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How Covid-19 has exposed weak governance of Uganda

The news of the arrest of senior officials from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) was not surprising to me. Neither do I think it surprised Ugandans; for it is now a fact any public procurement involving more than $1 m would face such challenges as has led to the arrest of OPM officials.

I personally detected something wrong during Mr Museveni’s first national address on the Covid-19 pandemic. The population had been rallied by the fear of Covid-19. But instead of giving Ugandans hope, Mr Museveni seemed to subtly feel home in his old YKM element of issuing orders. Dear reader, review the videos and check his body language.

We may dismiss the unnecessary use of words like ‘idiots’ and the belligerent tone as vintage YKM; what Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu would call psy-op on his political opponents. But when he placed Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) at the centre of the district front, my red flag went up.

As the author of ‘National Handbook for RDCs,’ I know that RDCs are afflicted with poor accountability. Even then, the office of the RDC is not administratively (and managerially) disposed to manage such a national disaster as Covid-19.

The principal administrative unit in Uganda is the district local government under the administrative and managerial direction of the chief administrative officer (CAO). As the accounting officer and budgetary vote controller, all public resources (human, etc) for the socio-economic development of the district are vested in the CAO. The RDC, on the other hand, is poorly resourced to even deliver a quarter of their mandate. That is why a good RDC (and DISO) maintains a good relationship with the CAO; the guy who has and manages resources (particularly the fuel card).

I didn’t speak to Mr Ben Kumumanya (PS for Local Government) for this article, but (if things have not changed) I think the CAO holds two appointments: one from the Ministry of Local Government as the CAO and another from the Ministry of Finance as the district’s budgetary vote manager.

The CAO’s appointment from the Minister of Finance is personal-to-holder. He or she is personally responsible for all the resources (material, financial, human or other) placed under his or her management. And except for the deputy CAO, all districts local government staff are supervised by (and are under the direction of) the CAO.

So, a directive that all district vehicles be placed under the control of district health officers puts him or her in an awkward situation. A well-brought up district health officer would still have the good sense to seek the guidance of the CAO before he or she executes such a directive (from above).

So, one may ask, what was supposed to be done? Dr Diana Atwine (PS Health) and Mr Kumumanya should meet and adopt the district local government as the front line actor in the emergency of this nature. That would put the CAO at the centre of things. The accountability regime under which the CAO works is more re-assuring and forms the core element of the administrative management of the State.

After that, the CAO should be directed to activate the district disaster preparedness committees (DDPC). Then the DDPC should constitute a sub-committee (headed by the district health officer) tasked with an emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dear reader, the real government is the district local government and the central government is merely politics (policy or porojo). It is really not too late for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Local Government to do the needful and advise the President accordingly.

This article was originally published by The Daily Monitor.


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