Sunday, May 3, 2015

Becoming a Diplomat

Our residential induction course at the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) in Kampala was a breeze. We checked into our rooms and headed for the bar. One or two of the guys were recently married and this was their first break after suffocating honeymoons. We hit the clubs and danced till early hours but when it was time for class we were in there learning how to be diplomats. Amb. Musisi Mwanje came in to teach etiquette and had us in stitches laughing at examples of some serious etiquette mishaps. A memorable one was the diplomat who went to the restrooms during a cocktail event and returned oblivious to the roll of toilet paper unravelling with every step he took. He had some gum stuck to his shoe which picked the roll leading to the embarrassing mishap. Lesson learned: To this day I look back to check my shoes when I leave the restroom.
We were told that after the course we were expected to behave a certain way and dress a certain way, we were diplomats after all. There was a little problem though, our pay did not cover the lifestyle that was thrust on us. It was hard enough for some of the guys to buy second-hand suits but now they were expected to wear black at state funerals. What if they didn't have black? Then there was the issue of being well turned out on a daily basis - not easy when we took matatus (shared taxis) from the less elegant parts of town to get to work. I learnt that there was a provision for transport allowance for the purchase of fuel but eligibility required evidence that you had a vehicle that you drove to work. I thought I had finally got a break as I presented the registration card for my father's vehicle - after all we had the same last name. But I was caught out by some obscure rule that required the registration card to have the exact same names as the staff member.
At this point I started reading the Standing Orders of Uganda's public service and in the section on Foreign Service Allowance found a much unused clause that provided for climatic clothing allowance for Officers who were posted on mission for the first time. We were not yet posted but we had cause to demand an advance of this payment seeing as we were required to dress all fancy for our daily work. We had recently returned from Kyankwanzi and felt empowered to hold any public servant accountable including our boss the Permanent Secretary Nathan Odoi. So we scheduled a meeting at which I read the promising clause and launched into a persuasive statement as to why we should be paid this allowance immediately. The Permanent Secretary listened patiently and when it was his turn to speak he stated that he had never been to a meeting of such low calibre! He was completely uninterested in our cause and had us scampering out of his office with long faces. Our only hope was joining the queue for a foreign posting so that we could benefit from the other allowances listed for diplomats serving abroad.

At 50 I know that desperate times call for desperate measures and that is exactly how we approached our desperate situation as brand new civil servants - without much success.

— feeling aggravated.

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