The Solicitor General (SG) and Inspectorate of Government (IG) have cleared the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) of any wrongdoing in the ongoing Government MDAs merger and restructuring exercise that has seen some staff lose their jobs.
Trouble at NEMA that prompted the intervention of the IGG started in June 2022, when NEMA, just like other agencies affected by the merger 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 whose heads had the title of ‘director’ within NEMA were affected.
The ‘director’ position was replaced with that of ‘senior manager’.
Simply put, the director job and title was phased out at NEMA.
Consequently the previous directors had no jobs at all and it was not a guarantee that they would automatically serve as senior managers.
The senior manager position came with new requirements, specifications among others.
On November 1, 2022, NEMA ED, 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 and full pay, provided that their roles were mirrored in the new framework.
Even the former directors who had automatically become jobless after their positions phase out were given six months’ notice with full pay.
However, employees (like the directors) whose positions had been phased out were informed that they would have the opportunity to compete for newly available positions.
Several positions were advertised in January internally within the new organizational structure.
And as fate would have it most of them failed to qualify on grounds of academics among other issues.
Some staff had entered Public Service with a pass degree.
But the new positions now required second or first class degrees.
They were kicked out like that.
This prompted those who were affected especially directors to
petition various offices like the IGG, Public Service and others for redress.
Among other things they protested the unfairness in termination of their contracts and the pass degree policy.
IG REPORT CLEARS NEMA
In a report seen by this publication, the office of the IG has cleared NEMA of any wrongdoing as far as the restructuring and recruitment is concerned.
The IG even applauds NEMA bosses for being courteous enough to give the now jobless directors six (6) months’ notice with full pay.
“From the above findings and observations, the NEMA Board and Management acted in the best interest of the former Directors when they were given six (6) months’ notice with full pay,” the IG report reads in part.
The IG investigations also, according to the report, did not find any trace of conflict of interest, nor malice that deprived the former directors.
The IG makes it clear that their positions were phased out by the Ministry of Public Service who never provided wage bills for the same positions following the phase-out.
Even given that they were contractual employees, they did not qualify for severance package but only gratuity that was fully paid.
The IG further stressed that the lamenting director’s employment terms relied on the employment contracts and therefore, could not be tagged to the guidelines and principles of Rationalization of Government Agencies and Public Expenditure (RAPEX).
“The provisions in the National Environment Act, 2019 and NEMA Human Resource Manual which were in force and under which they were appointed even accepted the terms there on were fully applied and complied with,” the report adds.
The IG recommends thus: “From the above findings therefore, the restructuring and phasing out of the position of Directors were in accordance with the provisions of the law and as a result, we recommend as follows:-The termination of the services of the Directors as observed above be upheld. No severance package should be paid to the aggrieved person(s). Owing to the above, the file too, should be closed and the Minister, NEMA Board and Management be informed of the findings accordingly.”
SOLICITOR GENERAL WEIGHS IN
To be on the right side of the law NEMA also sought the advice of the solicitor general especially on academic qualifications issues that kicked out the directors among others.
The SGFrancis Atoke, in a letter to NEMA bosses made it clear that the (Academic qualifications) policy would not affect a person with a pass degree who had already been employed in public service before the policy came into force.
However, from its date of effectiveness, the policy would apply to new recruits like in this case the directors who were to apply afresh for the senior manager job which required more than a pass degree.
“If one’s contract was terminated, and they applied for a position under the new structure, their employment would be a fresh one, and as such, the policy would apply to them. However, where an officer has been redesignated to a new position (as a result of only a change in title), the policy would not apply to them,” the SG clarifies.
And he makes a conclusion: “therefore, it is our considered opinion that the former Directors do not have a valid claim to the positions of Senior Managers (as of right) since their offices were abolished and per the Guidelines, re-designation does not apply where the position is abolished. In addition, we hold the opinion that the termination of the employment contracts of the Directors was lawful, as it was done in accordance with the law and the terms of the respective contracts. The said former Directors are only entitled to accrued terminal benefits, if they have not been paid. The notice of termination of the contracts recognized it as well. However, if the same have been paid, then they do not have any further claim against NEMA.”
The SG’s letter clearing NEMA was also copied to the Attorney General and deputy, Minister of Public Service, and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water and Environment.
Contacted for a comment, NEMA’s ED, Dr. Akankwasa Barirega said the recruitment exercise went smoothly.
He said all the emerging issues during the recruitment process were investigated by relevant authorities and reports exonerating NEMA are available.
“Those who were affected by the restructuring process are the ones peddling false information. The IGG investigated and cleared NEMA,” Barirega said.
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. Some have already lost their jobs.
The government, through the office of the Attorney General, is currently engaged in the drafting of the rationalization bill.
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.
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. DEAR READER, DO YOU HAVE A HOT STORY YOU WOULD LIKE US TO PUBLISH…
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