Uganda's Burden Of Tyranny: Taxpayers Gouged By Cost of Regime Patronage

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Gen. Museveni--inflated ego and cabinet

[Commentary]Uganda’s Parliament recently gave Yoweri Museveni the go ahead to expand his fifth-term cabinet from 42 ministers provided for in the 1995 Constitution to now more than 80.

Museveni’s new cabinet is now one of the largest in the world.

Museveni claims that he is desperately seeking to elevate Uganda to a middle-income country, joining other African countries such as Ghana and others on the continent who already enjoy that status.

However, most of these countries have more ministers than high-income nations such as the U.K., U.S., Japan and Germany. Even with higher per-capita incomes and far higher tax bases, most developed nations in the Western hemisphere have less than 20 cabinet ministers each.

The resolution in Parliament was passed amid widespread concerns, particularly from development experts and independent-minded politicians, who warn that “a distended government” will aggravate the cost of public administration in the country and eat into the budgeted funds for social development.

We cannot talk about a middle-income country, when a growing cabinet and executive bureaucracy built around a single institution, the Office of the President and State House, is the single most important threat to governance and efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve economic transformation in Uganda today.

The expansion of the cabinet to over 80, speaks of a patronage system that has been so carefully crafted to reward political constituencies that maintain the current system under Museveni in power.

The total wage bill at state house, which also covers 112 Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and their deputies, is colossal and stands at Shs 702.2 million a month (over $206,000 which is a significant sum in Uganda), adding up to more than Shs 8 billion annually (or $2.34 million).

This is in addition to nearly 300 presidential advisers, presidential assistants and presidential secretaries.

Then you have MPs who have themselves become part of the bigger problem facing Uganda and unless Parliament itself is reformed, Uganda will continue heading towards a political and economic cliff.

With the new 458 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the 10th rubber stamp Parliament, the wage bill stands at more than Shs 11 billion per month ($3.2 million), excluding a car grant of more than Shs 103 million ($30, 250) for each member.

This is just incredible. You cannot mix greed and development, or the well-being of citizens and expect something good to come out of it. 

The appetite of State House and MPs will continue to lead to significant diversion of public funds and resources from critical social and economic sectors. Its bloated nature has blurred the lines of accountability and responsibility and thus created a breeding ground for unprecedented corruption and mismanagement.

We cautioned government about this during the Juba Peace process in 2006 in South Sudan when an emissary from Museveni, Mr. Sam Engola dangled before us three cabinet ministerial posts if we signed the cessation of ostilities agreement.

The condition was that we move the venue of the talks to Uganda from where we would continue discussing other agenda items, including the root causes of Uganda problems.

I made it very clear to Mr. Engola that the purpose of the peace talks was to address issues which affect the victims and the country as whole; including the aspiration and needs of the ordinary people. We did not go to Juba for job-seeking or for monetary gains.

The cessation of hostilities agreement was signed and implemented. 

What followed for the remaining agendas during the Juba peace talks became a game of cat- and-mouse with no tangible final results or meaningful conclusion.

A decade later, the cabinet is being enlarged and we are talking of a "middle income economy"; that is of course a fantasy.  With 86% of Ugandans living on less than a dollar a day who are the middle income earners that the government is trying to create?

Uganda as a country is at a crossroad and it is heading towards unknown destination. The few lucky shilling-billionaires created through patronage under the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime replaced respect for their nation with greed and corruption. They have no moral shame or guilt.

Equally, the armed forces, the police forces and other security agencies have become the oppressors of the very people they are supposed to protect; they forget that it is they who will bear the brunt of the rule of law one day.  Members of armed services should stick to their duties in a responsible manner and conduct themselves in a nonpartisan way.

Ugandans seriously need to rethink the country's destination --or forget Uganda as we know it-- by going back to the drawing board with the view of addressing the following burning issues:

    •    Why are we called "Ugandans" and how do we move forward?    •    What is the best practicable systems we should adopt in order to govern ourselves?    •    Is the current Uganda constitution working in the interest and expectation of her citizens?

We need an urgent inclusive national convention/conference to thrust out these issues and those relating to our past and the present if Uganda is to survive as a unitary nation; now and post-Museveni.


Wilson Owiny Omoya (Col.)

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