By Elizabeth Kabibi
Earlier last week, the Ministry of Public Service issued a circular warning all public officers to “dress decently.” The dress code was issued in response to what the ministry says was the commonness of dressing in public service that does not portray a good image, good work etiquette and falls below acceptable standards of the community.
In the new Government rules, female staff are expected to wear dresses and skirts that cover the knees, navel, cleavage and back. They are further expected to wear “smart” blouses that are either short or long sleeved, but neither sleeveless nor transparent. Trousers for ladies can be worn to office if they are smart and worn with jackets that cover the boson.
For females still, the rules also state that their hair should be kept neat and presentable and banns bright coloured braids and extensions. Accessories worn should also be modest
Men were also not left out as they were banned from wearing very tight trousers and open shoes during working hours. Male officers are required to dress in neat trousers, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and a tie with well-groomed hair. They are also expected to wear only black and brown shoes.
“It has been observed that public officers have continued to dress in a manner that does not portray a good image of the service and does not fall within the generally acceptable standards of the community,” reads part of a communiqué by Public Service Ministry Permanent Secretary, Mrs Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwire.
Contrary to what the biggest population refers to as “narrow” and “less suave” guidelines, to some population these guidelines are vital and sophisticated and should be effected. In his response to the policy, former Presidential Adviser, Morrison Rwakakamba, refers to the new directive as “an idle move,” emphasising that “People should have a choice of wardrobe.” Rwakakamba further urges government to “encourage diversity at work place and focus on human resources skills, ingenuity and getting things done.”
However, like Deputy Government spokesperson, Shaban Bantariza, I sharply disagree with Rwakakamba, I believe that dress code and service delivery do not contradict. Some of these female civil servants with exaggerated make-up are not professional make-up artists. They, therefore, spend much time applying the make-up, trying to perfect it hence they may end up running into their working hours. In addition, due to their unprofessionalism, some of these ladies may end up looking like ‘clowns’ which is abuse of their offices and positions as civil servants. This is because they will never be taken seriously by the people they serve for looking like jokers.
More so, Uganda being a state with a diversity of cultures and religions, some of the dress codes banned in the policy such as clothes showing navel and cleavage might be unacceptable to some individuals in one’s office. Dressing like this during office hours will therefore cause discomfort to these individuals and hence affect their performance. Some individuals especially those of the opposite sex may be distracted from their work due to inappropriate dress codes that expose sensitive body parts. Some of these parts are the cleavage, naval, thighs and men’s muscle due to tight fitting t-shirts which might be stimulating and irresistible to some workmates and hence affect their performance at work.
As public servants, some common Ugandans have a perception of what you should look like that is to say; decent and smart. Anything less than this could lead to, among others; lack of trust in their civil servants and lack of respect for them. This is not good for the government and hence the country as a whole, since these people represent the public sector.
I call upon all concerned entities namely the religious institutions, law enforcement bodies and heads of public offices to work with the Ministry of Public Service to see to it that these guidelines are followed. A public servant should be exemplary to the public he leads, let the kind of green and red hair, the elongated nails and the clown-like make-up be left to the city ‘wannabees.’ There should be a difference between an artist going to perform and a public officer headed to work.
The writer is a journalist