Big Scandal: An open letter to GIZ Uganda about who oversees checks and balances

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“In many of the countries where we work, clients are requiring more local content in their projects by mandating use of in-country talent and procurement of in-country goods and services.” – Fluor 2016 Annual Report 

#Uganda #Germany @giz_uganda @EU_Commission

Allow me note my frustration with one of Uganda’s donor partners, GIZ in Uganda. The Deutsche Gesellschaft fϋr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH implements commissions for the German government and other national and international, public, and private sector clients within the framework of the international Cooperation between the Government of Uganda and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Introduction

My name is Victor Ndyabagye who has been the Security Risk Management Advisor for GIZ in Uganda since 2nd February 2015. I was the staff council representative for the country office from 2016 to 2018. I was elected Chairperson of the National Staff Council (NSC) from 2018 to

2020. The NSC acts an internal trade union since locally engaged staff in GIZ Uganda don’t hold trade union membership. The NSC advocates for the welfare of national staff or call them locally engaged staff through; negotiating agreements with employers on pay and work conditions, discussing changes in the national staff policy, following up on members’ concerns with the employer, and facilitating mediation. While some companies assume that if they ignore the concerns of locally engaged staff, they will eventually go away, platforms for governing the relationship with local employees such as the NSC help bring clarity to all involved and must be reviewed and renegotiated over time. Building the capacity of national staff and improving remuneration were my focus during my tenure as chairperson of the national staff council. It was depressing to see gratuity getting scrapped because it’s not catered for under Ugandan labor laws. 

On 4th August 2021, I received notice from my country director Mr. James Macbeth Forbes that my contract ending on 31st October 2021 would not be renewed. I was not given an exit interview or any hearing whatsoever. I acknowledged receipt of his notice with shock but offered to ensure the transition would be as smooth as possible. Since I had excellent performance assessments over the years, I filed a formal complaint with the Corporate Unit Compliance and Integrity, requested for mediation from the head of division, and requested psychosocial support from the Cooperation with personnel in stress, conflict, and crisis (COPE). On 20th August 2021, my job was internally advertised. I reapplied upon the advice of Mr. Juergen Dierlmaier the head of the East African division in Germany. 

I just found out that the position I held for 7 years has been offered to the spouse of one of the development workers from Austria. It’s very unfair for the unemployed Ugandans when an intern from Austria or Germany is hired as a consultant in 9 months and given an expat contract in 1 year. One thing should be clear, this was retaliation for my standing up for the rights and benefits of national staff. It doesn’t add up laying off a local security risk management advisor in Band 4 due to budget constraints while hiring another local and International security risk management advisor and outsourcing part of their work to a local security company.

In August 2021 alone, five of my colleagues were given notice for termination including my successor at the NSC. None of them was given an exit interview in line with the national staff employment handbook. Unfortunately, two of my colleagues will soon be replaced by Pakistani nationals who are also sisters. A driver was terminated for giving feedback to a consultant that the country director should separate private from duty related tasks. Imagine the frustration of transporting alcohol for the country director while having to deal with conflicting appointments. It doesn’t add up laying off a Communications and PR advisor in Band 4 due to budget constraints while hiring a Band 3 and outsourcing part of the role to a PR company. It doesn’t add up laying off employees with open contracts at the country office without reassigning them to the projects that are advertising on a weekly basis. When restructuring is unavoidable, it must be announced as soon as possible and carried out according to the procedures negotiated with the staff representatives. Employees who survive the cutbacks also need reassurance about their own future and an understanding of the strategic goals behind the cuts.

The country director assumes that layoffs are the best way to reduce costs. He doesn’t factor in how long it takes to realize the savings from job cuts, the costs to hire and train people once business picks up, or the damage to morale and productivity. Whereas competent leaders cause high levels of trust, engagement, and productivity, incompetent ones result in anxious, alienated workers who practice counterproductive work behaviors and spread toxicity throughout the company. Some governments, recognizing the massive damage layoffs create, have written laws protecting employees against them. For example, a number of European countries require companies to provide a social or economic justification before they can conduct layoffs. France, however, recently eliminated the requirement to provide an economic justification, and in the United States companies can conduct layoffs at will. Bad layoffs and layoffs for the wrong reasons rarely help senior leaders accomplish their goals. 

The Ouagadougou Declaration, 2004, commits to putting employment among Africa’s development priorities with international partners. This is one area that I feel GIZ has not yet fully embraced and addressed. Managers who don’t understand the concerns of the communities in which they operate will spend more time defending the company against angry stakeholders than building positive relations with members of the community whose support is critical to their success. As a person who advocates for the rights of national staff, I would like to highlight some areas that GIZ could improve on.

