President Yoweri Museveni today begins another term, that will be guided by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Manifesto whose theme is ‘’securing your future’’.
Securing the future of Ugandans requires the government to guarantee quality social services (education and health), employment, security, enabling infrastructure and optimal public expenditure, among others.
The last five years saw government’s tireless efforts aimed at providing those public goods and services. Indeed, when the new term comes to an end, the President will have a consolidated and firm legacy.
For the new term, the government should ensure consolidation and prioritisation in the higher education sector. Uganda now has a public university in each region. Regionalization of public university education requires that government focuses on optimal utilisation of both human and physical resources.
This calls for phasing out of regional campuses of other public universities in regions where there is a public university. We also need to see the government restructure public universities so that there is some level of specialisation and less of duplication. Schools and programmes should not be duplicated in all public universities as this leads to wastage of public resources.
However, as part of integrating service delivery with education, the government should ensure that each regional public university has a medical school. In addition, each regional university should have a study center focusing on health sciences in each district within the region to enable each district have qualified doctors and nurses with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree providing services to the district. Provision of health services is very expensive and the best strategy for provision of health services is to work with educational institutions to provide health services across the country.
We need to see sharing of resources in all public institutions right from primary to university level. The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled all educational institutions to integrate a component of ICT in their teaching, learning and administration processes. Government needs to focus on the creation of appropriate infrastructure that can leverage educational technologies and enable equitable sharing of teachers and educational resources across all institutions of learning. For example, a prominent professor at one University should be able to teach a course across public universities assisted by technology and resident tutorial assistants. This is possible because the government now meets 100% of the salaries of teachers/professors from the consolidated fund.
At some point, the government should create a central committee that handles appointments and promotions of academic staff in public universities to minimise migration from one public university to another in search of a promotion but also harmonise appointments and promotions criteria in universities. If universities are to continue making independent appointments and promotions of academic staff then they should also be allowed to set different salaries. Otherwise, today we see professors at different levels of seniority earning the same salary which is a demotivation to high flyers and achievers.
It is also a welcome move for government to merge agencies or turn them into departments in ministries. However, there is need to create new critical agencies. One such agency is the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC). This agency would be mandated to develop a national research and innovation policy and agenda that should guide research and innovation critical to national development.
All universities, research and innovation institutions will ensure that their research and innovation agendas are aligned with the national agenda. This council would also be responsible for the national research and innovation funds. Thus, the membership of the council would ensure representation from all the critical ministries that promote research and innovations. As of now today, research and innovation funds are scattered across several ministries and agencies, leading to duplication and wastage.
Furthermore, to address unemployment, the government’s research and innovation funds should be focused towards supporting research and innovations with either potential for creating many jobs or potential of addressing a national, regional or global challenge that would in turn lead to high return on investment. Today it’s common to see the government through the innovation funds scattered across ministries, funding innovations without potential to scale up or with little impact and which could easily be got off the self for much less.
In the early 1990s, S6 levers were taken to Kyankwanzi for training before joining higher education institutions. It has become apparent that even in the next five years, so many Ugandans that shall attain university education will remain jobless. Yet, so many jobs can be created in the agricultural and services sectors. Also, the country still lacks trained teachers in primary and secondary schools across public and private schools. Government needs to come up with a policy that should require every S6 lever to acquire a vocational certificate of not less than one year in agriculture, ICT or education before joining a diploma or degree programme. This will improve job creation or employability of the youth across the sectors.
Promotion of local content should go hand in hand with quality. We are seeing collapsing bridges, roads being washed away by rains, buildings collapsing etc. which in the end turns out to be very expensive for the government. Securing the future should go hand in hand with ensuring value for money and zero tolerance to corruption.
As they say, charity begins at home. If we are to market Uganda, we need to start with our capital city. Tourism has a lot of potential in Uganda and could greatly boost Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But its saddening to drive tourists around Kampala City when most of the roads are impassable. Even roads in places like industrial area are terrible. I commend KCCA, UNRA and the government of Uganda for the road works currently going on in all the divisions of Kampala City. If we can borrow lessons from our neighbour, the United Republic of Tanzania, all roads constructed in Dar es Salaam under the late President Pombe Magufuli regime have a minimum life span of 25 years. We could do the same for the new Kampala City roads.
The ever-growing public expenditure will drain resources that could be used on securing the future of the majority of Ugandans. It’s high time the executive and Parliament come up with a law setting up an independent salaries and remuneration commission to determine remunerations of all those persons that are funded from the consolidated fund including Members of Parliament and staff in Government Agencies / Authorities. For example, the inequitable salary structure of public universities, has made it impossible for Makerere University to promote staff beyond senior lecturer due to lack of a wage bill to fund the promotions. Makerere University is already losing critical staff to other public universities where they easily get promoted as either associate professors or professors. We are also witnessing core staff in mainstream government ministries leaving in search of better pay in government authorities and agencies.
Also, the government currently spends a lot of money on rented office space. If lessons from COVID-19 is something to go by, the government could reduce on the rented space and keep a maximum of 30% of the employees physically in office at any one time. This requires the government to enable employees to set up secure computerised work stations at their homes. In the long, working from home will bring about a lot of benefits. Working from home will require supervisors to focus on outputs and outcomes other than time spent in office.
The best way to guarantee security for all Ugandans is to be at peace with all our neigbhours. Then we can focus resources on internal security surveillance and monitoring, keeping law and order and community policing. So good neighborliness should be top on the agenda for President Museveni and the NRM Government for the next five years.
Last but not least, let me wish His Excellency President Museveni and the people of Uganda another successful term of steady progress towards middle income status.
The author is a Former Presidential Candidate and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU).