Inside the Protested Relocation of UN’s Entebbe Centre to Nairobi; What is Uganda Losing?

The United Nations (UN) Regional Service Centre (RSC) in Entebbe.

Last week, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sam Kutesa told Parliament that the government of Uganda was in a fresh protest against a new report recommending the relocation of the USD 33m Entebbe based United Nations (UN) Regional Service Centre (RSC) to Nairobi.

This is part of the reformist move by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gueterres to implement a Global Service Delivery Model which according to the new report released December last year seeks to “consolidate fragmented administrative structures into Global Shared Service Centres with the goal of improving service delivery”. The Secretary General holds that this model will enable services to be delivered with greater consistency and scalability, achieving economies of scale and a reduction of the UN’s footprint in higher-cost and higher-risk duty stations.

Under the proposed changes in the delivery of services, the GSD model will consolidate location-independent hub functions into Global Shared Service Centres that will be established in Nairobi (Kenya), Shenzhen (China), Budapest (Hungary) and Montreal (Canada).

In making the business case for the changes in the centres, Gueterres says the new centres will reduce the cost of administrative support services by USD 23m annually with the estimated period at which the UN will recoup its one-time investment in establishing the shared services centres at 3 years.

But the government of Uganda is opposed to the report which was sanctioned after the initial report, still with the recommendation for Nairobi as the preferred host, was quashed.

On Tuesday last week, while interfacing with the Parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs, Minister Kutesa said the same recommendations contained in the initial report have been revived in the latest report and that Uganda is prepared to launch another protest.

“There was a restructuring at the United Nations with the purpose of reducing expenditure,” Kutesa told legislators. He said that Gueterres then appointed consultant who recommended that there should be repositioning of the base with Nairobi (Kenya), Budapest and Mexico as the alternative hosts.

“We protested, we said Uganda had been serving for these ten years, capacities have been built and savings have been made to the UN. And there was absolutely no reason why this Centre should be taken elsewhere. We went back to the Fifth committee of the UN to discuss its budget and the Secretary General’s report was thrown out”.

“He [Secretary General] was told to do it [report] again. Now, he has done it again but he appointed the same consultant who had been discredited,” said Kutesa.

“We are protesting again. He came back with the same recommendation about Nairobi. We are campaigning. I was talking to some members of Parliament. We want your support in this campaign, it is for our country,” Kutesa told Parliament.

According to the Minister, government has laid two strategies for the campaign to retain the UN base in Entebbe but he could not publicly disclose details.

Initially, when Uganda pushed back against the relocation of the RSC in Entebbe, the UN argued it was only moving a small portion of the facility but that Uganda would retain the base, also stationed at Entebbe. The base acts as the Support Base logistics hub for MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC. The UN assured officials in Uganda that as such, a total of 554 jobs would be maintained in Uganda.

However, sources disclosed to SoftPower News that Uganda risks losing significantly given the contribution of the RSC to the economy, jobs, skill set (especially for the professionals) and the entire local economy value chain, should the centre be moved to Nairobi. A source who did not want their identity revealed given the sensitivity of the issue, argued that whereas the UN claims Uganda will retain the MONUSCO logistics base, its economic impact is insignificant. The source said that the 554 jobs which UN promises are individual contracts, largely of international staff and the others are local national contractors, including cleaners, security guards, etc who are not on the UN payroll.

MONUSCO alone employs 142 staff but the mission is downsizing come June 2019 following the recent successful elections in Congo.

Some of the other missions withdrew their posts from Entebbe and reverted them to the missions yet UN funds posts on which a staff is sitting on. The source says the argument of retaining the base does not make sense since the 142 staff may be slashed to 20 come June 2019.

The same source said that the UN base gets a paltry USD 1.9m compared to the USD 33m that the RSC brings to Uganda.

“What pains us is that our people [government] here have up to now failed to come closer to us to get the right information. They put all their efforts on the base but not the Regional Service Centre which is funded over 15 times than the base,” our source said.

According to the report, the duty stations most affected by the implementation of the Global Shared Services model include New York, Entebbe, Kuwait, offices away from headquarters and Regional Commissions.

