The Inspectorate of Government (IG) and the Attorney General’s office have dismissed allegations of abuse of office and corruption levelled against the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Board, and okayed the ongoing restructuring and phasing out of the position of directors.
“… we hold the opinion that the termination of the employment contracts of the Directors was lawful, as it was done in accordance with the law and the terms of the respective contracts,” a letter from the Solicitor General to the Public Service Permanent Secretary dated August 28, stated.
“The said former Directors are only entitled to accrue terminal benefits if they have not been paid. The notice of termination of the contracts recognized it as well. However, if the same have been paid, then they do not have any further claim against NEMA.”
Prompted by an anonymous whistleblower’s petition containing various allegations against the NEMA board, the Inspectorate of Government investigated and concluded all requirements for the ongoing processes were in order.
A statement on the IG findings, states that “The restructuring and phasing out of the position of Director were in accordance with the provisions of the law.”
The IG recommended that the termination of the services of the Directors be upheld and that no severance package should be paid to the aggrieved persons.
“Owing to the above, the file too, should be closed and the Minister, NEMA board and management be informed of the findings accordingly.”
The IG clarified that the position of directors was phased out by the Ministry of Public Service and not the board as insinuated.
“NEMA staff operates on non-pensionable employment contracts which entitles them to gratuity as opposed to severance packable. Therefore the board acted in the best interest of the staff by giving them 6 months period notice with full pay instead of 3 months provided in their contracts.”
In June of this year, a whistleblower wrote to the Inspector General of Government, alleging “illegal activities” that have been ongoing since the 8th board was established.
Additionally, the petition charged that the board irregularly carried out a restructuring within the organization and subsequently conducted irregular recruitment, awarding jobs to many who did not possess the necessary qualifications as specified in the job descriptions.
NEMA Executive Director Dr. Akankwasah Barirega however justified all the changes being made at the environment body.
“The context really is that government is tired of incompetence and indifference. Investors want NEMA that works and is effective. So we must weed out incompetent staff and replace them with active and clear-headed staff,” Barirega said.
He said NEMA had been in the spotlight for a while over chronic delays in the processing of Environment and Social Impact Assessments (EIAs), resulting in frustration of investors, inadequate capacity to enforce the environment law, allegations of corruption relating to approvals of developments in wetlands and failure to enforce conditions of approval of developments.
“The restructuring process was, therefore, prioritized and started with the Functional Analysis undertaken by the Management and Board of NEMA between September 2021 and December 2021. This process was consultative and involved consultations with all Environment Management Lead Agencies.”
Following the appointment of the New NEMA Board and New Executive Director, the restructuring process commenced. The government through the Ministry of Public Service approved a new NEMA Structure that increased the staffing of NEMA from 130 to 413.
Recruitment to fill the new Structure has so far progressed with internal interviews now concluded.
“Where no suitable candidate was obtained internally, positions were advertised externally. The external recruitment process is going on smoothly. As of today, a total of 117 staff have been appointed and more interviews are ongoing. It is expected that by the end of this Financial Year, a total of 250 staff will be appointed.”
Background to rationalisation
The process of rationalizing government agencies and public expenditure is causing unease within numerous ministries, departments, and agencies, as a significant number of employees are uncertain about the procedures and associated aspects of this process.
“Permanent Secretary Ministry of Public Service through circular letter no.2 of 2020 dated 27th April 2023 guided on the continued employment of public officers in the positions that have been abolished or regarded,” Public Service Minister Muluri-Mukasa stated recently. He said they had sought further guidance by the Attorney General.
In addition to the circular mentioned by the minister, on May 23, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Service, Catherine Bitarakwate, issued another letter further prolonging the execution of the Rationalization of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure.
In her correspondence, Bitarakwate highlighted that this extension was enacted with the purpose of allowing sufficient time for the establishment of a legal framework that would provide a robust basis for implementing the proposed reforms.
This measure was intended to safeguard the government against potential legal challenges that might arise due to the planned reforms, which could result in job losses as well as changes in job grades and compensation.
Earlier on January 18, the issue was brought before parliament when it came to light that Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) staff had received termination letters.
Attorney General, Kiryowa Kiwanuka, reiterated that his office was currently engaged in the drafting of the rationalization bill. Kiwanuka emphasized that the proposed legislation is intended to offer clear and specific directives to guide the actions that various institutions need to take, including matters related to staff. “When it is ready, it will be brought to this House, debated and implemented. However, if that has happened, and people have been requested to leave their offices because of rationalization, that would be wrong,” he said.
The initiative to restructure government agencies was initiated in July 2017, following a directive from President Museveni. In a letter, he instructed the Vice President and Prime Minister at that time to create a blueprint with the objective of eliminating redundancy and inefficiency within the public sector. Subsequently, a comprehensive blueprint was formulated, which involved a review of 157 agencies.
Among these, 80 agencies were designated to continue as semi-autonomous entities, 33 were set to return under the purview of their respective line ministries, and 35 agencies were earmarked for consolidation and merger, reducing their number to 19 entities.
In the same development, the restructuring process led to the elimination of several positions, including roles such as that of a director. Consequently, this necessitated a redesign of new positions and responsibilities within the government structure.