By John Masaba
Government officials are flouting the Public Service standing orders on the use of public vehicles, with impunity, resulting into the loss of billions of taxpayers’ money. According the Public Service standing order, the Prime Minister is supposed to have a vehicle with an engine capacity of 3,500cc, ministers, ministers of state and permanent secretaries are supposed to drive 2,800cc vehicles, while directors and senior consultants are supposed to have executive mid-range station wagons of 2,500cc. The lower rank officials are supposed to have double-cabin pick-up trucks of 2,500cc.
The vehicles are either attached to senior officers, who are chauffeur-driven, or pooled to departments, where the head or the line minister distributes them out, depending on the need. However, this is merely on paper. For example, the Prime Minister is driven in a Mercedes Benz S500, model 2012, which has an engine capacity of 4,663cc. Our investigation also revealed that all ministers are either driving Toyota Land Cruiser VX or V8 or Nissan Patrols, with 4,500cc engines.
Most of the directors and senior consultants are driving vehicles with a 3,000cc engine capacity, against the stipulated standard of 2,500cc. According to a source at the public service ministry, there are more than 1,000 government-owned vehicles of over 4,000cc. Another rule requires all vehicles on duty upcountry to have a movement order.
The order is issued by the permanent secretary. According to the rules, the Police are supposed to impound government cars that do not have a movement order. This rule is rarely observed
According to a 2013 report by the Uganda Debt Network (UDN), an NGO based in Ntinda, the abuse of the rules also involves public servants using government vehicles for personal work.
The public service standing orders on the use, maintenance and disposal of Government property state that a public officer shall safeguard public property or assets entrusted to them and ensure that no damage occurs in the process of its utilisation, procurement and disposal. The rules also require that Government vehicles be parked and secured after 5:00pm.
However, it is not uncommon to find government-registered vehicles engaged in private transportation for private gain. The cars are used to carry items such as charcoal, matooke, firewood and animals destined for wedding ceremonies or ferrying building materials to private construction sites. As a result, the vehicles suffer rapid wear and tear, coupled with the ever escalating costs of lubricants and fuel.
According to the UDN report, the rules are mostly broken by senior government officials. The report also revealed that some government officials personalise the vehicles, even when they are not supposed to have them. “Once in possession of a vehicle, whether entitled or not, there are few or no checks to ensure the privilege is not abused,” the report said. The report noted that although each department was required to account for the money released for fuel and maintenance every month, some had no reports on individual drivers or vehicles.
As a result, the fuel and maintenance bill of government vehicles had gone up, yet there was no proportionate increase in service delivery. FIGURES In the 2005/06 financial year, there were at least 8,090 government vehicles on Uganda’s roads, on which the government spent sh29b on fuel, the report said. It added: “The size of the fleet and cost of maintenance was higher since the cost excludes motorcycles at the national and local government levels,” the report said.
According to the report, the Government also spent sh18b on purchasing new vehicles, bringing the total expenditure to sh76b in the same financial year. In the 2006/07 financial year, the report said the fuel bill was sh24b, while that for vehicle maintenance stood at sh68b. In the 2009/10 financial year, Government expenditure on vehicle maintenance escalated to over sh100b, the NGO said.
According to the UDN report, this is the reason why supplementary expenditure has gone up over the years. “This seems to give credence for the unwavering demand for public funds every financial year, through supplementary budget. For instance, a supplementary request of sh6b by State House in April 2013 was for vehicle maintenance,” the report said. The report, however, exonerated the Uganda Police Force, which had about 572 serviceable vehicles in 2006.
The fleet had increased to over 4,508 vehicles by end of 2011, including 55 station wagons, 205 saloon cars and 3,470 motorcycles. “It was discovered that the Police put in place internal mechanisms to monitor their vehicles. Anything outside official work is penalised and the officer in charge prosecuted,” the report said. However, the report singled out the health ministry as the biggest abuser. This is because it only had cars with engines in the range of 3,000 to 4,000cc
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s car
But why are they buying us those cars?
Alex Onzima, state minister for local government
I am a field minister. I travel all over the country, including hard-to-reach areas. I need a strong car, with a powerful engine. But I have a small Prado, yet other ministers have big cars, even though they only make town runs. I have even seen people ranked below permanent secretaries driving powerful cars.
Rosemary Najjemba, urban development
I don’t know whether or not my car is a fuel guzzler. I am lucky to have a newer car than my colleagues at the ministry. It was bought in 2010, but the others are old. The problem is that the fuel I receive is not enough. I receive sh3m every four months. It sometimes runs out before time and I have to use my money to fuel the car.
Matia Kasaija, state minister for finance and economic planning
Permanent secretaries need to educate us. If I am driving a car beyond the required engine capacity, then it is unfortunate. Why are they buying such cars for us if they know the guidelines?
