Friday, 23 December 2011

How individual merit killed Uganda’s collective spirit

Back in those good old days, Christmas was not as glamorous in Uganda as it is today. There were no mobile phones and no Facebook. And there were no Harriers, Premios, Rav4 and not even the now very common Ipsum.
Coming from a peasant family, I remember Christmas as a day my siblings and I anticipated to eat rice and meat, probably get some new second hand clothes after selling our chicken or sometimes goats. The village belles would treat their hair in a crude way—literally burn it using some perforated metallic stuff in which burning charcoal was put. After enduring real heat which sometimes burnt them, the babes would emerge with soft and darkened hair. Dude! They would look hot. And usually, Christmas would coincide with moonlight. The brief freedom parents gave children to mix at night, provided us the young ones the opportunity to ‘celebrate’ Christmas. There would be jukebox and wow, your guess is as good as mine.
But one thing still stands out. Christmas was a prolonged celebration. It would last two months, at least in Teso. The trick was that several households in the village would prepare to host each other. There was a lot of ajon [local gin]. Goats were in abundance and every family would slaughter them to celebrate Christmas. It was also a time households which had issues would sort them out before the New Year; for if you didn’t make up with those you hurt as a family, no one would honour your invitation to celebrate Christmas. And going it solo, would earn you a reputation of being the most selfish [lo’ebit] in the village.
A sense of sharing was in abundance. A sense of community was not betrayed.   In our peasantry, there was abundance of collective spirit.  Those are also the same days when a teacher was a person of honour, who if you disrespected them, would cause your parents serve your buttocks with enough raids. Today, in my same village in Teso, this sense of community is a thing of the past. It goes beyond Teso; it’s now a Ugandan culture.
So how did we arrive at this?  Individual merit has brought us thus far. When President Museveni captured power in 1986, the message was unity; a fundamental change. The gospel was preached to the extent that many Ugandans are now guilty of failing to fathom that it was a superfluous message geared at destroying the social fabric that held Uganda as a unit.  The NRM rode on the wheel of deceit so fast that it even blindfolded the intellectuals. As the peasants opposed the sale of Uganda Airlines, the destruction of Coffee Marketing Board, Lint Marketing Board, the cooperative unions, labour unions; the intellectuals argued it away and branded those opposed to the events as reactionaries. The intellectuals helped entrench the selfish motive of the new leaders under the fertile imagination that an open economy would benefit all.
President Museveni hoodwinked multiparty believers beginning with DP’s best brains that he had ushered in a broad-based government. In fact he asked DP to give him names of its best brains to help in building the broad based regime. That time saw  Dr Paul Ssemogerere lead DP’s good brains like Kisamba Mugerwa, Ssebaana Kizito, John Kakooza, Adoko Nekyon [ he later crossed to UPC], Wasswa Ziritwaula and Dr Specioza Kazibwe, just to name a few; to join the ‘broad-based’ regime.
UPC hardliners stayed away thus attracted the ridicule of Museveni. Later some UPC leaders like Richard Kaijuka, Ephraim Kamuntu etc. joined the NRM politics, ostensibly to oppose it from within. The late UPC President Milton Obote warned that joining Museveni would mean an endorsement of the latter’s plan to ‘destroy’ the country. However, after tapping DP’s brains, Mr Museveni discarded them and announced that multi-party politics was disruptive, therefore; not tenable. He later again reverted to it, only after realising that he had done enough to confuse the Ugandan mindset not to cherish public good.   Parties served to keep people together as a group.
NRM had to dismantle them first to kill that spirit of standing together to push for a cause. The agenda of a party mobilized people together. But NRM made most Ugandans imagine that individual exploits was the way to go. And examples of individuals who gained a lot were many. By the time parties were allowed to operate, the spirit of cohesion had long been ruined hence the current squabbles rocking the Opposition.
Unknown to most Ugandans was the fact that state resources were either diverted or out rightly stolen to benefit individuals at the expense of public service. Slowly, hospitals collapsed; then followed the schools and the roads.  Everything now is in pieces.  But a few individuals stand out controlling economic empires. They, however, cannot provide the basic social infrastructure yet the state resources still mainly end up with individuals, who having seen the folly of believing in the state, have opted to serve self-interests. So relegated is the sense of community that even if a dog died in the middle of the road, no one would bother throw it—everyone would endure the stench—because  everyone is waiting for the nonexistent government organ to throw it away. No one cares to ask why the health center nearby is mismamaged. And If you are knocked on the way, chances are that you would find no Good Samaritan or you would not be attended to at the hospital because you are not among the ‘Who is Who?”  Road carnage is rising partly because every driver feels they are on the road on individual merit.
The economy is suffering partly because the Cooperative Unions that used to bring people together to discuss and get a common solution to their economic woes are long dead. It’s now a reign of individual merit. Those in public offices used them for personal gain because it’s now individual merit philosophy. The private sector is poorly management because the entrepreneurs think they are what they are on individual merit while the employees believe they are employed on individual merit, ‘so what is in it for me?”  Good for all philosophy like it was in my village is no longer there. But shall we get out of this? Yes. But first change the philosophy and the value system. Individual merit just cant sort us out.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Health services collapse as officials eat big

