John Baptist Kyabir, a 28-year-old seeking a nursing position, faced a disheartening reality during his job search in Isingiro, western Uganda. Despite possessing the necessary qualifications, including a first-grade O-level certificate, academic credentials, good grades in science subjects, and a nursing license, he learned that securing the position would require paying bribes of at least 5 million Ugandan shillings (approximately 1,345 US dollars).
In Uganda, district service commissions are responsible for recruiting public servants within local governments. However, concerns about transparency and accountability within these commissions have raised questions about the fairness of the recruitment process.
The Uganda Public Service Standing Orders 2021 outline a hiring process that should involve entry exams and tests. However, some individuals have reported being hired without having to go through these assessments, often due to connections within the commission.
The Inspector General’s office received 225 cases of irregularities in hiring processes within district service commissions from January 2020 to December 2022. These cases included allegations of nepotism, extortion, bribery, and political interference. While some of these cases are under investigation, it is unclear whether any have resulted in prosecution.
To address these concerns, the Ministry of Public Service has implemented an online application system for preliminary shortlisting, minimizing human interaction in the process. Nevertheless, some individuals still claim they had to pay bribes to secure public service jobs.
The prevalence of bribery in the recruitment process has led to financial hardships for job seekers who often take out loans to cover these costs. Such corruption tendencies have also been linked to political influence in the appointment of district service commission chairpersons.
To combat these issues, the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity has proposed the creation of regional service commissions to reduce the number of people responsible for public servant recruitment. The central government would appoint commission chairs, and officials would not work in their home districts. Additionally, anti-corruption policies are being developed.
Corruption in hiring processes within district service commissions is a widespread issue, with significant consequences for the quality of government services. A 2021 report found that 75% of Ugandans seeking public services in 2020 had to pay bribes, particularly in obtaining medical care or government documents.
Challenges within district service commissions, including late fund disbursement and low salaries, have compromised their independence, making members susceptible to accepting bribes. Recommendations to streamline the process and reduce human interaction are being considered.
Despite ongoing efforts to address the problem, concerns persist that many government institutions remain corrupt. Privatization, the scrapping of parastatals, and the lack of job opportunities in industries have made public service positions more competitive and prone to corruption.
The cycle of corruption, from securing a job through bribes to expecting bribes in return for services, continues to plague Uganda’s public service sector.