By John V Sserwaniko
Matia Kasaija’s opening remark was a quotation from an old Kinyoro saying which he loosely translated to mean “scratch my back and I also scratch yours.” The Finance Minister was addressing a large crowd Wednesday that converged at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds to participate in the three-day Service Excellence Exhibition at which all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are required to demonstrate to the public their service delivery-related accomplishments of the previous Financial Year.
Kasaija said having diligently paid their taxes, the public was now being given an opportunity to interface with agency heads to understand what their money (Shs32trn in last FY’s case) has been expended on. Indeed, each MDA had representatives in the well set up tents who were at hand to answer all questions raised by members of the public in the small group sessions.
“The public has been scratching your back by loyally paying their taxes throughout the budget year and now is your turn to scratch them back by accounting for the money,” Kasaija said while emphasis the Kinyoro saying he referred to at the beginning.
He commended the MDAs that gave back to the public by offering free services examples being NMS (which offered free yellow fever vaccination) and generally the health sector many of whose regional referral hospitals set up tents and offered medical services ranging from general medical check ups to specific health conditions like sickle cell and other NCDs.
URA equally gave out a range of services that members of the public would ordinarily have struggled more to access. Mulago the National Referral Hospital equally did the same just like many others. Kasaija referred to all these and said this correctly describes the Kinyoro saying he referred to as the inception of his address.
Wednesday was chosen for the grand opening ceremony simply because the original day Tuesday coincided with Idi Mubarak. Notwithstanding the late Monday evening announcements postponing to Wednesday, Ugandans in their 100s still converged at Kololo the major attraction being the free yellow fever vaccination services the MoH started offering through National Medical Stores (NMS). Indeed, the larger part of the crowd Kasaija was addressing had arrived very early just to book their slots for attention in the vaccination pavilion NMS set up inside Kololo Ceremonial Grounds.
The Wednesday very glamorous event began as early as 7am with white Tshirts-donning MDA staffers cheerfully assembling at Constitutional Square along Kampala Road from where a long procession set off heading to Kololo. Army, prisons and police bands played very nice music as the groups matched.
To their credit, the organizers got young nice-looking corporate ladies to lead the procession riding in one of Kira EV cars which ensured the slow-paced procession grabbed the attention of curious onlookers wherever it passed. There is generally a belief that Ugandans have become hopeless (bakoowu) and very apathetic about their country but the sight of the black Kira EV brought out the best is especially Boda-riders who gathered on their stages to cheer the young ladies that surrounded the car. Some took photos of the car with one man (at the Posta zebra crossing) euphorically declaring “finally our country is making history.” He tried taking selfies around it but the procession wasn’t slow enough for him to take the most perfect shots as he evidently desired.
At the center of the procession, immediately walking behind the Kira EV, were a number of MDA heads and accounting officers including URA’s Doris Akol, EC Secretary Sam Rwakojo and Ag PSST Patrick Ochailap. Matia Kasaija, who flagged off the match and briefly rushed to office, rejoined them later at Kololo where he was flamboyantly received his junior Ministers (Evelyne Anite, David Bahati & Haruna Kasolo) who arrived earlier to wait for him.
Inside the huge white tent, where Director Budgeting Kenneth Mugambe led other technocrats to receive VIP guests, nice music played as the waiting guests chatted and networked. For some like EC’s Rwakojo, the waiting period was an opportunity to address reporters stressing the electoral body’s readiness to roll out the 2021 election roadmap.
Once everyone had arrived, including Premier Rugunda, Mugambe (who was aided by day’s MC Jim Mugunga) announced it was time for the panel discussion and called on the day’s speakers to take up seats on the specially raised platform. “This is clear proof that once money is released for an activity and its not diverted or stolen, you can always have a perfect event,” a journalist marveled
in reference to the precision with which the Kololo event was organized. PSFU boss Gideon Bagadawa agreed calling it a “very marvelous event” in his speech.
The speakers Mugambe called upon included Rugunda, Kasaija, Akol, CSBAG’s Julius Makunda and PSFU’s Gideon Bagadawa who respectively represented CSOs and private sector views. Rugunda commended Kasaija and his team for insisting on such accountability and transparency-enhancing public events adding it was no longer possible to exclude citizens from budgeting processes. He was specifically excited to learn that organizers responded to public demand and expanded the event to a full Budget Month as opposed to last year when it was held merely as a Budget Week. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).