Uganda’s budget for maintaining its foreign envoys is likely to go up every time President Museveni appoints former ministers as ambassadors, if government implements a new presidential directive to the public service ministry.
In an August 1 letter, President Museveni directs the minister of Public Service, Muruli Mukasa, to give the former ministers who were appointed ambassadors the same remuneration they used to get while they still served in cabinet.
“As you are aware, I have appointed some former ministers as ambassadors. I, therefore, direct, if it is not against any law, their remuneration, personal to holder, like when they were ministers, minus of course elements like constituency allowance because they no longer have constituencies,” Museveni’s letter reads.
The letter is copied to Vice President Edward Ssekandi, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, head of Public Service and secretary to cabinet John Mitala and the permanent secretary of the ministry of Foreign Affairs, Patrick Mugoya.
Museveni’s letter suggests that the former ministers could alternatively be paid an equivalent of the monthly pay of Shs 15m for permanent secretaries, although this could come with additional benefits.
“Sort it out in a rational manner on the basis of maintaining some of the benefits the individuals were getting previously minus the elements that are no longer applicable,” Museveni further wrote.
Muruli’s known phone number was off while the permanent secretary of the ministry of Public Service, Catherine Musingwiire, declined a phone interview with The Observer over the matter when contacted.
It is understood that the directive followed a concern by former ministers during a two-week induction course for the newly appointed ambassadors, which was conducted in July at the Jinja-based Uganda Public Service College.
In January this year, President Yoweri Museveni appointed 37 new ambassadors, among whom were former ministers such as Dr Crispus Kiyonga (Defence), Rebbecca Amuge Otengo (State for Northern Uganda), and Barbara Nekesa Oundo (State for Karamoja).
The former ministers reportedly asked Museveni to give them their full ministerial benefits as opposed to the lower pay for ambassadors. An ambassador on average gets a monthly pay cheque of $4,000 (Shs 14.4m).
Interviewed, the state minister for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem, said this has been the norm every time the president appoints ambassadors from people he has dropped from cabinet.
“Since the president started appointing former ministers as ambassadors, they have been going with their ministerial salaries. That has been the policy since 2011 and it applies to all former ministers because we can’t discriminate anyone,” Oryem said.
According to Oryem, Museveni renews the directive after every five years because without putting it in writing, the former ministers wouldn’t get their ministerial salaries.
“That is how former ministers like Betty Aketch [Japan], Alintuma Nsambu [Algeria] and James William Kinobe [Sudan] have been getting what they used to get as ministers,” Oryem said.
In addition to the salary, a former minister like Nekesa who was sent to Pretoria enjoys a posh four-storey mansion complete with a swimming pool and an expansive compound measuring about an acre. This, according to Oryem, is in addition to a chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz and servants.
A former minister who has served as an ambassador for more than five years, however, told this writer on condition of anonymity that the minister was being economical with the truth on the matter.
“I don’t think the minister is being honest,” the former minister told The Observer from his foreign mission. “There are no group benefits. Once the president makes an appointment, he gives selective terms; everyone is given different terms on appointment. Not all former ministers get it… It is a wrong impression the minister is creating. At least I have not been getting it and I know many former ministers who are not getting it,” the ex-minister-turned-ambassador added.
“In fact I have personally failed to make sense out of the president’s letter because the government of Uganda policy has no salary for ministers. All ministers are paid as MPs. They only get responsibility allowances plus some other small allowances like telephone and fuel,” the envoy said.