“APOLITICAL PUBLIC OFFICERS”?

 

Col-Shaban-Bantariza-1

If Ugandans keep the pace and momentum to debate and discuss whatever public issue comes onto the public arena, you can be sure Uganda’s democracy will continue to flourish. But this does not go without a caution! Democracy, as a general public enterprise can only flourish to the point where the public democracy “entrepreneurs” who are political leaders and public officers can reach. Indeed, in Uganda today, with the development of technology which has now ushered in the social media over and above the traditional media, no one  has to wait for the “Breaking News” by the traditional  print and electronic media, because now social media is simply digital, and has therefore made information  virtual. Newsrooms are on tenterhooks, competition is stiff, and there is no way government leaders and technocrats can conceal themselves in their air-conditioned offices, shut their doors and hope that they won’t be overtaken, and overwhelmed by queries, accusations, distortions and even falsehoods on matters related to their duty obligations to the general public they are employed to serve! In short, times have changed, and if any of us in leadership or management of  public and private sector affairs don’t  adapt and adopt, we can only expect to jump on a train heading back to history!

It is for this reason am sure, why the President, as recently as last June 2016 directed the Head of Public Service to work on amending public service Standing Orders with intent to give “elbow room” to public officers and civil servants to speak to the public, which traditionally was a “forbidden fruit”. These Standing Orders, which are part of the good relics we inherited from Colonial regulations, were meant to keep public officers, especially civil servants ”apolitical”, something unreal, and undesirable in practical terms. Yes, public officers must subordinate whatever may be their partisan political views in the implementation of the ruling government’s policies and programs, but they must none the less be politically conscious of the implications of failing to serve the people who elected and mandated the government in place. And for those who were irked by the Kyankwanzi Retreat involving civil servants, it is important that the politically generated policies and programs of the ruling government are politically conceptualized and harmonized for easier implementation by these civil technocrats because concept disharmony arising out of political ignorance from an attempt to pretend to be “apolitical”, certainly leads to socio-economic disadvantage of the general population.

It is in this context that the recently concluded retreat at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi, summoned by the president, was to inter alia, emphasize the role of government effective communication in achieving effective service delivery to Ugandans. Unfortunately, this communication, can no longer, in this information age, be left to junior public Relations officers or communication officers in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government! Why? Because as the saying in the media goes, “prominence makes news”, and so, when a Permanent Secretary speaks to the media, hence the public, on his ministry’s work plans, inputs, outputs and outcomes, not only forecast but achieved and the challenges along the way, the majority of the public will not only understand but will be supportive of government programs. Up till today, the public hears more about corruption reports from government MDAs more than achievements by these MDAs and government! Yet some of the “corruption reports” are actually not necessarily true that funds were stolen, but that the Auditor General’s report faulted some Accounting officers on defective accounting procedures and accountabilities presented, which often get rectified after queries!.Now, who, in such a case should clear the air so that we know we lost money, and can pin point the area of loss, instead of simply lambasting the whole government as if all the more than half a million public officers are thieves in connivance! And if legal or administrative action has been taken against proven corrupt elements, who, other than the Accounting Officer and his communication team, should re-assure the public about government efforts to fight corruption at that institutional level, rather than the strategic level of government having to search for answers from the individual, institutional or sector levels, and from the communication officers, who must get express permission from the permanent secretary before any dot or comma of any information is released to the public? With today’s information, disinformation, misinformation, distortion and misreporting challenges, those in the “government kitchen” of service delivery, must be the information points of First Instance, so that the traditional method of relying on press releases to react to already done damage, which come when they are time-barred, cease to be part of traditional management styles, when we are  in   this digital age that compels us to promptly communicate, as it is a “do or die” information competition. Indeed am told that after the Kyankwanzi retreat, if we don’t “do”, we will “die”!!

Col.Shaban Bantariza

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