A struggle over power and on who gains from big money deals has derailed the delivery of services at the Health ministry after senior bureaucrats split into two antagonistic groups.
The acrimony has attracted the attention of State House that has directed that thorough investigations be done.
My investigation reveals that instead of fighting to revitalise the collapsed health care delivery, the officials engage in drafting projects and seeking financing for activities which most often were not done.
The result of the factionalism in the ministry is that projects meant to deliver services to the public unravel even before they kick off while money meant for them is swindled.
Already, some officials have refunded Sh450million out of the Sh600million they had reportedly obtained to implement yellow fever awareness campaign in the North, a project, senior bureaucrats say was a rip-off.
The officials did not conduct the yellow fever vaccination and awareness but instead colluded with district health inspectors to mobilise villagers who were given Sh10.000 each for attending “a workshop.”
“They had created an activity which is fiction,” said Dr Asuman Lukwago, the permanent secretary, “the principal officer, Mr Kafuko, who generated the requisition was suspended and some were warned.”
But some insiders allege that the project unraveled because some big shots needed a cut which they didn’t get.
The suspension of the said officers has fed into the mood of mutual suspicion in the ministry with Commissioner for planning Dr Francis Runumi reportedly leading a faction of the old staff while Dr Lukwago commands the new entrants.
It now obtains in the ministry that neither group relies upon the other to function correctly thus increasing the already poor delivery of health care services. In some health units, the medics receive drugs and tack it away instead of dispensing to patients, a move seen as sabotage of the new officials.
Dr Lukwago said on Wednesday that the new staff could be perceived negatively because “what we need is to interrupt wastage and improve service delivery.” However, some staff believe they were victims of Dr Lukwago’s autocracy.
Dr Runumi said: “In any organisation, when there is change, those who are in the system want to study new people and the new people do the same. But we have adjusted and things are beginning to work well.”
Dr Achieng, Dr Lukwago and Dr Christine Ondroa, the minister, are some of the new faces at the helm.
The permanent secretary is accused of colluding with the Director General of health services, Dr Ruth Achieng and the head of the Drug Monitoring Unit in President’s office, Dr Diana Atwine to intimidate and injure reputations of officials noncompliant to their personal interests. Both deny the allegations.
“They are just branding us but we insist that whatever little money gets to health from government, let it do something,” Dr Atwine said.
As a result of internal strife, some staff have separately petitioned the Inspectorate of government and President office to investigate Dr Lukwago and other officials’ work methods. They allege that fight over lucrative contracts and kickbacks define work at the ministry and shifted the doctors’ focus from clinical and public health work to fixing deals.
According to letters, copies of which this newspaper has seen, Dr Lukwago is accused of bullying other technocrats while invoking the powers of State House.
“I have received the letter [from State House] and we have replied to it,” Dr Lukwago said, “Some of the complaints in the letters were known to us.”
Incompetence or theft?
Dr Runumi, is accused of failing to account for Sh1.5billion he received to prepare the health insurance bill. Sources say State House has asked that within two weeks, the accountability must be presented to the PS but Dr Runumi said on Wednesday that he had nothing to account.
“Accountability is held centrally by the office of the PS. No Shs1.5billion was associated to the health insurance bill; we used to get Shs800 per year,” he said.
Dr Atwine, however, said the ministry reeks poor accountability.  “For instance, out of Sh1.4billion meant for car repairs, they have only accounted for Sh199million,” she said.
She also disclosed that while initially money was sent to districts to buy drugs but was diverted, the schemers have also learnt to divert drugs and forge accountability.
“ In Mubende, a medical officer took a book for drugs to his home and forged names of patients,” Dr Atwine said, “He told us the drugs had been taken to a private clinic by his bosses yet he had to account; he said sorry and let us to the clinic where we recovered the drugs.”
While the bureaucrats fight for the control of projects, the ministry is planning to demolish hundreds of theatres it constructed in health center IVs because they were unfit for medical operations. Sources say the theatres are substandard because the ministry’s engineering unit took big cuts from the contractors who then compromised the standards and design of the theatres.
“Some theatres were constructed 10 years ago but have never been used because they were built poorly. We are going to demolish some,” Dr Lukwago said.
Sources told this blogger that several officials in the ministry were on rampage picking anything that gives them money.  And at the ministry’s mechanical workshop in Wabigalo, Kampala, at least 18 car engines were stolen as government vehicles were vandalised. Dr Lukwago has also had to forcefully recover vehicles parked in officials’ residences yet several health units had not means of transport.
The health ministry commands the largest fleet mainly four-wheeled fuel guzzlers. Some officials assigned them to their spouses.
Although Dr Lukwago confirmed the theft of car engines, he said: “We are building up cases before prosecuting the culprits.”
Because of the cocktail of issues in the ministry, several government agencies including the IGG have opened up investigations. On forgery of receipts, some drivers have so confided in the investigators that their bosses often sent them to pick receipts at Nkurumah Road, a commercial printing center in the city, to help in the false accountability. Effectively, this would mean most activities were never conducted.