Capacity development: There are several cases where I think that Ugandan nationals could be considered, and their capacities developed instead of hiring non-nationals. This should be underlined in future bilateral agreements between the government of Uganda (Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development MoFPED) and the Federal republic of Germany

(Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development BMZ). And of course, with the European Union with provides most of the co-funding. Uganda has a well-trained labor force that can take on positions in the following areas:  

Health and well-being: Uganda produces some of the best doctors, nurses, public health officers in the region. There is therefore no need for a position such as that of an Advisor for Gender, Health and HIV-Mainstreaming to be held by a non-Ugandan.

Finance and accounting: SeveralUgandan nationals hold international finance and accounting accreditations such as ACCA, CPA, etc. Majority of these nationals are either unemployed or underemployed. Thus, there is no need for positions such as program finance managers to be occupied by non-Ugandans. Not long ago, an irrational decision not to pay VAT and get reimbursed by the Ugandan Revenue Authority (URA) backfired and almost brought bilateral relations to a standstill.

Procurement and contracts: During my tenure as chairperson of the NSC, I disapproved the hiring of a painter to work as a consultant in the procurement department. He was a spouse of one of the development workers. Procurement colleagues were required to teach him what works, what doesn’t and why. Does that make sense to you?

Management team: GIZ needs to talk directly to community members through local experts. GIZ misses tremendous opportunities to gain visibility and support among local communities when they ask outside experts to take on their stakeholder analysis and engagement. Managers need to communicate directly with many stakeholders to build a shared understanding of local needs, issues, and concerns. Too often, these tasks are pushed off to foreign consultants. Inmy opinion, management positions at operations level such as hub coordinators in Arua, Gulu, Mbale, and Moroto which were advertised as national positions can ably be taken over by qualified national staff and not mzungus. Uganda has highly skilled labor in management from the Uganda Management Institute (UMI).

Unfortunately, the GIZ Uganda management team is full of relatives and friends. For instance, the Country Director’s spouse heads the Better Migration Management Program. The Director of Finance and Administration’s spouse heads the Rural Development Program. Two Pakistani sisters provide administrative support (secretarial) for the Country Director and his spouse respectively. These were hired on national staff contracts reserved for Ugandans. An internal policy allows GIZ to hire spouses of international employees but not the spouses of local employees. If you want to understand why some companies have a toxic culture, underperform relative to their potential, and eventually collapse, look no further than the quality of their leadership teams. In my opinion, multinational corporations are taking advantage of weak local laws and corrupt immigration officials. Does Immigration at the Ministry of Internal affairs do due diligence before issuing work permits? 

Business Administration, Communication, and Public Relations: Many local nationals are qualified enough to take on positions as business administrators and other positions such as communication and public relations advisors. Currently some national positions such as administration support to the Country Director and communication and public relations are occupied by non-nationals. There is no reason why a company in Uganda would hire nonnationals for such tasks unless they cannot find qualified Ugandans. 

Local Content Policies: With the advent of Uganda’s oil production, local media has been awash with stories about the need for new legislation strengthening local content. Local content, as defined by the World Bank, is “the share of employment—or of sales to the sector—locally supplied at each stage of this chain”. In other words, local content is the concept that a certain percentage of a project’s inputs (whether materials or labor) must come from the “home” country. This requires companies to use local suppliers and employees. Despite the existence of local suppliers, the procurement of furniture, computers, and power backups under framework contracts in Germany has become the norm. It’s important to note that local law in every country supersedes international laws and conventions and internal processes and regulations of multinational corporations. Not surprisingly, a growing number of energy and infrastructure executives argue that, today, successful companies in these industries are set apart not by their technology and expertise but by their ability to generate social and political support for their projects. It is time for donor agencies and multinational companies to recognize the importance of managing the social risks of big capital projects as effectively as they manage their operational risks. Can the Parliament of Uganda legislate stricter local content policies? What happened to Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) policy?

Next steps: The Uganda government immigration policies should encourage the employment of nationals and development of their capacities. Non-nationals should be hired when the company fails to find a suitable Ugandan for the position. Building and sustaining local stakeholder support for a major investment is the new frontier of successful management and risk assessment. Developing policies that promote capacity development of local nationals should be key in future bilateral and co-funding agreements between Uganda and her donor partners. The focus should be on creating a win-win-win success, where individuals, the organization, and its shareholders, and the society-at-large all thrive together. This is one of the best ways to shape a future worth living around the world. Remember that perceptions are more important than polished presentations.  

Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author but not the expression of Whisper Eye, its staff, and management


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