Competing interests to call the shots at Uganda’s Ministry of Health have led to a full-blown war in court. This has allowed senior government officials to exploit divisions amongst their subordinates and no matter the verdict, the fighting may not be halted, a confidential source intimated to us.
As such, this week, Plot 6 Lourdel Road, Wandegeya is not at ease after the High Court in Kampala temporarily blocked the Ministry from taking action against the suspended Acting Director General Health Services, Dr Anthony Mbonye pending determination of his main petition.
The powerful Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary at the Health Ministry dropped Dr Mbonye as DGHS basing on recommendations by the Inspector General of Government (IGG), where the Ombudsman had called the latter’s integrity into question.
Dr Mbonye was accused of conflict of interest, having applied for the director general of health services position without informing his supervisor. Following his suspension however, Mbonye had immediately petitioned court challenging Atwine’s action and luckily court granted him a temporarily lifeline.
But this is not a simple story of two big guns fighting for control of one of the most funded government ministries.
New evidence reveals some bit of murky history here. For Dr. Mbonye’s wife Ms. Lucy Nakyobe Mbonye and Dr. Atwine have crossed swords before.
As State House Comptroller, Lucy Mbonye clashed with Dr. Atwine who was then the Head of Medicines and Health Service Delivery Monitoring Unit at State House.
Along with Dr. Atwine, Maj Edith Nakalema, a personal assistant to President Museveni and Major General Proscovia Nalweyiso, Lucy is now, officially, one of the three most important women still at State House, Entebbe after it underwent a major staff clean up in recent months.
Sources say Lucy, who has recently assimilated immense clout by controlling access to the president, played a central part in fanning a culture of intrigue and infighting at the most influential centre of power in the country. One of the sources who is familiar with the inner workings of State House, noted that the likes of Dr. Atwine who previously enjoyed direct audience with the President no longer enjoy such privileges due to Lucy’s directives. This has left Dr Atwine and her ilk frustrated and agitated.
When Dr. Atwine replaced Asuman Lukwago who had occupied that PS position for about a decade, Dr. Mbonye initially had no issues with her given the fact that at State House she worked diligently, aggressively and was unquestionably loyal to Museveni. But he was also aware of her shortcomings, including being highhanded and divisive considering the way she kept accusing the health division managers of “destroying the sector”.
The two had had minor clashes during the supervision of Ministry campaigns over influence and sheer ego. Being highly ambitious individuals, both hate being dominated.
For a while, it worked. The real trouble started when Mbonye insisted he was the most senior director at the health ministry having worked there since 1996. Basing on this, Mbonye said he was entitled to act as DGHS and to handle duties of the PS, when the PS was away, a perception Dr. Atwine was completely against.
To clearly demonstrate who is boss, on Wednesday Dr Atwine ordered police to arrest a one Dr Sam Kamba Baleke, a senior planner at the Ministry who is also Dr. Mbonye’s close ally, on allegations of impersonation. (Dr Baleke had been convicted of diverting public funds before
To the Mbonye camp, this seemed like a witch-hunt, considering that after his arrest, Dr Atwine said in interview that Baleke had a criminal record having been earlier convicted of embezzling tax payers’ money to the tune of Shs50 million meant for research. On September 25, Dr Atwine, basing on recommendations by the IGG ordered Dr Mbonye, who has been in his DGHS position since June last year, to immediately vacate office and return to his previous position as the Director of Health Services.
Somehow, the reclusive Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng’s name was also thrown into the controversy, with Mbonye accusing her of carrying an ‘inferiority complex’ and siding with Atwine in witch-hunting him.
He also denied interfering with the said recruitment process, saying at the time he was acting as the permanent secretary.
However, when contacted, Dr Aceng denied Dr Mbonye’s accusations and instead alluded to the IGG report which she noted raised “integrity” concerns about Mbonye.
The Thursday interim order comes after Dr Mbonye petitioned court seeking its intervention to permanently block the implementation of the IGG’s recommendations into the recruitment of the Director General Health Services and other senior positions at the Ministry of Health headquarters by the Health Service Commission.
Through his lawyers led by Mr Byamugisha Nester, Dr Mbonye wants court to declare the IGG’s report on the systematic investigation into the recruitment of the DGHS and others senior positions “irrational, illegal and null and void.”
The issuance of the interim order means that Dr Mbonye remains the acting Director General Health Services and the substantive Director of Health (Clinical and Community) while Dr. Henry Mwebesa, the director planning at the ministry who had been handpicked by Dr. Aceng and Dr. Atwine to replace Mbonye, takes a backseat for now.
What They Say
“I am more qualified (than them). I am a PhD holder, a professor and senior to them in the profession yet (in the public service system) they are above me. This has festered an inferiority complex in them, hence the reason they want me to leave by all means,” Dr Mbonye says.
Adding, “I was acting PS and I opened up ministry positions. Health Service Commission is a constitutional independent body. It didn’t find any problem and I did not participate in my shortlisting. So going forward I want court to review the decision of the IGG and quash it because it affects me and other applicants.”
“Yes, he has been suspended. At the moment, Dr. Henry Mwebesa, the director planning at the ministry is sitting in his position as a caretaker until the time when a director general will be appointed,” said Dr. Atwiine.
There has so far been no comment from Vivian Nakalika Sserwanja, the spokesperson at the health ministry.