KAMPALA – For the first ever in my life time, I have felt sorry for President Yoweri Museveni only once and that is when he was addressing a gathering of 2011-2016 National Executive Council (NEC) of the NRM party where I happened to have members.
The President told us about an instance where he directed some of his Ministers to procure land for Bidco for growing of Palm trees- from which they make palm oil in Buvuma island along lake Victoria basin.
The Bidco investors left Museveni’s office thinking it was a done deal but almost 10 years later, the President learnt that his people had only about a quarter of the land to Bidco.
It was a tale of bitterness on the part of Museveni which begged the question whether or not there is a mechanism at state house that is mandated with the duty to follows- up the directives given by the President. Is it sabotage or it is an inside job where money is signed for to execute a directives but diverted to serve the interests of those around the President.
Are the President’s handlers part of this scheme or it is a mind game intended to show the public that the President has played his part and then the blame shifts to those holding offices at the time the directives are made.
Am told once the instruction has been given and money picked- of course later shared, the person to whom the promise has been made never gets a chance of seeing the President again lest they are reported. Somebody from within state house puts in place a mechanism not to allow any information flow to and from state house regarding the issue.
Just the other day when the country was pondering its next action on covid, out of the blue the President realized that there is a being above the sky called God with the powers to heal where man has failed.
He declared a public holiday to allow the religious with the exception of witch doctors to cry unto the God to intervene on and may be give us a drug or take away the diseases. It was called a national prayer day held on the on June 25, 2021.
When the prayers were done, the President seized the opportunity to respond to some of the social media cries of Ugandans who fell sick of covid 19 and could not find a bed in our major hospitals to receive treatment. The President cunningly made a comment about the increasing number of covid patients visa viz the number of beds available in hospitals.
It was evident that the President was agitated when he learnt of the number of beds available in government facilities and how patients were tossed about from one hospital to another.
It appears the President had already received a dossier from his intelligence team about a shortage of beds and could not stomach the embarrassment. He was prepared to push somebody under the bus just to ensure that he does not take a bullet for somebody else. If it is true that the President was serious about his previous directives to the Ministry of health to procure beds, these officials would have been fired right there. Although Aceng was in attendance, Museveni had opted to invite Atwine to answer the questions regarding beds and not the line minister.
To avoid carrying a cross that was not his, the President decided to invite Dr. Diana Atwine to defend her Ministry of healthy.
After explaining herself and why beds were not yet available for the escalating numbers of covid 19 patients, Museveni appeared not satisfied with the Permanent Secretary’s response and pressed on for a better explanation from her.
Museveni is quoted to have said “When the news of the corona virus reached our ears and we knew it was coming, I told them to target 42,000 sick people at any given time.
They are all here. Aceng is here, this Atwine is here. I told them; assume we have got 42,000 sick people. Where did I get the figure from, it was Italy, because Italy was one of the countries that was hit hard. Assume we reach the danger point of Italy. How far have you gone now?”
Sadly, Atwine did not answer the question in the spirit the President anticipated and I cannot blame her for the choice of her words, she was surely ambushed and I think her answer was a cover up for incompetence or either her part or the ministry of Finance.
She said they had they submitted their budget for the beds to the Ministry of Finance and were waiting.
Again I want to assume the President was being honest with his questions to Atwine. In all honesty, if it is true that the instruction to procure the beds was given in March, 2020 in the previous financial year, why was the instruction not implemented by the line ministry?
Was the President’s instruction taken up and communicated to the relevant offices or somebody just sat on the information.
Did the Aceng who was Minister of health in 2020 fail to agree with her permanent Secretary on the modus operendi on how the beds were to be procured and from where and at what cost or finances were not readily available during the previous financial year.
Am still wondering why the Mnistry of health had to wait for another financial year to submit their budget yet this was an emergency situation that could have called for a supplementary budget to save lives.
The other pertinent question is why the Ministry of health failed to utilize billions of covid money that were donated by well wishers to purchase beds. After all the money was intended to fight covid and procuring beds was part of the game. Having the beds in place would have helped save lives of hundreds of Ugandans who have since died due to laxity, negligence and incompetence.
