Every May 1, United Nations Member States honour the contribution of workers to national development.
This year’s theme – “Promoting the Public Spirit in the Public Sector”, reminds us of what is needed in most developing countries including Uganda. More and better jobs, decent working conditions and a better work culture infused by positive values.
There is no greater virtue to be found in a citizen than the public spirit, and this is why it is very important for every individual to identify themselves with the interests of nation, community or organization that they serve.
This is an opportunity to recall that universal values such as ethics are deeply ingrained in all cultures including African culture based on time tested wisdom.
Today inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals we have an opportunity to rekindle our spirit of public service by linking it to our heritage.
In Southern Africa, ‘Ubuntu’ is a widely cherished and practiced indigenous cultural philosophy based on the notion that ‘a universal bond of sharing connects all humanity’: That ‘my humanity is connected and is inextricably bound up with yours.’
That’s why last month we joined our South African brothers and sisters to mourn the loss of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a leader who dedicated her life to serve the people of her nation.
A related cultural value in Uganda is ‘Obuntu bulamu’, an expression of ‘healthy humanness’ that conveys ‘the possession of courtesy, compassion, good upbringing and being cultured. We also have ‘Bulungi bwansi" literally translated into ‘service or for the good of the community’ in other words ‘public spirit’ - which promotes volunteerism based on good ethics.
These values are enshrined in the National Ethical Values Policy and promote sustainable development. The thread of bulungi bwansi runs central in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are a reflection of the global public spirit. The United Nations was founded on ideals of promoting the public spirit.
The preamble of the UN Charter states that, ‘We the people of the United Nations determined ….. to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom …. to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples’; which illuminates the public spirit.
In Uganda the United Nations Systems, which includes 18 agencies, supports the Government and people of Uganda to achieve the national development objectives outlined in Vision 2040 and the Second National Development Plan (NDPII) through the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF).
At the heart of this and the 2030 Agenda is a shared ambition to develop opportunities for sustainable job creation and inclusive growth.
Uganda is widely recognized for producing a wide range of excellent policies on social, economic and development issues. It is key to ensure that people in public service at all levels are well informed of existing policies and are able to define new approaches to ensure implementation.
The UN System in Uganda stands ready to support the Government of Uganda in the transition from good policies to good practices so that the public sector can effectively fulfil the public spirit and people across the nation can be part of improving their quality of life.
There is also need to revitalize the Local Government System: Uganda’s Local Government System has in the past been widely acclaimed as a global example to fulfill the public spirit. However, it is now recognized that this local government system is not functioning optimally.
There are numerous efforts by various development partners to support the Government to address capacity building challenges for a while without significant results. We need renewed leadership to re- examine how to revitalize the Local Government System given that it is the branch of the Public sector which engages most directly with citizens.
A strengthened Local Government System is key if we are to successfully implement the National Vision 2040 including transformational policies with regards to youth empowerment, inclusive green growth and refugee management.
The United Nations System in Uganda is committed to engaging with Government, private sector, cultural and religious leaders so that the Local Government System can play its role as a platform to address the needs of citizens and the revitalization of the national public spirit.
The author is UN Resident Coordinator/UN Resident Representative