On February 2, 2024, President Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) parliamentary caucus convened at State House Entebbe to deliberate on the Rationalisation of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure (RAPEX).
A unanimous resolution was passed in favour of supporting the rationalisation of government agencies and public expenditure through Parliamentary legislation.
As part of this rationalisation effort, 33 agencies will be relocated to their respective parent ministries, while 35 agencies will be consolidated and merged into 19 entities, with 80 remaining semi-autonomous.
Despite the concept of rationalisation being under consideration since 2021, its implementation has been delayed due to various constraints, including limited resources required for mergers.
During the deliberations, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni highlighted the potential of government savings, estimated at Shs1 trillion annually, through the implementation of rationalisation. He emphasised that rationalisation entails making prudent decisions aimed at saving money. Furthermore, President Museveni stressed the importance of aligning the government’s structure with the support of wealth creators, recognising their pivotal role in the nation’s development. He reiterated that rationalisation is not just a necessity, but a strategic imperative.
However, it is important to consider whether rationalising these government agencies will truly enhance government administration or if it will pose challenges, given that these agencies were initially created from their mother agencies for specific reasons and purposes.
Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa said during a media show that, “We need to note that this rationalisation is not the first in the country. About 30 years ago, under the influence of the World Bank and IMF, there was rationalisation. This rationalisation essentially involved horizontal decentralisation – from the ministry to agencies and departments. Now, decentralisation from these horizontal bodies back to the ministry is also called rationalisation. The question we should begin with is: why was there that horizontal decentralisation? What was the rationale?”
Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa equally cited the reasons that were cited for the horizontal decentralisation then:
He noted that one of the reasons that was given by development partners was to avoid bureaucracy and red tape. By creating these entities, they believed they could reduce red tape. For instance, in procurement processes, they argued that bypassing layers such as commissioners and directors would streamline procedures, making them easier to handle at the agency level.
Another reason was the potential to attract more technical personnel. These agencies were expected to offer higher salaries, thus drawing more qualified individuals, including Ugandans abroad who might return to take up these positions.
The third reason was the donor partners wanted to focus their funds more effectively on the ground. They preferred concentrating on certain key sectors of the ministry rather than dispersing funds broadly. However, we must question what the concerns were then and what they are now.
During the caucus, the President asserted, “With rationalisation, an estimated Shs1 trillion can be saved annually.” However, Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa countered, stating, “There is no guarantee that the money saved will be allocated to the development budget; it may instead be absorbed by other government ministries’ expenditures.”
The proposed rationalisation of these government agencies aims to achieve cost reductions and eliminate duplications within the government sector.
Honourable Eddie Kwizera, a participant in the caucus, highlighted during a media panel discussion that “There was a need for the government to rationalise or cut costs, prompting its introduction in parliament. However, a decision was made to reject the proposal due to the lack of a background study providing reasons for the rationalisation. Even with this new proposal, there hasn’t been a well-informed study or research informing the need for rationalisation.”
“In principle, it should be recommended that there be a rationalisation, but the current discussion lacks a thorough explanation. We haven’t conducted an organisational audit sector by sector, which means we are now suggesting a study of every organisation. Rationalisation and cost-cutting cannot be limited to just one component of government; it should be holistic,” added Honourable Eddie Kwizera.
Similarly, Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa stated that, if the rationale of rationalisation is primarily focused on cost-cutting, then consideration should be given to the significant expenses incurred by the numerous districts, counties, cities, and municipalities created by the government.
“Some of these institutions were established by the Constitution; altering them could necessitate constitutional amendments. How will they undertake the review of the constitution within a short period without extensive debate?
There is a need for public input to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of policy implementation moving forward,” emphasised Prof. Mwambutsya Ndebesa.
However, some members of Parliament sided with the President, emphasising the need to merge these government agencies as they were a cost burden.
The District Woman Representative, (Kitgum) Lillian Aber, remarked, “During the caucus, we reached an agreement that certain agencies indeed need to be merged. It is positive that we have now recognised the significant duplication in administration, resulting in the expenditure of taxpayers’ money. Ultimately, we collectively acknowledged the need to rationalise these agencies.”
The question arises: Does the government realise that the establishment of these agencies was a mistake, considering they were initially part of ministries before being pushed to departments and agencies?
In response to this question, Honourable Eddie Kwizera noted, “In principle, all Ugandans desire rationalisation because one can argue that the money allocated to administrative or recurrent costs is substantial. Therefore, if the government intends to cut costs to allocate more funds to the development budget, it must determine which organisations will be affected. Thus, if rationalisation occurs, what will be the replacement?”
The government has faced resistance and has had to extend its plan to rationalise its agencies three times. This initiative began following a cabinet decision on September 10, 2018, to merge or dissolve numerous agencies and commissions. However, the process has led to layoffs and sparked petitions from affected workers. The government aims to reduce costs to enhance efficiency through rationalisation.