Kasese district was recently plunged into violence that left over 100 people dead. Jerome Kule Bitswande interviewed LC-V chairman GEOFFREY SIBENDIRE BIGOGO THEMBO, who is about to make a year at the helm of the volatile western Uganda district about service delivery and the security question. Below are excerpts:
It is now nine months since you assumed office as Kasese district chairperson; what have you done so far?
True, it is almost coming to the end of the year, we have made strides in the provision of social services to our people e.g. in education, health, etc.
Strides in the education sector when your students performed generally poorly in last year’s national exams?
Of course, these pupils were not entirely ‘ours’ because we found them already in candidate classes. However, we have put up measures to make sure the performance becomes better this year.
We have introduced promotional exams in all UPE schools from primary five to primary six and from primary six to primary seven. A pupil will not be promoted to the next class without getting the pass mark that the district has set. And because of this, you will see a reduced number of primary seven candidates this year.
What is the pass mark?
I don’t recall quite well; I would have to crosscheck the records for that.
Are you not going to clash with central government which says a child must be promoted to the next class every year?
But the children are ours; as a local government, we have a stake in their education and it is our duty to give guidance. How important is it to just have a child promoted to the next class and at the end of the day, they perform very poorly? I actually ask parents to discourage their children who perform dismally from going to the next class.
Do you really think promotional exams will be the magic bullet to better performance?
Not really! The performance of children is determined by a number of factors; how they get promoted is one of them. But we are not only doing that, we are also going to work on absenteeism of teachers.
As council, we resolved that a teacher must work for a minimum of 15 days a month; less of that, we shall withhold their salary. Even then, a teacher must write to his head teacher explaining why he could not make it to work for the other days.
But that sounds unenforceable; how are you going to implement it?
We have brought it to the attention of head teachers that they are the first layer of inspection. They must make sure that their staff is not absconding from duty.
You must be aware that sometimes it is the head teachers who are absent.
We will deal with them in the same way we deal with teachers if they neglect their work.
But Mr Chairman, you know that across the country, teachers are faced with several challenges…
I appreciate the challenges they go through, that is why the FDC party has always said that our teachers deserve better than they are getting.
But I also ask of them to know that in this government, only what has been provided is what we can go by. And they should know that the children they teach are their relatives, who deserve a better future. This also goes to secondary school teachers.
Still, how are you going to find out if the teacher has taught for fifteen days or not?
You see, like I told you, the head teacher will be the first layer of inspection; he must keep an attendance book for his staff and should be able to make a report at the end of the month. Our education team at the district and the political leaders shall make unannounced visits to different schools to check how far the head teachers are implementing this.
What else are you doing to improve schools?
We have done a lot of infrastructural developments in various schools across the district. For example, we have built two classroom blocks at Ibunda primary in Buhuhira sub-county, built six classrooms at Kamasasa primary and seven classrooms at St Comboni primary school in Karambi and Isango sub-counties respectively.
Other schools where works are going on include; Nyamuwooza, Bweyale, and Rwesande primary school after we secured support from a Belgian organization Sei So Frei.
Let us turn to health; the services have barely improved.
We are using the same measures to curb absenteeism among health workers; the unit in-charge must keep an attendance book. He must also draw a red line in the book as soon as it clocks 9am, so that whoever comes beyond that time is considered absent. All staff must sign in before 9am and sign out only after 5pm. Still, less than 15 days of work, we shall withhold their salary.
Other than eliminating absenteeism, what are you working on?
We have built a twin block of staff quarters at Karusandara and Nyamirami health centres III.
How is your leadership working on curbing theft of drugs? It is a big problem across the country.
We have intensified our monitoring in all service delivery facilities. We have started making abrupt visits and they are paying off.
Inspectors across the country, lament of lack of money to do the monitoring, where are you getting the money?
Of course not that we have a lot of money; but we are committed to doing our work by monitoring all government programmes within the available resources.
Talking government programmes, have you been monitoring Operation Wealth Creation?
Definitely, this is our money; this is people of Uganda money, and there is no serious leader who can give up on it. Through this programme, the district has received quite a number of items, like we received about 47,000 seedlings of apples, we received heifers and many other things, and we are following up on how best they can deliver.
Of course there are challenges because the regulations seem to disregard local governments. We are only informed when items are going to be given out. In other words, we are just at the receiving end and yet a lot of bad deals are sometimes done at procurement.
