to provide evidence that where ‘right’ leadership has been provided, results are everywhere to see. I know you may ask, what is new?
Well, what is new is that you are presiding over a systemic implementation crisis, and what is scary is that you have lately done what in the past you detested with relish — joining the “lamentation club”. I have lost the count of the occasions where you have blamed your government letting you down. Yet you have done nothing to substantially change or restructure it.
Mr. President, the “true muyekera” we used to know talked through actions. He rarely threatened; he set ambushes and pounced on his target. He spent less time addressing functions. He surrounded himself with smart people. He was never blindfolded by loyalty. He was sensitive to politics, but politics never compromised his mission.
This is the guerrilla that surprised the world by doing what no other rebel in the world had achieved: fighting and defeating a government in 5 years, without major external assistance and bases. I am waiting for the renaissance of this guerrilla, to address the prevailing implementation crisis that has turned my country into a regional mockery.