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How Salim Saleh saved Rugunda from firing as State House officials fight

by James Ateenyi

The silent fights among top government officials has resulted in delay of service delivery in some key areas as officials turns axe on each others.

This promoted Museveni most trusted brother Gen Salim Saleh to intervene in order to arrest the escalating situations from going out of hands.

The two powerful offices of Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and that of John Mitala who heads the Cabinet Secretariat were at the centre stage.

The battle isn’t based on the usual petty personal differences but on very serious issues regarding who should have the last word on matters of government policy and coordination of government entities especially Ministries. It’s a very polarizing debate that has indeed divided influential government bureaucrats.

As Cabinet Secretariat, staff at Mitala’s office believe its their business to have the last word fine-tuning all policy papers going to Cabinet whose agenda they also generate ahead of Monday Cabinet meetings. It’s them who determine what appears on the agenda paper for the subsequent week’s Cabinet meeting.

The technocrats at Rugunda’s OPM, especially those in the monitoring and evaluation department, insist this is their role too. This has inevitably led to bad blood between the two powerful offices as every initiative guys at Mitala’s office come up with is hijacked from them by technocrats at better-facilitated OPM which says its theirs.

The Mitala office, which is part of the President’s office, has gradually been weakened by being deprived of resources required to adequately recruit enough staff to handle the very demanding tasks required of them including monitoring & evaluating performance of government programs.

“Its because the two guys are seasoned and experienced otherwise that war between Mitala’s Cabinet Secretariat and Rugunda’s OPM would by now have paralysed government but they keep taking things easy,” says a knowledgeable source.

Armed with a well-written paper, the pro-Mitala technocrats argued that in a Presidential system like Uganda a Prime Minister like Rugunda (whose OPM is already disrespected by many MDA heads unlike during JPAM’s days) can’t be charged with the responsibility of supervising the entire government performance because that isn’t his mandate.

Museveni keenly listened as technocrats made their case arguing the John Mitala office (which is part of the Presidency which takes precedence in a Presidential system like ours) should be empowered to carry out the government-wide M&E function.

In fact, the technocrats boldly urged the President to emulate Kenya and abolish the docket of Prime Minister (strenghten Cabinet Secretariat) and instead have various Vice Presidents (up to three of them). He was advised the big men like Rugunda can then be deployed as some of the alternative VPs.

Museveni was told that even legally, there is no way the PM can purport to be leader of government business in a Presidential system like ours because the executive power lies with the President and not the Premier.

Museveni responded by telling the technocrats he is very much aware of that limitation which is why Rugunda heads government business strictly in Parliament only and not elsewhere in government.

On being intrigued by the submissions made by these cadre technocrats who he trusts very much because of their strong credentials as NRM backers, a nearly persuaded Museveni reached out for his phone and rung his brother Gen Salim Saleh.

Sources say Museveni asked Saleh to urgently meet the technocrats and create sufficient time to understand the robust proposals they were making on how to overhaul and restructure the entire government.

“I appreciate your initiative but the timing isn’t right. I will talk to the President that much as its a good proposal making alot of sense, we first shelve it to study it’s long term political consequences because its something that cause us political problems if we don’t first study it properly,” Saleh reportedly told the technocrats in the scheduled meeting.

“In the meantime, I will also speak to both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary to see how to deescalate things.”

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