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Public Service Halts NEMA Restructuring Process Amid Complaints from Affected Staff :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Public Service Halts NEMA Restructuring Process Amid Complaints from Affected Staff

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In his June 27, 2023 letter to the NEMA Board Chairperson, Muluri indicated that he conducted a thorough analysis of the submissions provided by the board chairperson and acknowledged the concerns expressed by the staff members regarding the implementation of the newly approved organizational structures, identifying certain issues.
28 Aug 2023 09:40
NEMA Executive Director, Dr. Akankwasah Barirega. Photo by Nema
The Public Service Minister, Wilson Muluri Mukasa, has suspended the ongoing restructuring and termination of contracts at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in response to complaints raised by the affected employees. 

In his June 27, 2023 letter to the NEMA Board Chairperson, Muluri indicated that he conducted a thorough analysis of the submissions provided by the board chairperson and acknowledged the concerns expressed by the staff members regarding the implementation of the newly approved organizational structures, identifying certain issues.

“I also note that issues of non-adherence to the principles and guidelines for the rationalization of government agencies and public expenditure (RAPEX) and other relevant legal provisions, were specifically raised,” the minister’s letter reads in part. After reviewing the concerns expressed by the affected staff regarding irregularities in the process, the minister identified six major issues of concern. These included the development of new job descriptions in an arbitrary manner, without involving the Ministry of Public Service, the Public Service Commission, and other crucial stakeholders in the consultation.

In June 2022, NEMA initiated the restructuring process, following the cabinet's approval of recommendations aimed at rationalizing government agencies and public expenditure. This initiative encompassed various actions, including the phasing out of certain entities, merging others, and eliminating directorates. As part of the proposed structural changes, four directorates within NEMA underwent modifications, introducing new job titles and enhancing job content and specifications. For example, the title of "Senior Manager Environment Compliance" was introduced to replace the phased-out "Director of Environment Monitoring and Compliance."

On November 1, 2022, Dr. Babirega Akankwansah, the Executive Director of NEMA, conveyed in an email to all staff members that, with the approved new structure in place, employees whose contracts were nearing expiration would be granted extensions of up to six months, provided that their roles were mirrored in the new framework. 

However, employees whose positions had been phased out were informed that they would have the opportunity to compete for newly available positions.“All staff other than the executive director shall be given an equal opportunity to compete for any positions on the new structure through an open competitive process except for staff who were recently recruited ...during the tenure of the 8th board who will retain their jobs automatically provided such jobs are available on the new structure,” the email read in parts calling for calmness.

Several months later, in January of this year, NEMA released an internal advertisement inviting eligible staff members to apply for open positions within the new organizational structure. However, to the astonishment of numerous employees, prior to the specified deadline for applications, which had been established as January 31, 2023, the Executive Director took the unexpected step of sending termination letters to a number of individuals. This action was taken without conducting any interviews for the positions that staff members had applied for.

“The notices of termination didn’t stipulate the reasons for the discharge from employment and did not provide for payment to the affected staff of the severance package,” the affected staff wrote to the Ministry of Public Service in a letter dated May 29, 2023. The affected staff members subsequently lodged complaints in which they requested certificates of service from the Executive Director, clearly outlining the grounds for the termination of their employment contracts.

Furthermore, the minister's letter highlighted that the decision to terminate any employees was already in conflict with the directives provided by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Service regarding the procedures for managing staff during the restructuring 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,” Minister Muluri-Mukasa noted.

In addition to the circular mentioned by the minister, on May 23, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Service, Ms. Catherine Bitarakwate, issued another letter further prolonging the execution of the Rationalization of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure. In her correspondence, Ms. 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. With all that put into perspective, Muluri-Mukasa said the ongoing progression of NEMA's restructuring process, which is currently in the phase of hiring new personnel, without first addressing the significant concerns, could potentially result in unwarranted animosity.

“I would like to guide as follows; any recruitment for either new appointments or replacements to fill the positions on the approved structure of NEMA should be stayed until further guidance by the attorney general in consultation with the ministry of public service,” he added. Additionally, the minister directed that the personnel who had been impacted by the restructuring process should remain in their existing roles until a suitable course of action is determined and sanctioned. 

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. 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. In the course of the deliberation, at that time as documented on record, Enosi Asiimwe, Kabula County MP, highlighted that both the board and the executives of agencies such as NEMA were implementing the Rationalization of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure (RAPEX) as a forward-looking measure.

“The guidelines have not yet been exhausted, but they have already put out notices to staff that they are going to be terminated, and they should start looking for alternative employment, yet, the process has not been fully accepted or rejected by Parliament. So, I am wondering what the Executive is trying to do by implementing a decision that has not been either approved or rejected by Parliament,” the Hansards read in part. The Speaker, Anita Among, added that she had also received communication from numerous employees of other Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) stating that they had been instructed to vacate their offices. 

Nevertheless, the 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.

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