Government finalizes plan to close down budget consuming agencies

Much as Parliament has halted the plan by the government to table the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2023 and the Rationalisation of Government Agencies Bill, 2023, the plans have been concluded to dissolve over 30 agencies as a way of cutting down costs and checking duplication of functions.

This process has been on since 2017 as the government scans through dozens of agencies that are created by Acts of Parliament in order to decide which ones are necessary to retain, those to merge and those to be mainstreamed in mother ministries.

In order to achieve this plan, the government has to go to Parliament with a host of Bills. Some of these Bills have to do with amending the existing laws to cater for merger of agencies and mainstreaming functions of others to the mother ministries. In the case of those agencies to be disbanded, the existing laws have to be repealed.

However, after Tuesday November 14, 2023 plenary sitting, Public Service Minister, Wilson Muruli Mukasa has to return to Cabinet to report on the stance Parliament took on how this process should be handled.

Muruli was ready to table the two separate bills but legislators did not give him that chance after succeeding on procedural points.

The amendment to the Constitution affecting Articles 32, 51,52, 53, 58 and 248 is aimed at merging the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) into one entity called the Uganda Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

On the other hand, the rationalization Bill seeks to amend and repeal sections of several Acts of Parliament to actualize the merger, disbandment and mainstreaming of agencies whose cost of administration has been a burden to the taxpayers.

Lawmakers weigh in

Bukanga North MP, Nathan Byanyima wondered why the Minister who never presented a response to the Select Committee’s report would proceed to table Bills on a subject that the House has never exhausted the debate.

“The Cabinet has always been behind that rationalization. This House formed a select Committee here and it reported. The Minister of Public Service asked to be given 60 days. The issue of bringing this [Constitutional amendment] is because they want this one to go together [with mergers]. We can’t allow it. We must be given time to debate. Where are you taking us? To Egypt. Let’s respect each other, this is the same Parliament and when I see Honourable Muruli Mukasa, a senior NRM cadre doing us all these things, then you are taking us back,” said Byanyima.

Banyima was the Chairperson of the nine-member Select Committee on merger of government agencies which presented its report to the House in May 2022 but it has never been debated pending response from Minister Muruli. Other members of the Committee were Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri County), Charles Bakabulindi (Workers), Christine Apolot (Kumi District), Ann Adeke (Soroti District), Dan Kimosho (Kazo County), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjia County), Patrick Nsamba (Kassanda north) and Tony Ayo (Kwania County).

According to the report, the Committee agreed with the government proposals to collapse some agencies and merge others but called for retention of several others. Some of those proposed by the select committee for retention but have been named in the Bill for dissolution include; National Library of Uganda; Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA); Uganda Meteorological Authority; Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA); Cotton Development Authority (CDO); and, Dairy Development Authority; National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA-U).

“The tearing down of semi-autonomous regulatory agencies in the Agriculture sector, namely: the Uganda Coffee Development Authority; Cotton Development Organization; and Dairy Development Authority will negatively affect Uganda’s exports to the international market in the exact manner that Uganda’s tea was affected when the Uganda Tea Authority was abolished. As a result of abolishing Uganda Tea Authority, Uganda tea is sold by auction at Mombasa and at a cheap price and branded as tea from other countries. It will be reckless to throw away our national regulatory stamps, which have made our exports attract a premium price in the international markets” read part of the report.

The Committee while fighting for other UNRA and Uganda Road Fund, report that mainstreaming of such agencies “will expose Uganda’s most valuable asset to risk” because Uganda’s road network is its most valuable asset and constitutes one of the largest assets in the country, valued at UGX 28.8 trillion at the time of the report”.

Speaker’s take

The Speaker, also supported the need to first debate the Banyima report saying that it will not be possible for Parliament to process the amendments to over 40 Acts whose passing would lead to the proposed merger.

“This morning I passed a message to Honourable Muruli Mukasa saying where you have a repeal of over 40 entities, each entity has a sectoral committee. How are you going to handle all these in each sectoral committee, this means we will have a committee of the whole House? We needed to do these things one-on-one. You are not going to bring everything omnibus and remember all of them have different laws,” said Among.

Eddie Kwizera, MP Bufumbira East also weighed in on the proposed omnibus Bill saying it is not possible for Parliament to deal with the amendments to the different laws leading to the retrenching of the thousands of employees when their agencies are either dissolved or merged.

“This omnibus and the constitutional amendment as proposed by the Minister, it is the power of parliament to actually make a law or repeal the law. These amendments of 40 laws can only be made when the Minister makes a financial implication. Now, when you go to rationalize and then you retrench people it means there is a cost on the pension scheme. So, they are supposed to tell us how many people are going to be affected and how much we will spend” he said.

Kwizera also insisted that there is no way the amendments in the 749 Clause Bill would be handled by one Committee of Parliament if they are not tabled independently per Act as suggested by the Speaker. The Speaker had guided the government to table differently the amendments to each of the Act that will be affected when the merger or dissolution agencies is completed.

In response, Muruli denied receiving a communication from the Speaker in which she claimed to have raised issues about the planned processing of the Bill by the Ministry of Public Service when the agencies affected span across several sectors.

“I did not receive your advice this morning and however, I have got the opportunity to receive it now. There are many agencies involved and unfortunately, there are very many committees involved. Given time we can engage each of the committees involved and finally come to the House and debate this omnibus bill,” Mukasa pleaded.

Information and National Guidance Minister, Dr Chris Baryomunsi insisted that it is not the first time to have an omnibus Bill processed in Parliament, arguing that previously, different committees could pick proposals relevant to their dockets.

Key movements

When the government successfully moves Parliament to amend the Constitution to create the Uganda Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, and, the rationalization of the different agencies, there is going to be movements within the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) one of the top spenders of Uganda’s national budget will have its functions mainstreamed into the Ministry of Works and Transport. UNRA has been instrumental in the improvement of the road network in Uganda but it will now become a department in the ministry.

The National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS), Dairy Development Authority, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and the Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) will also close shop and get accommodated as departments under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

The Ministry of Education and Sports will directly handle the applications and selection of needy students supposed to benefit from the Higher Education Financing Scheme which provides loans for university degrees and national diplomas. Therefore, the Higher Education Students Financing Board will collapse.

Functions of the National Information Technology Authority-Uganda (NIRA-U) will be taken over by the Ministry of Information, ICT and National Guidance, while the long awaited winding up of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board might wait a little long as its functions get mainstreamed into the Ministry of Finance.

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