“The Global Service Delivery model will move only location-independent transactional services to service centres. Substantive offices will retain full decision-making authority and be further enabled to focus on mandate implementation,” the report states.

It adds that the Entebbe Regional Service Centre will continue to perform functions not in scope for the global service delivery model including regional information and communication technology services, regional training and conference services and transport and movement services.

“The Entebbe Support Base logistics hub for MONUSCO hosts several other tenants, including the Regional Procurement Office, the civilian pre-deployment training team, the Regional Ombudsan, OIOS and the United Nations Mine Action Centre. It also hosts liaison offices and functions of neighboring peacekeeping operations including MISUCA, UNISFA and UNMISS which will continue to be performed in Entebbe,” the report further states.

However, a total of 747 posts in Entebbe, will be impacted as a result of the implementation of the proposed repositioning. This is comprised of 204 international civil staff and 341 contractors and national staff and contractors.

“The global service delivery model will affect existing staff to varying degrees. Once the Shared Service Centres are established, some existing administrative capacity may become redundant, some functions may change and there may also be new opportunities for staff,” indicates the report.

The annual funding for the Entebbe Centre oscillates between USD 31m to USD 36m, depending on the requirements of the budget, SoftPower News has learnt.

Since its establishment nine years ago, the Entebbe centre has been offering field finance, human resources (including the payroll), field travel, financial reporting to all peacekeeping missions in Africa, and has improved tremendously in its performance of its key indicators.

On average, a local Ugandan staff earns Shs 6m while staff that are categorized as National Professional Officers (NPOS) earn between Shs 10m to 16m per month.

But beyond the individual salaries, there’s much more the economy and the entire local ecosystem risks losing should the Centre be relocated from Entebbe. This will affect the farmers and suppliers that have been providing food to staff, services like schools where both local and international staff have been educating their children, the real estate industry that accommodates the expatriates and Ugandans, hotels and other leisure amenities, along with the other host of services and products that have facilitated the Centre’s operations.

“We are the people who have made sure this centre is sustainable. We built the capacity that the people who now want it moved to Nairobi want to come and copy. In Nairobi, they don’t have positions of finance assistants, they only have international staff because that’s what [President] Uhuru negotiated for,” the source said.

“UN is run on interests. Currently, the interests are in Nairobi. Ask yourself – if the RSC is insignificant as the UN wants us to think, why then are developed countries like Canada, Hungary and China competing to have these centres instead of the UN base? They know the base is nothing?” the source add.

It also baffles how splitting the work that was initially performed by one UN RSC, into 3 to 4 centres in different geographical locations (North America, Asia, Africa and Europe) whose costs of operations is higher than Uganda, achieves the objective of the Global Service Delivery Model of making UN nimbler, efficient and effective.

To further make a comparison on the cost effectiveness of Entebbe (Uganda) and other cities, our source explained that in trainings of staff where they were flown to New York, for example, each of them got an allowance of USD 13,000. This was until UN realized it was cheaper flying in its staffers (including those from Italy and Valencia posts) to have them train at the Uganda centre where each of them got between USD 5,000 to USD 7,000 in allowances.

In the criteria applied by UN to select the 4 RSC hosts, the factors included; security and stability, infrastructure (including reliable and modern information and communications technology), health care, education and access, cost, availability of qualified local workforce and location desirability.

Our source says of all the four locations (Budapest, Montreal, Shenzhen and Nairobi), Uganda is the cheapest location the UN has operated from successfully – staff are paid the lowest rates, international education service is the cheapest and so are the medical and other basis services. Security is also guaranteed.

Some analysts have observed that the preference of Kenya over Uganda also has political undertones to it. It is a view of some observers that the repeated handshakes between President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his political opponent, Raila Ondiga, was perceived by the UN as a key political milestone and put Kenya at an advantage. In Uganda’s case, the reverse remains true as Museveni’s government continues to crackdown on opposition activities.

Other sources have pegged Uganda’s disadvantaged position in the push against the relocation, to the bribery allegations that Uganda’s top envoy, Sam Kutesa now faces in the U.S.

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