Kampala – Power has finally been handed to Makerere University Business School economist and critic, Ramathan Ggoobi, who describes himself as a pragmatist and a proponent of economics that works.
Ggoobi was on Thursday appointed Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury after dancing on the edge power for some weeks.
A day before Museveni announced the cabinet last month, Daily Monitor leaked a purported list of cabinet nominees, and Ggoobi had been tipped to be Minister of Finance. But when Museveni finally released the cabinet list, he retained Matia Kasaija.
Ggoobi described the 24 hours from when Daily Monitor tipped him to the time the cabinet list was released as interesting. “I enjoyed power for 24 hours, there were very many encouraging messages and when the list came out, all of a sudden, I lost the power,” he said on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation –UBC TV Wednesday Behind Headlines programme where he is a panellist.
Ggoobi said those 24 hours taught him the “kind of life which politicians go through” and why it’s always a life and death battle for those in office to stay. As he takes office, it is the future that will tell if he will also fight hard to stay as long as the man he is succeeding, Keith Muhakanizi who has been in office for almost a decade.
Ggoobi is said to have been Operation Wealth Creation -OWC’s chief economist and was part of the team that drafted the National Resistance Movement -NRM 2021-26 manifesto. Thus, he comes at the right time to implement a document he co-authored.
In his writings over the years and regular appearance in print and broadcast media respectively, Ggoobi has divulged his philosophical thoughts and diagnosis of Uganda’s economic problems. On numerous occasions, he has argued that Uganda’s number one problem is poor implementation policies, strategies and laws.
“NRM/NRA has written very good papers over the years, the challenge has always been the quality of implementation,” he argued on May 12th, a day after Museveni took oath for the sixth term in office.
Ggoobi authored a paper titled “From Paper to Practice: Implementation of Uganda’s Industrialization Agenda” which was published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Uganda Country office in 2019.
Government projects, he argued are derailed by weak decision making in ministries, departments and agencies. He gave a scenario when for instance, a commissioner in a ministry can’t make a simple decision, forwarding the issue to the director who forwards it to the permanent secretary. The permanent secretary forwards it to a minister to take it cabinet and the cabinet leaves it to the president who would also want to first consult electorates before making the final decision.
Ggoobi described these delays of critical things which would kick-start the processes of transforming Uganda as “silly.” And they must be addressed.
“Corruption starts at the Ministry of Finance where projects are designed with extras; adding things that are not supposed to be there,” President Museveni said in May after the election of speaker and deputy speaker. Since Museveni is the biggest consumer of intelligence, Ggoobi is definitely aware that he is joining a ministry that’s the mother of corruption in Uganda. He will either change the ministry to accountability and serving the taxpayer or the ministry will change him to another corrupt fellow. The third option is for the Ggoobi to be another inconsequential space filler.
Corruption has been a big spoiler of the project. During the drafting of the NRM manifesto, Ggoobi said recently, the issue was discussed at length with the president.
“It was agreed that beginning with this term, there should be minimum human contact in doing work,” he argued recently on UBC. “We must ensure that we implement e-government and e-procurement.”
Uganda must decisively deal with the corruption of greed, where highly paid civil servants connive with contractors to steal taxpayers’ money when negotiating project costs. “That one should be dealt with the way Ugandans are crying,” he argued in May. “Why don’t we see big fish going to Luzira?”
On Wednesday, Ggoobi rose to the defence of the Ministry of Health whose chief technocrats continue to face scepticism from Ugandans who think resources allocated to it for fighting the coronavirus pandemic are just stolen. Ministry of Health officials, Ggoobi argued, should not be condemned before thorough accountability is done.
“You know in this country; they love more paper accountability than results,” he argued. “You would rather account on paper and there are no results on ground. Then there are those who will show you results but perhaps they did not procure according to the PPDA and so on, and that person is a thief.”
Ggoobi goes on: “Once full accountability is done and anyone is found to have stolen money meant for treating or vaccinating Ugandans, such a person needs not even to be in our jails, such a person need to be hanged.”
He thinks people who have the power to influence public opinion should not be just making allegations and blowing things out of context.
After November 2021 protests triggered by the arrest of Robert Kyagulanyi when campaigning in Luuka district, Ggoobi argued, “Younger democracies like Uganda face challenges because they can’t sustain democracy.”
He pointed to researchers who have found that there is no country that has sustained democracy beyond 12 years when its GDP per capita is less than $1,000.
He argued that democracy works only well when the economy is working. “Poor countries don’t sustain democracy because it becomes so easy for whoever wants to manipulate the democracy to do so,” he said. “People stop voting for interest and they are voting for a few things such as food, T-shirts.