Are you suggesting that our army is involved in dirty deals?
What are you talking about? Soldiers connive with suppliers and they compromise the quality of the items supplied. For example, they recently gave out poor-quality ginger to people in the municipality. The army has not done the work envisaged by those who entrusted Naads (National Agricultural Advisory Services) to them.
Talking about the army, to date the army maintain a presence in town and its outskirts, because of last year’s confrontation between the government forces and Rwenzururu kingdom. This was not the first time, what is the cause of this frequent violence?
I don’t know either.
But you are the leader; how do you say you don’t know?
My friend, people have their own problems; we have said that there ought to be an independent inquiry so that people have an avenue to speak out their grievances and vent off their anger.
You people don’t believe in this government, how come you want the same government to carry out an investigation?
The entire government can’t be a problem. Government has very many other bodies like Uganda Human Rights Commission; it can be parliament, judiciary or any other body, I am sure its findings would be helpful.
Most Kasese leaders keep talking about problems in this area, grievances of the people… what are these problems?
There are quite a number of challenges, not only in Kasese but also in Bundibugyo. For example, in Bundibugyo, you would find institutionalized mistreatment of a tribe. You find that people can’t get jobs in their own district; people can’t be helped when they run to police and several other injustices.
We can discuss Bundibugyo later; let us get back to Kasese: what are the issues here?
Well, land has been a contentious issue. In Rwehingo, privately-owned land is grabbed by government; people go to court and win the case but still can’t get their land back.
In Bigando and Kabokero, government distributes land to pastoralists and cultivators in the ratio of 3:1, but still people don’t get the whole ratio of 1, unfair as that may be. The land that was degazetted is 1,648 acres yet cultivators have only 198 acres. Is that the ratio of 1 if you calculate?
The other problem rotates around culture and cultural institutions; there are also unresolved historical issues. Government is also suffering from a public relations crisis in this region because surely how does a rape case in Kanara/Kabonero in Kabarole turn out to be an attack on military installation? People had lost trust that government would ensure justice for the victim.
Yes, please help us connect the dots: how does a rape case and a land wrangle turn into a confrontation between Rwenzururu kingdom and government?
You see, it’s like at home: when the father is tough and the children are helpless, they run to the mother. Equally here, after government has failed to solve the people’s problems, some would desperately run to the king hoping that he could offer help. So, sometimes when he would make statements about the same, people would politicize them and they label him anti-government.
But recently some Rwenzururu kingdom veterans confessed to have been behind preparations for the creation of Yiira State. Did they do all this without the knowledge of the kingdom?
I have served the king since 2008, first as speaker of Ekyaghanda (Kingdom parliament) and I was later appointed the kingdom’s attorney general.
These are senior positions but never have we ever discussed anything related to Yiira State. It has even never featured anywhere on our order paper. How can the kingdom be aware of this move if the structures have never discussed it? If the veterans did anything like they are claiming, then that must have been in their individual capacities.
By the way, how are you balancing your work as a kingdom attorney and district leader?
I know where the boundary is, I know I have to serve all people in the district some of whom are not loyalists of the kingdom, but I am also duty-bound to defend suspects so that they are given a fair trial.
My primary role as a lawyer is not to make sure that my client is acquitted, but to ensure that justice is served, and that is responsibility that I cannot run away from.
How can you as local leaders help central government solve the security problem in this area?
We can play a role if central government listens to us; let the president come down to us and we understand where the problem is, we then can find a solution together.
We would help in implementing some of the resolutions that we agree to. People should stop misleading the president that “dealing” with the Omusinga (king) would offer a solution.
In 1982 when the king reached an agreement with UPC government and descended from the mountains, the problem was not entirely solved. There are those who remained in the mountains led by his army chief of staff Richard Kinyamusithu.
So, if anybody says the issues in the region are about the king, they are missing the point. This is about the people of Rwenzori, and it is a people that must be engaged to pacify this area; that is only possible if we as local leaders are involved by central government.
Any other message?
There are times when the father is annoyed with the children; he must not react in anger. He should call them on board and say my children, what is the problem and they resolve it together. And that is what I am appealing to central government to do, as a leader; I am willing to put all my efforts in pragmatic peace-building processes in this region.