Almost two years into his dual role as minister for the Presidency and Kampala Capital City Authority, Frank Tumwebaze, 38, has ridden a tough tide, presiding over the impeachment of Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and steadying the course of an unstable KCCA.
In this interview with Deo Walusimbi on Friday, the minister discussed the challenges of his two jobs and the recent uproar over State House salaries, among other issues. Below are experts:
It is almost two years since you became minister. How do you find the job?
It’s been a tough two years, but I thank God that I am managing and sticking to my brief without getting stranded or diverted. I am personally satisfied with the progress so far and I get good feedback from those who objectively follow my work. I’ll make the second year on August 15.
Of the two portfolios – the Presidency and KCCA – which is most challenging?
Both are equally challenging. Being a minister for the Presidency literally means being a minister without borders. Your line of duty is constructed around facilitating the work of the principal and so it cuts across all government sectors and extends to the wider public. I meet close to 100 people every day with diffident appeals and petitions to the president through my office.
Most of them come through the referral system of the RDCs. I have to attend to them all, understand and channel their issues to wherever they can be served. After that, I have to do the normal routine office paperwork and correspondences, and I am sure you have seen the queue of guests waiting for me as you came in for this interview.
KCCA is equally tough. I came in at a time when KCCA management staff, who had been tasked by the central government to transform the city to a status befitting a capital city, were facing a lot of political resistance and some were contemplating resigning. I had to give them all the support and assurances. I am happy that we are making visible good changes, the works and schemes of our critics, notwithstanding.
Who considered resigning?
I don’t need to list people’s names, but most of the major senior staff were uncomfortable with the tense situation they were working in. They were threatened and, attempts were made to hurt their children in schools. Even I, of course, was intimidated.
You remember even junior workers like sweepers and cleaners in the city were targeted and some stabbed, and you remember one time employees refused to work and the ED was forced to close [KCCA] for half day until we assured them of their security.
How do you justify your high-handed approach to handling issues, particularly those related to KCCA?
High-handedness means acting [arbitrarily] without due regard to any law or rights of others. That is not what I do. Whatever I do is logical, rational and guided by the law. I consult widely to ensure that the decisions I take are fair and just. Of course I am a straight and strict person. I don’t fear to take decisions for fear of criticism or harsh judgment.
So, don’t mistake my firmness and decisiveness to mean high-handedness.
Did Lukwago’s impeachment solve Kampala’s problems?
Well, that is not for me to judge. I will leave it to you and perhaps to the people of Kampala that we all serve. Kampala’s problem, however, is mainly the lack of resolve from most of the leaders to appreciate the importance of a developed city in as far as prosperity of the entire citizenry is concerned.
Planning well our city and beautifying it is not just luxury. Improved livelihoods, increased foreign exchange earnings and employment opportunities will all be realised if our city becomes an envy of every traveller, investor or tourist. It is therefore, not a joke to manage, plan and develop the city, and it’s both a mirror of our country, and a gate opener for all opportunities.
That is why, as government, we chose to give Kampala a special status, hire managers with reasonably good competencies and remunerate them well. The more the leaders continue not to appreciate the strategic importance of our city in terms of unlocking our opportunities to the entire world, the more they become the problem. So, some of us have to devote our energies to the cause and endure all the attacks and harsh judgments, but fortunately, those who know the reality support and pray for us.
Why don’t you pay Lukwago and all his subordinates yet councillors who have not met since his impeachment are getting their pay cheques?
The issue of whether Lukwago is paid or not, in light of the situation he put himself in, is a matter for the legal aisor of government (Attorney General) to tell, and he has already guided. But I will not delve into those contestable matters because they are in court, but councillors are doing their oversight roles and I meet with them regularly.
You have already tabled before Parliament the ministerial policy statement for KCCA but Lukwago and some councillors argue that it is illegal because it was not approved by the authority.
There is nothing illegal, because the KCCA Act gives a solution. Go and read it wholly, and this is the third budget being tabled in Parliament without the authority formally sitting to look at it. Nobody would stop them (councillors) from doing that. It was their disagreements and conflicts that stopped them from conducting any meaningful business and this was even the case before the impeachment that you talk about.
KCCA is run by the central government. That is why there is a minister responsible for the city, to whom all the authority’s leaders and managers are obliged by law to report. He is legally empowered to act where those delegated leaders have failed. So the authority is only given delegated powers, in any case, the KCCA Act of 2010 is explicitly clear on the powers given to the minister in section 79.
The minister, who is a representative of the central government, is, for example, empowered under section 79(2) and (3) to act and take decisions on the business that the authority has failed to do. That was deliberately provided to facilitate business of a public institution (KCCA) and to avoid paralysis as a result of people’s personal disagreements.
After all, Parliament is the bigger and supreme people’s legislature to scrutinise budget proposals and appropriate resources accordingly, but even without the formal authority meeting, I directed management to always consult the other wider division leaders from the grassroots. That is how the needs of each division are captured.
What do you make of councillor Bernard Luyiga who has rejoined Lukwago?
There is nothing like being in favour of me or not, because I am not an elected politician in Kampala. So, I am not in any race with anybody. I am only doing my statutory functions as the minister. Even the Lukwago case which is famously talked about had never been between me and him, it’s between him and his fellow elected leaders in Kampala.
