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Book Review: Dr. Muhairwe’s Remedies for Public Corporations

Book: Making Public Enterprises Work

Author: Dr. William Muhairwe

Reviewed by: Peter Nyanzi

Available at: Leading book stores in Kampala

Armed with an MBA and a PhD in Business Management from Germany, he was chosen by the Government of Uganda to prepare a loss-making public corporation for sale to a foreign private investor.

Dr. William Muhairwe was indeed given a short contract after which the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) would be ready for privatization as per World Bank recommendations.

But as the maxim goes, the rest is now history. In Muhairwe’s 12 years at the helm, the Government got far much more than they bargained for. NWSC not only survived privatisation but is now Uganda’s leading public corporation, a shining light that is being benchmarked by public companies from around the world.

How did they do it? In Making Public Enterprises Work, Dr. Muhairwe recounts the remarkable story of the Corporation’s dramatic turnaround, including the home-grown strategies he used to achieve the incredible feat.

In the book’s 18 chapters, Dr. Muhairwe attempts to answer eight pertinent questions:

First, was the Government justified to put NWSC up for privatisation?  Second, can a public corporation become financially self-sustaining to the extent of making huge profits and even paying dividends to the Government?

Third, can a public organisation that operates as a monopoly embrace modern business management principles and the business practices that make private companies successful and profitable?

Fourth, can care-free ‘permanent and pensionable’ salary earners in a cozy laisser-faire public service environment experience a radical mindset shift to become innovative and professional employees that are responsive and accountable to the customer?

Fifth, can the modern business principles and practices that have worked successfully in Europe and USA be applicable in a ragtag public corporation in a developing country?

Sixth, would a business management expert who was educated in Europe successfully transfer his ‘outlandish’ western ideas from Europe to a chaotic local context and achieve similar results? Seventh, would the turn-around orchestrated by a transformational leader be sustained or even bettered after that leader leaves the organisation?

Lastly, could the transformation and progress achieved by NWSC be replicable in other public utilities or organisations especially those that operate in countries with completely different political and social contexts?

The book answers each of those questions with an emphatic ‘YES’ and the author goes on to explain in a crisp and concise manner the concepts, ideas, stratagems, processes and methods that were employed to transform the State-owned enterprise – hitherto an insatiable leech on the national Treasury – into one of Africa’s most benchmarked publicly owned utilities.

Fresh, redesigned edition

First published in 2011, the book has been redesigned into an abridged new edition that has a fresh and reader-friendly feel.  The book offers a window for chief executives and other stakeholders to look into the inner workings that took NWSC from the brink to become a centre of excellence in Africa.

Whereas he didn’t expect that the NWSC turn-around would become a simple case of ‘copy and paste’ for other public bodies, Muhairwe’s overriding objective for writing the book was to ensure that the NWSC story inspires as many public corporations (and private companies) as possible, regardless of their mandate and operational contexts.

How Dr. Muhairwe identified leadership ideas and management principles from European and American authors or business leaders and successfully customised them for the local context makes the book an absolutely captivating read.

Akin to a surgeon, Muhairwe shows how a comprehensive diagnosis was done, how consensus and buy-in for the remedies was built, how the process of therapy was carried out and how they ensured that the ‘patient’ would remain healthy in the long-term.

This book is a must-read for policy makers, technocrats, academicians, top managers, business administration students, and employees in both public corporations and private companies.  An accompanying workbook is also available for those who wish to study the book as small groups.


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