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Will Ggoobi avoid being caught between development and politics?

Ramathan Ggoobi , newly appointed Permanent Secretary Secretary to the Treasury (PSST), Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED

Makerere University Business School (MUBS) Economics don, Ramathan Ggoobi (Mr) was recently appointed as the new Permanent Secretary / Secretary to the Treasury (PS/ST), Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED). He replaces the seasoned Macroeconomist with 38 years’ experience in Government – Keith Muhakanizi. 

Ggoobi, whose mantra is “Economics that Works”, came in guns blazing promising to weed out corruption. He made it abundantly clear to every civil servant that he hates accountability without results. He has promised economics of job creation, business recovery, and middle-income status.

MoFPED which the MUBS Economics don takes charge of, is a Macroeconomic institution that mobilizes financial resources, regulates their management, and formulates policies to enhance overall economic stability and development. In this article, SecretsKnown gives a glimpse of the task ahead of Ggoobi as new PS/ST. 

Since the early 2000s, the performance of MoFPED as a Macroeconomic institution, began to decline when corruption became pervasive and politics of populism took root. From then onwards, policies shifted towards what analysts have described as politics of regime survival rather than developmentalism. 

Like many other public institutions in Uganda, MOFPED is trapped in an infrastructure of embezzlement, rent-seeking, and nepotism with a high premium placed on personal enrichment. The top leadership in these institutions has been appointed by one man – President Museveni. Thus, they often trade developmental policies with populist ones that are intended to deliver short-term happiness to the electorate towards and after elections.

MoFPED is complicit in the appropriation of ceaseless supplementary budgets resulting in massive spikes in public expenditure and rule-breaking. Supplementary budgets undermine the very macroeconomic stability which had enabled Uganda to gain international legitimacy within the global economic governance circles. 

The public finance management (PFM) reforms which were introduced by MOFPED to address corruption, suffered a ‘shock’ in 2012 when the Auditor General released two special reports revealing corruption cases in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Public Service. However, MoFPED has since steered and accelerated a wide range of PFM reforms to improve transparency and accountability of its public finances. Perhaps Ggoobi will want to review the efficacy of these. 

The bigger question is to understand what explains the decline in performance from the mid-2000s that made it possible for bureaucratic autonomy to be subdued to serve populist political interests. 

To interrogate the likely cause for this decline, SecretsKnown borrows the argument of Michael Roll (2014) who posits that the performance of public sector institutions is influenced primarily by three factors namely: a) Leadership and management context, and b) Mandate of a given organization, c) The political economy context.

The first two factors (a&b) are eliminated on the premise that the economic technocracy, management, and leadership that had superintended over decades of high performance until the early 2000s, remained in place and the mandate of MoFPED remained intact. The most plausible explanation for the decline in performance is to be found in the political economy context. Following the return to multi-party politics in 2006, Uganda’s political context started shifting with a high premium attached to political survival.

As such, Ggoobi takes over a Macroeconomic institution that is caught between developmentalism and political survival of the appointing authority. SecretsKnown recalls that whereas at the start of the NRM regime President Museveni was the main enabler of MoFPED to operate with a degree of autonomy, things took a turn. Today MoFPED has been penetrated by people involved in politics and who often subdue the economic technocracy.

There is a section of Ugandans who share the view that the top officials appointed by President Museveni to state institutions inevitably acquiesce to the demands of the appointing authority. Let’s wait to see how the “boy from Butambala” will navigate these challenges to stay true to his mantra: Economics that Works.

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