Sarah Achieng Opendi, state minister for primary healthcare
My car is about five years old. It was driven by someone else, before I got it. It is 3,000cc. I don’t think it is a fuel guzzler. But if it is, then why doesn’t the public service ministry inform us? They are the ones who clear these cars for us.
Ruth Nankabirwa, minister of state for fisheries
My car is not a fuel guzzler. It is an old Toyota Nissan, with a capacity of 2,300cc. It belonged to a department before it was given to me. It can’t be one of those cars that use a lot of fuel.
Ajedra Gabriel Aridru, state minister for investments
The class of a car a minister drives is determined by the public service ministry. We consult them before the cars are given to us. If you want answers, consult them.
Sarah Kataike Ndomboli, state minister for Luwero Traingle
You should not be talking to me about cars. If some people have luxurious cars, I am not one of them. I am suffering. My car is old and it keeps breaking down. How can a minister drive a car without shock absorbers? I asked for another car, but I never got a replacement. Many times I have had to use my own car. Besides, the fuel I get is not enough. I cover 43 districts, but I get only sh1m per month. Right now, I am going to Kapchorwa district and I will spend sh500,000 on fuel. It means I will be out of fuel if I make a trip to another district
Disaster preparedness state minister Musa Ecweru
GOVERNMENT SPEAKS OUT
Government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo, admitted there was widespread abuse of the Public Service standing orders. He said many public servants cost the Government unnecessary expenditure in bloated fuel and maintenance costs. According to Ofwono, the abuse was mostly by the ministers.
He attributed this to their ‘unquenchable thirst for opulence’. “Some ministers are rejecting cars with lower engine capacities with the argument that their peers in other government departments have them. A car should not be a symbol of status; it should be the authority you command.” However, he said, some officials, especially those who make frequent trips upcountry on government business, need not comply with the standing rules. “A vehicle with a large engine (3,000cc and above with four-wheel-drive (4WD) may be necessary because some roads are in poor condition,” he said.
Some dealers collude with govt officials, says Public Service
Officials in the ministry said were concerned about the habit. The ministry’s principal assistant secretary, Geoffrey Ettedu, said they had the problem under control before the Government imposed a ban on purchase of cars. He said after the ban, some government departments were allowed to buy their own cars.
However, he said, some used the opportunity to acquire fuel guzzling vehicles, which has escalated the bill on fuel and maintenance of the government fleet. Data from the finance ministry indicates that the Government spends about sh100b annually on vehicle repairs and another sh125b on purchase of vehicles.
Ettedu said some car dealers who supply the Government with motor vehicles collude with officials to sell fuel guzzlers to the Government. “With the exception of Nissan Uganda, other suppliers have stopped bringing cars with less than 3,000cc engines. So, some departments have used this as an excuse to buy fuel guzzlers,” Ettedu explained. Saturday Vision has learnt that Toyota Uganda is the preferred supplier by most government departments. Ettedu, however, promised that the problem would be delt with.
Moses Ali, Second Deputy Prime Minister
What is the situation in other countries?
Realising the high cost of government vehicles, Rwanda sold off all 4WD vehicles in December 2004, with a capacity of 2,000cc and above. It impounded 250 vehicles, leaving government bodies with less than 10 vehicles each. In cases where they need more vehicles, Rwanda identified agencies to hire from.
Only five government officials are entitled to a government vehicle — the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, Senate Speaker and the head of the Supreme Court. However, their vehicles must be under 2,000cc. High ranking government officials are facilitated to purchase personal vehicles, through a government scheme.
The money is deducted from their allowances and salaries, depending on seniority. For official upcountry travel, the government hires vehicles on a case-by-case basis. According to Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, an expert on poverty, Rwanda saves about sh1.2trillion every year. “In Rwanda, government officials board taxis to official duty, hence saving the government a lot of money,” he said.
Each ministry has a specific number of vehicles. Their maintenance is the government’s responsibility, with mechanics, engineers and drivers on the Government payroll. If there is need for more vehicles, private transport companies are approached and the ministry or parastatal concerned is invoiced for services provided. All government vehicles are parked at government offices by 5:00pm, until 6:00am the following day, unless otherwise authorised.
In Kenya, the use of government vehicles has raised concern. Taxpayers have to meet the purchase costs each year and there are also substantial costs associated with driving the cars. In the 2008-2009 financial year, the government bought Ksh 7.9 b (sh2.37 trillion) worth of cars and spent another 15.2 billion (sh 4.5 trillion) on running costs, according to the NGO Mars Group Kenya.
It estimates that the government has over 10,000 vehicles, with over 2,000 being under the Ministry of Provincial Administration. Ministers in Kenya also drive some of the sleekest cars, despite an earlier directive by the former finance minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, (now President), that they drive VWs