Pressed to the corner, the President surely wanted to embarrass Atwine and I think he did so successfully before the whole nation and I think her days are numbered.
No wonder the whole country is up in arms against Diana Atwine. She may have to consider resigning before the President cracks the wipe or before the mafias vying for her blood take the law into their own hands. To be honest, Atwine’s answers to the questions paused by the President left her more exposed as an incompetent and disobedient administrator.
During the question and answer time, Atwine stammered when the President insisted on knowing how many beds were available out of the targeted 42,000 sick people. She confirmed that the country has about 3,000 beds.
However, that as a Ministry they were trying to establish more beds, at least, 60 at regional referral hospital. Imagine 60 beds at regional referral hospital yet the President had directed her to target a bigger number when the pandemic broke out. How many years will they need to reach the target as directed by the President?
At the end of the dialogue between the President and Dr. Diana Atwine, Museveni had successfully put his point across, he means well for Uganda but the people around him don’t take his advice and instructions very seriously.
“Now you can see, they didn’t listen to me, these two (referring to the Minister of health Ruth Aceng and her Permanent Secretary Diana Atwine) are bajeemu to mean disobedient. Ono mujeemu, nono mujeemu. “Now you can see. So, that is where the problem is. Kale, ebyange biwedde (That’s all I can say)”. Before I take leave of this quotation, am wondering whether this was a joke or a cleansing speech.
Surely, unless the President only stood up to embarrass the minister to clean his name, his talk at the end of the Prayer did not help the ordinary person Ugandan demanding for services. He should have directed that beds be bought within a month and a report made to him in that regard.
He left the whole talk hanging and with no solution to the complaints regarding beds. To be honest, this was not the best way Museveni should have summarized his speech. At least he should have asked the Prime Minister to use part of the money the country just borrowed for Covid-19 emergency funds to procure beds for this noble cause.
I know that there are several frustrations in this government and the mafias are always looming to find somebody to bump off but Atwine needs to rise up to the occasion.
It is not business as usual in the health sector and from we are seeing, covid is here to stay, we must learn to co-exist with it and one of the ways is by revamping the health care systems including improving the welfare of the medical practitioners.
One would have expected Atwine to fall back and apologise to the nation but she has instead become defensive as if she has done nothing wrong in a gesture that can be interpreted as if to justify her shortcomings.
We are told Atwine she has now diverted her attention suing Prof Anthony Mbonye, the former director general of Health Services in the same ministry, for defamation. In his book- ‘Uganda’s Health Sector through turbulent politics (1958-2018), Mbonye stated that there is a lot of in-fighting and power struggles in the Ministry of health that led to his resignation in January 2018.
Whereas the book looks at the problems of health right from 1958, Prof Mbonye zeros on the latest leadership from 2010-2018 in chapter 8 of his book on page 121 and says “earlier the little known but vicious Dr Diana Atwine had sought to capitalise on her closeness to the First Family in order to ascend the hierarchy of the health sector but without much success,”
There is no doubt the words portrayed Atwine as incompetent, corrupt, an influence peddler, a schemer, conspirator, unethical person and unqualified to hold her current position of permanent secretary.
To me, it does not matter whether Prof Mbonye’s allegations are true or false, the behavior of the President during the national prayer day on June 25th 2021 puts Mbonye’ claim into perspective.
There is no doubt the President placed Atwine between a rock and a hard place and even referred to her as a disobedient person. The President further portrayed her as an insubordinate person without the will to take instructions and have them implemented. Atwine should consider withdrawing her case against Prof Mbonye, she will not succeed in court.
If it is true that the beds were not procured as admitted by Atwine despite the directive by the President, it means Prof Mbonye allegation that the appointment of inexperienced junior officers to influential positions in the Health ministry has undermined the quality of service delivery.
Surely if the whole country can have 3,000 beds with or without the covid 19 pandemic, despite all the funding, then the health sector is in the Intensive Care Unit on oxygen and may soon have a multiple organ failure. We cannot afford to micro manage a country’ health sector and truth be told, somebody should be held accountable for incompetence.
The writer, Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician