Gen. Tumukunde Bashes His Own Gov’t; ‘Learn To Say Sorry’
By John V Sserwaniko
Security Minister Henry Tumukunde has decried mediocrity and low standards manifested by some actors in the NRM government.
Addressing hundreds of media practitioners who attended the media-security dialogue he organized at the OPM Conference Hall yesterday, Tumukunde specifically addressed his mind on the way Police have casually handled public relations in the aftermath of the Kamwenge Mayor Geoffrey Byamukama torture scandal.
Tumukunde, who admitted attempting to hide the truth while promoting false narratives partly contributes to belligerent relations between police and media, said there was need for minimum honesty and that speaking for government doesn’t mean spinning facts.
This word of caution was construed by the audience to be directed at hundreds of government communications officers in attendance. “Learn to apologize and if you make mistakes own up. That is how you will begin to be appreciated better. If you had a wrong suspect, just own up and say sorry otherwise trying to deny things all the time makes you look faulty,” the much cheered Tumukunde said while pointing at Police publicist Assan Kasingye who had just complained to Prime Minister Rugunda about being bashed too much on certain things.
Kasingye was concerned among those coming out to publicly demonize him for insisting on a certain narrative sometimes includes very senior government officials. Kasingye’s argument was government spokespersons must speak in a way that corroborates earlier public position or version of events given by the police.
His submission was to the effect that government is sometimes in the PR crises, as Tumukunde described it earlier, because government spokespersons take divergent positions without having the courtesy of calling and verifying with the police first. He implored Rugunda to ensure in future a harmonized position is maintained.
Some in the audience murmured wondering why people must first meet to have harmonized position on what will constitute the truth-given that there can only be one truth on a matter. Tumukunde also said some of the problems arise from some security agencies (many felt he meant police) insisting on overloading themselves with work even when they clearly lack expertise.
“Why overload yourself? That is not the way trained professionals operate. They respect other people’s part. That is why I don’t want to become a good prisons officer because I’m not one. You [police] don’t have to carry every burden on your head,” said Tumukunde who spoke eloquently for much of the day exhibiting lots of witticism in his submissions.
He went on: “Own up when you are wrong rather than insisting to appear as if you were right.” He said lack of humility had caused police much of the PR problems it has found itself in lately. He wondered what would be wrong with perpetrators of torture being isolated by the police leaders and being asked to account personally for their actions. To him it would have been sufficient for the police leadership to own up, apologize and denounce the individual officers behind the torture rather than seeking to defend them.
Sarah Kagingo, the CEO Soft Power communications, corroborated Tumukunde’s submission wondering why there has always been absence of decisiveness by the police leadership each time officers and men are implicated in torture scams.
“The president has just spoken out on this matter and we are tired of being told the PSU is handling the matter and the public never gets to know how it all ends,” said Kagingo adding that the fact that communities have resorted to acting vigilantly by forming whatsapp groups to fight robbers at night is proof nobody trusts the police anymore.
“In fact in many residential neighborhoods people now feel informing police is as good as informing the robbers themselves,” said Kagingo whose views prompted Rugunda to urge police to reflect and review their conduct of public affairs.
Tumukunde also had something for the media practitioners urging them to act more patriotically. “The media can kill and we all saw how they recently almost killed Crane Bank. They hastened its death and they almost brought down the economy. Security murders but the media also murders,” said Tumukunde adding that notwithstanding the challenges people reflected upon at the gathering:
“Uganda is still secure according to our own indicators but that doesn’t mean things won’t go wrong.” Speaking on behalf of the media during the panel discussion, NBS’ Kin Kariisa said the NRM government has itself to blame because its ministers are always reluctant to speak to the public. “We shouldn’t be blamed unfairly as media. If Parliament is failing to get the minister coming before it to explain, where do you expect us to get the same minister from?”
Kariisa also said the brutality with which police acts will increasingly make it hard for UTB’s Steven Asiimwe to market Uganda’s tourism potential just like UIA will find it hard to attract credible investors. He recalled taking a flight from Boston recently in the US where he unsuccessfully tried to interest a Muzungu lady about Uganda.
“I told her I’m from Uganda and she said is that in Africa? Then she got her Ipad and started googling. The first three entries that popped up showed me how hard it’s going to be for our friend Asiimwe to market Uganda. The first one was Stella Nyanzi, the second was police brutalizing Dr. Besigye and the third was President Museveni’s interview with Al-Jazeera. I ran short of words and said there is no way I can convince this lady to ever visit Uganda,” Kariisa said.
He added that the police’s unwarranted actions have made it very costly for his TV channel to cover Dr. Besigye. “You must buy protective gear all the time if you are to cover Dr. Besigye regardless of where he is; be it going to church, wedding or any other thing. But why are we doing all this and then expect to have anything else reported about Uganda,”
Kariisa submitted sarcastically pleading with Tumukunde to ensure he doesn’t suffer reprisals for speaking candidly. “You have told us to debate freely and let me say it the way it is.” Kariisa wondered why the government would be quiet when FDC, DP and UPC have weekly press briefings.
He said as National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) they made a standing offer guaranteeing government of free weekly airtime but up to now the offer remains untaken up.