I have only been a minister for KCCA for about 18 months, and I found them bickering and fighting each other, they had already taken their various petitions to court and Parliament. I would be the happiest if they can all learn to disagree but still work together for the good of those who elected them.
I gave them my aice on how to work together, they didn’t heed it. So, I concentrated on doing what the law says in defence of the bigger public interest of Kampalans and that is what occupies me most.
Would you welcome a court ruling in favour of Lukwago’s return to office?
I don’t want to speculate about court’s work and try to pre-empt its decisions because it’s illegal.
We have heard that you are tired of the chaos at KCCA. That you want to resign that job and concentrate on the Presidency?
That is indeed gossip. I can never abandon a job given to me. I am here busy and working. I hope you can see… [laughter]
How did the State House-inflated salary figures get into print in the ministerial policy statement you presented to Parliament?
As I told Parliament, that was a mistake. Our staff made a mistake in the ministerial policy statement and put in wrong figures. I regretted it before the House and apologised. Even before it was raised on the floor of Parliament, we had already detected the misprint ourselves, but we couldn’t correct the ministerial policy statement books because they had already been dispatched to Parliament.
After detecting the errors, my permanent secretary in the Presidency, Deborah Katuramu, brought it to the attention of the clerk to Parliament and submitted an addendum with corrected staff lists and salary figures vide a letter dated July 1, 2014 and which was officially received and stamped on July 3, 2014 by the clerk’s office.
What is the staff sealing at State House?
State House is like any other government agency or department with its own mandate of supporting the work of the president and vice president, the staff structure is approved by Public Service. We present this staff structure to Parliament annually, to justify the resources we ask Parliament to appropriate to us. Obviously, the approved staff structure has a ceiling with specific positions of the required staff.
In fact there are many unfilled jobs due to wage constraints. Sorry I don’t know the size nor the number of positions in the structure off head. But you can again check it out in our ministerial policy statement.
What criteria do you use in recruiting staff at State House?
Technical staff are recruited through the Public Service process and they are transferable to any other department of government. Then there are politically-appointed private staff (called private secretaries and assistants to the president) and other constitutionally-provided-for staff like RDCs. All these are appointed by the president on contract in exercise of his constitutional mandate.
Still, all their terms of service and salaries are set and determined by Public Service depending on one’s qualifications and nature of hisher work.
But how can you sign off on a defective policy statement?
Normally, there are people who do that technical work, and not the minister. And because they [technocrats] have been doing it for a while, you trust them. But all the same, I apologised on their behalf. However, you also need to know that a ministerial policy statement is not just a document controlled by one person and so, apportioning blame may not help.
How do you explain the regional imbalances in recruitment and salary disparities where some senior officials earn less than their juniors?
I don’t know how you judged who is more senior than the other, but what I know is that all of them have their scales determined by Public Service. Some could be having different terms depending on how they were hired. For example, if someone is appointed when heshe was already serving in another public office already at some rank, heshe will move with hisher salary scale.
The law doesn’t allow someone to be disaantaged. For example, if an RDC is redeployed to the headquarter e.g. in ISO, and it is found that the salary attached to hisher new redeployment is less than what heshe was earning, Public Service automatically reinstates himher on his previous terms, and we have so many precedents across government, State House inclusive.
Can you tell the public who Anne Babinga and Irene Watenga are and why they are the most highly-paid individuals at State House?
I will check how they were employed and their terms, but at least they are not the most highly-paid in government. Don’t you think these disparities in payments are the cause of squabbles among State House staff?
I don’t know about those squabbles but I will investigate and know what they are about, but again salary scales can never be the same then there wouldn’t be U1, U2 and U7.
What do you make of deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah’s critique of the quality of MPs?
I read comments in the media attributed to him saying that most MPs don’t do research and so this inhibits debate. I find that a fair comment, because he was simply challenging us as our speaker to value research and informed talk. And it’s not only in Parliament, there is a general wave among elites not to pay attention to research, substance and knowledge seeking, including even you the media.
Capacity in newsrooms to interrogate stories and opinions is also lacking in quite a number of media outlets, yet you influence and inform public opinion. Most of our young elites form conclusive opinions based on their subjective feelings I hate that myself.
Look at social media debates for example, you will realise that civility and sober engagements are lacking. Majority of people are intolerant, abusive and can’t accept to learn what they don’t know.
How can MPs improve on their quality of debate?
Partly, you the media can play a big role because you set the agenda and you provide the platforms of debate. If for example, you can begin scrutinising us leaders based on the relevance of what we articulate and the message we send out, then you will be empowering people to judge us well and know what to look for in us as leaders.
Let substance be promoted as opposed to form, mediocrity and mere political posturing because media acts as a mirror for society. If research and informed speech is widely promoted as a virtue of good leadership by the media, then every leader will aspire to be that.
How do you adjudge both Uganda’s and NRM’s future politically vis-agrave-vis the succession conflicts within NRM mainly between Museveni and his Prime Minister Mbabazi?
NRM is a political organisation with g foundational tenets and that is the reason why it has the biggest membership with structures all over the country and without even a much aggressive recruitment strategy.
So, there can never be a leadership vacuum at any stage. The conflicts you allude to can never be there, because our membership will determine who to lead at what stage. Fortunately, NRM members know better the leadership credentials and competencies of all our leaders. Choosing, therefore, can’t be a big issue to divide us, but even beyond our senior leaders, the candle of NRM will never burn out. Just wait time will tell.
Source : The Observer