TAKING STOCK:President happy with progress but demands more results
The Ninth Government Leadership Retreat enters its second day today with officials setting out strategies to accelerate the country’s development towards achieving a middle-income economy by 2020.
More than 250 officials are taking part in the annual event, which is being held in a government facility for the first time – the Rwanda Military Academy in Gako, Bugesera District.
Opening the retreat yesterday, President Paul Kagame challenged the officials to shift gears and implement decisions that impact and improve the lives of the ordinary people.
He demanded more results from the government, insisting that officials should spend more time on delivery and less on rhetoric.
“Over the last one year, we have made a lot of improvement in different areas; yet it is my impression that we could even make or have made more progress. I keep thinking that we probably do less than we are actually capable of,” he said.
The President’s demand for more results from his cabinet and government officials must have come as something of a surprise, considering that the retreat comes barely weeks after it was announced that more than a million Rwandans had crossed the poverty line in just five years – due to the government’s 2008-2012 Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS).
Yet the Head of State was clearly unimpressed with the government’s pace in the implementation of the various strategies made over the years. “I think there’s a lot of energy and capacity...but we still fall short in certain areas in getting the results we should be getting,” he said.
He said there was urgent need for a change in the mindset, and urged government officials to move beyond “empty catch-phrases and theories”.
“What should form the core of our discussion is about improving the lives of our people. By getting rid of poverty, you become more independent and freer,” he said.
The Head of State was particularly incensed that little progress had been made in the energy sector despite the countless presentations and seminars on what needed to be done to fix the country’s power deficit.
“Do you need to attend thousands of seminars about the lack of electricity in Rwanda? I always read, in newspapers, officials saying ‘we are going to have so much electricity in 30 years’; no, I want it now...,” he insisted.
“How many seminars do health workers need to attend to fight malnutrition? Don’t we all know what malnutrition is all about and what we need to do to address it?” He questioned why the government continues to lose both money and time on officials who continually go for international seminars, yet they hardly make good use of the acquired “knowledge and theory” to improve the people’s lives.
Kagame also blamed Africans for their woes saying they had accepted to live off other taxpayers’ sweat, and to be dictated to by the west. “I am never comfortable with it...that we sit and expect to live on other people’s generosity.
“That (attitude) is pathetic and even more pathetic when you find it among the so-called politicians and intellectuals,” he said. Nearly 50 per cent of Rwanda’s budget is donor funded, but the country is seeking to wean itself off aid.
He advised Rwandans and Africans, in general, to dig deeper and fully take charge of their destiny, without waiting for “lectures” from abroad. He said only then can the continent occupy its rightful place in the community of nations – with “Agaciro” (dignity).
The Head of State also criticised some African leaders who “detach themselves from their own people”, saying such selfish leaders rest on their laurels assuming everything was fine since they lack nothing themselves.
He blamed government departments for not increasing the budget for the energy sector as had been agreed upon, saying it was the time to fix such weaknesses.
“Why don’t our citizens have electricity?” he posed.
Energy is one of the burning topics for debate at the retreat, along with customer service, job creation, improved healthcare and poverty reduction.
Kagame also took a swipe at those he referred to as “debate professors”, saying endless debates were “useless”, and instead called for actions that will help lift millions of Rwandans out of poverty.
On customer service, Kagame faulted business owners who employ their relatives who are incompetent, instead of hiring qualified personnel. He said such practices were partly to blame for the continued poor customer service culture in the country.
As he has done before, he also criticised clients for “settling for less than what they deserve” by comfortably paying for poor service. The country is expected to launch another round of customer service campaigns soon.
The President also expressed frustration at the lack of enthusiasm in the private sector to invest in key areas, saying the government was considering investing in such sectors as energy, and then later sell the assets to private operators.
Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi said 73.4 per cent of the recommendations from last year’s Leadership Retreat had been implemented, and expressed hope the score would rise to at least 90 per cent by June this year.
The five-day event is being held under the theme, “Consolidating Citizen-centred Development.” Apart from the opening and closing sessions, the annual gatherings are normally held behind closed doors.
The Leadership Retreat (Umwiherero) is a home-grown initiative that seeks to take stock of the government’s achievements over the previous year and set priorities and strategies for the year ahead.