The concept of minister without portfolio, more so in the Office of the Vice President, is complicated, a minister sacked recently from that job has intimated.
In the true sense of the job definition, Alex Aadroa Onzima, a former minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Vice President, said he was not a minister.
“Vice presidency is not a ministry because there are no ministries attached to it. Although I am called a minister of state, it is not a ministry; so, I was appointed to work in this office under the vice president to wait for whatever assignment the vice president assigns me. So, it is not really a ministry as such,” Onzima said.
Onzima was sacked via social media, without warning from the president on December 14.
“The VP [vice president] has in his capacity as the second-highest-ranking personality in government been giving me assignments to represent him, which I have been doing to the best of my capacity and which I also did faithfully without receiving any negatives about my performance. Unless there is something that happened, it did not come to my attention,” Onzima added.
Onzima’s predecessors have said in previous interviews that there’s no work in the office of the vice president apart from reading newspapers and making calls. In 2013, the former minister of state in the Office of the Vice President Vincent Nyanzi told a parliamentary committee on presidential affairs that he was rendered redundant in that office.
Onzima said he worked as and when he was assigned. He said he kept in office waiting on assignments from his boss Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi.
“My experience has been ….yes, when the VP assigns you work, you do it. So, when he has not assigned you any work, you wait for it; it’s that simple. I have been waiting for assignments,” Onzima said.
“We wait for assignments; it’s not like some ministries where you are spread out all over the country. It’s not like ministries where a senior minister is busy and assigns you or you as minister of state you draw your own programmes of duty, which is not actually the case here,” he added.
Sacked without warning from the president on December 14, Onzima was later appointed as a presidential advisor along with four other former ministers.
Interviewed recently by The Observer, Onzima said he is not quite sure he knows what useful advice he would offer the president in his new posting.
The former minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Vice-President said he was not really a minister under that office. He said he simply waited on assignments from his boss, which were few over the years.
In all, seven ministers were sacked in the December 14 reshuffle including; Irene Muloni (Energy), Monica Azuba Ntege (Works), Janat Mukwaya (Gender), Idah Erios Nantaba (ICT), Charles Bakkabulindi (Sports), Hajj Abdul Nadduli (Without Portfolio) and Alex Onzima (Office of the Vice-President).
Days after the reshuffle, five ex-officios (ministers without constituencies) Irene Nafuna Muloni, Alex Aadroa Onzima, Abdul Nadduli, Janat Mukwaya and Monica Azuba Ntege were appointed senior presidential advisors while Idah Erios Nantaba (former ICT state minister) and Charles Bakkabulindi (former sports state minister) remain backbench MPs.
Nantaba is the Woman MP for Kayunga while Bakkabulindi represents workers in parliament. Asked in an interview at his old office about his readiness for the new advisory job, Onzima said he is not sure he knows what exactly he is supposed to be advising the president about.
He said he heard about his new posting as a senior presidential advisor but had not received any official communication from the appointing authority.
“I don’t know what I am supposed to advise the president about because I have never been to an office like that before and I don’t know how they operate,” Onzima said.
He said he was yet to receive the instruments of appointment from the president.
“You know when he [president] makes that pronouncement [fresh appointment], you have to wait for the instrument of appointment. That one has not yet come. So, ours is still a blank cheque. So, in this case now, I cannot tell you exactly what I am going to do.”
“And even a senior presidential advisor, on what?” Onzima added.
Asked if he knew why he was appointed as a presidential advisor, a furious Onzima told this reporter to call and ask the president.
“All the executive authority is vested in the president. He has full authority to appoint, disappoint, to make changes in his government. He is the head of state; so, I wouldn’t know why he appoints people as ministers or vice president. All that is premised on his own discretion…the only authoritative person to answer that question is the president himself,” Onzima said.
“I cannot speculate why the president appointed me to the ministry of Local Government, then here [office of the vice president] and to the new assignment to come [senior presidential advisor]. I will advise you, in my honest way, to call him and you put that question to him. It’s the president to answer, not Alex Onzima,” he added.
Onzima refused to be drawn into commenting on the movement of former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Kahinda Otafiire and Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana to less significant portfolios of East African Affairs and Labour ministry respectively, which draw less public scrutiny.
“If I do not have a clue on my own appointment, why would I know about other people? I told you I do not know why the man shifted me from Local Government to here and now senior presidential advisor,” Onzima said.
“I don’t know why. It is his prerogative and now, you come here and ask about Rukutana…. maybe Rukutana has his own answers. Follow Rukutana, then Otafiire, call them,” Onzima added.
Asked if his opposition to the president’s push for the creation of new administrative units had something to do with his sacking from the ministry of Local Government, Onzima said it was wrong to tie what transpired in Local Government to his sacking from the Office of the Vice President.
“This office will be here. Like now another minister is coming. So, it still remains the structure of the executive. It will exist long after we have left,” Onzima said.
Onzima, who contested in 2016 and lost his Maracha seat, which he had represented since 1996, said he doesn’t want to ‘disturb’ the current MP Denis Lee Oguzu until May 2020.
“Me I always say proudly that I am mature in mind and in age so I don’t do things haphazardly I just said no, let’s give this boy [MP Oguzu] some space…” Onzima said.
“I have given myself up to May  because it will be four years in which this boy has had free space to implement his manifesto,” Onzima added.