By Francis Rwerure Mugisha
The investigation into graft at the Office of the Prime Minister has been an interesting case exposing systemic and procedural weaknesses in handling a matter brought up for good and honest intentions to curb graft that existed for more than a decade in the Office of the Prime Minister and the powerful networks at the top in Government.When Pius Bigirimana was elevated and posted as Permanent Secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister I knew straight that the appointing authority had been frustrated with past officers and wanted a seasoned vibrant knowledgeable and charismatic career officer to turn things round. True to the selection, Pius started right on the day he stepped at Postel Building.
From day 1 on arrival at the OPM he became restless from the way he found the office and had to consult wide for solutions to complex problems he immediately identified. One of the key challenges he faced was a weak institutional structure characterized by unclear roles and responsibilities of offices and officers. Institutional clarity, work plans and budgets, alignment of roles and responsibilities of offices, Ministries, government agencies and donors became his target and he had achieved most of this by the end of his first year in office. Everybody was supposed to work smart.
Clarity of roles in particular was key to monitoring and measurement of performance for every individual and centre of responsibility under his docket. His boss, the Prime Minister and the 9 ministers under OPM were impressed and started getting the desired coordination of activities through a well structured and motivated team. Of course the challenges of team building were never simple and people who had benefited for long from the confusion had to evolve new methods to keep at their game. Like any manager, a number of issues were handled internally until some went overboard. The old saying that, ‘once a cup is full it over flows’, was inevitable after several attempts to beat errant officers into line through their captain, the Principal Accountant. Pius called for external help in his house. What has followed has been for us to watch and interpret depending on the sobriety of our minds.
For those of us who were lucky to interact with Bigirimana while under the Ministry of Public Service, the day he was posted to the Ministry of Health was not good news for the majority of forward looking staff at the Ministry of Public Service. Of course it was a relief to staff of inverted morals. His quest for timely complete and accurate results of assignments given to officers often rubbed him the wrong side with the lazy-excuse laden incompetent staff – often referred to as dead wood.
His friends were those who delivered and he never hid his appreciation accompanied by motivation tokens of sorts. In general it was a loss to the Ministry of Public Service as echoed in all statements by his bosses then at the Ministry.He exuded qualities of managers who lead, something uncommon in the Public service today. His courageous, proactive, sincere, and results orientation elements had not been seen for some period in many officers. He was exemplary and admired by his supervisors.
At Ministry of Health often he encountered resistance to change from the mighty doctors who thought their niche was their preserve to flout many public services procedures, rules and regulation. Like a street fighter, he found this place a fertile ground for organizational change more so when the Global Fund was demanding Long Term Institutional Arrangements to govern the funds once reintroduce after the previous financial misappropriation of its funds. There had been professional conspiracy and protectionism of the officers on a platform of institutional decadence, something he observed and felt single handed he could turn round. And he did it.
He was always uncomfortable with the technical leadership until they saw sense in his approach and started discussing issues constructively. Pius picked a few officers who were in for positive change and the Ministry started functioning using institutional frameworks. His appetite for knowledge to perform better landed him at ESAMI on a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), a degree he practiced on the job before completing the course leading to initiation of crucial reforms at the Ministry. He completed this course but was whisked to the current job before he could advance the reforms. To-date the Ministry is struggling through these appreciated reforms albeit the low capacity to carry on. On his transfer to OPM, junior officers and support staff at the Ministry were planning a demonstration against his transfer in appreciation for the favorable reforms he had introduced.
The recent investigation into the conduct of the Principal Accountant at the OPM did not surprise me, more so sparked off by Pius himself. He has always been allergic and restless to such behavior. He has always been understanding and often advises officers how to earn more from the job without stealing. To use his expression ‘ Eat on the job but don’t eat the job’ he has always wanted progressive officers in carrier and social life while delivering expected services to the eagerly deserving public by virtue of his ‘Abundance Mentality – There is always enough for everybody. It is greed that obscures this reality’.
Events that have taken place as the investigations go on have showed me how the general public can gang against what they desire through misinformation and disinformation, a dangerous trend that can discourage or eliminate otherwise good cadres at sensitive positions in Public Service.
Political overtones have taken centre stage at one moment using the OPM scandal investigation to settle politicians’ hidden scores and of course many officers at OPM including the whistle blower have been caught in the political, tribal or regional crossfire. I was particularly amazed by the accolades the OPM got in June 2012 when a Parliamentary Committee visited the PRDP, NUSAF projects in the North and came back happy saying that at last some work was done in the region.
The Minister for Karamoja affairs was praised for doing things differently and had started yielding results to Karamoja. The Committee praised the PS and his teams and urged him to continue the good work. Three months later, in September 2012, it was a member of the Committee that had visited the area moving a motion in Parliament that Bigirimana is a failure and must step aside for investigations and prosecution. And who supports the motion? One of Bigirimana’s bosses!
This reminded me of the gospel, as you will soon witness in this lent season, where on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem the Jews laid palms all the way for him to enter the Jerusalem as they cheered and praised him as the messiah, the King, the son of David. Shortly after the same people turned round against Him, without any justification shouting crucify him, crucify him and he was killed. After that the killers realized their mistake when it was too late, but Jesus had risen from the dead leaving them dumbfounded and repentant. Anyway, that is Uganda of today where hypocrisy and mob justice are the order in public and political circles. But for sure I believe Pius will stay afloat in the murky waters.
In the drama ensuing I have also witnessed the President refusing to follow the red herring of parliament and refused to get Bigirimana out of office before investigations and the court case are concluded. All I can say is that the President actually knows his cadres and the ways pretenders including civil society use to conspire and stifle his plan to build a cohort of critical competent cadres that is well intentioned to push Uganda forward. Bravo Your Excellency. To us who have watched this rare cadre rise in Public Service, dropping him is without any doubt or bias a great loss to the nation.
My personal opinion is that he is a courageous and honest leader who took a brave step which many Permanent Secretaries cannot dare take because of obvious reasons. Interestingly as he keeps in office amidst the media and parliamentary storms, programs and projects planned for this financial year are going on reasonably well. May be slowly the public will appreciate the need to objectively judge its servants and accord them the respect they deserve.
Generalizations and failure to analyze case by case, failure to contextualize issues of contest may deplete the civil service of officers of substance more so when fair judgment is lacking and mob justice is seen to prevail. Already the Civil Service is besieged and has a bad image as a result of the current graft investigations. Vendetta and malice against genuinely progressing key civil servants must stop if the Civil Service is to be strengthened, lest jobs shall be left to the inefficient and inexperienced as the good ones concentrate on alternatives outside the civil service. This may not go well for future national developments in all sectors of government.
Francis Rwerure Mugisha Works with ABS Consult based in Kampala.