A series of incidents that last week culminated in the deployment of police at the headquarters of the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) have shoved the examinations body back into news headlines.
At the centre are two men whose association with education in the country has coated applause as well as criticism in equal measure.
Fagil Mandy who was until last week chairman of the Uneb board was once acting commissioner for inspectorate at the Ministry of Education, a job he left with a trail of acclaims several years ago as well as complaints. His appointment to head the Uneb board in July 2012 was welcomed externally but brought tension internally as squabbles rocked the examination body until now.
On the other hand is Mathew Bukenya who by 1995 had retired from public service after years working in the finance section in Uneb as an accountant. Following the exit of Mr David Livingstone Ongom, Cyprian Cele was appointed the acting executive secretary. But Bukenya was recalled from retirement to take up the executive secretary and was confirmed in 1997, a position he has held since.
But a deeper story lies behind the current squabbles at Uneb.
At the time of Ongom’s exit, Uneb was reeling from scandal after scandal of massive exam leakages. An angry minister for Education then Amanya Mushega jettisoned Ongom in hope of restoring confidence in the exams body.
In an interview with the Sunday Monitor, Ongom blamed his woes on incapacity to handle exams printing that the country plunged into by a decision driven by revolutionary fever rather than careful planning when the minister ordered that printing of exams in London ends immediately to start domestic printing.
At Uneb, Bukenya succeeded in shielding the body from the media. Since then, exam leakages have been reported to be on the decline each successive year, though cheating still lingers in much diminished numbers and with less media scrutiny.
As an examinations body, Uneb has for much of the time tried to avoid the drama that has dogged other public institutions, receiving its fair share of managed publicity usually limited to release of exam results, a calendar event that immediately shifts attention to ace candidates and a commentary here and there of chronically poor performing districts.
Mr Bukenya had previously worked with the East African Examinations Council (EAEC) which collapsed following the fall of the East Africa Community.
Many colleagues who had been part of the regional body formed the core team at national exams body, some still in service today.
Majority, led by Bukenya who is approaching his 80s, are well beyond retirement.
Education Minister Jessica Alupo says she is aware of concerns that part of the problem is a system clog where upward growth has been difficult because there have been few or no changes at the top for nearly two decades.
“That is one of the issues that has been brought to my attention but what I am focusing on is results, are the people holding the positions able to deliver,” she said, “that is my concern.”
The minister said the question of age or over stay could not rank higher in priority “for such a sensitive body.”
The others in top management are Mr Fred Kiyemba, head finance and accounts (Bukenya’s old job), Mr William Kabanza head of Human Resource and Administration and Dr Saverino Pido in charge research and data management.
Below them is Chrysostom Kibeti head of primary and Mr Daniel Odong who is head of Secondary. All of these are above the retirement age of 60.
But critics say the clogging at the top has meant that institutional regeneration has become a challenge as potential managers serve and retire when they hit 60 years draining the institution of experience growing into top management.
Since January, for example, this newspaper was told, three senior staff retired on reaching 60. Several others retired last year.
At the Uneb headquarters, several senior staff who joined the organisation before the age of computers, have by virtue of their positions office desk tops but they are covered by cloth gathering dust while piles upon piles of papers lay scattered on the floors in some offices consuming nearly all living space in the offices.
“It is funny to find that someone has a computer lying on his table, it has never been used since it was bought, be he got it by virtue of his position and office but doesn’t even know how to turn it on,” complained a middle level staff, “the computer even if you came to the office today you would find it covered with a cloth and yet in offices where computers are needed there are heaps of papers that we have to go through manually,” the staff said.
Speaking to the Sunday Monitor on Friday, Ongom said both Mandy and Bukenya were unsuitable for their positions.
“The worst mistake was appointing Fagil Mandy as chairman that was worse than appointing Bukenya which on its own was bad enough. Bukenya should leave Uneb yesterday not today; in fact he should have left ten years ago.”
In her recent report, Inspector General of government Irene Mulyagonja noted that findings of her investigations into Mr Mandy’s leadership of the Uneb board “depict the glaring mismatch of his character and competences with the current deployment,” Ms Mulyagonja advised the Minister of Education “to advise the President to reconsider his decision of appointing Mr Mandy as chairman of the board.” Mr Mandy voluntarily quit the board last week following Mr Bukenya’s reappointment.
Mr Ongom, long retired, says he is not bitter about his controversial exit from Uneb but he evidently feels he was betrayed and treated unfairly after he took what he thinks were necessary steps to prevent exam leakage in his time and that a police investigation had traced the leakage to the printers and not Uneb officials.
But his advice to government on dealing with Uneb is blunt and candid. Ongom says the institution first suffered when an accountant was appointed to manage it instead of a seasoned educationist. “I am not saying they should not have removed me but that they should have found the right person. I am very sorry but I think Uneb is not as it should be, if they had appointed the right person and there were good people who could have been appointed after me the situation would have been different today.”
On being contacted on the matter, Mr Bukenya told the Sunday Monitor that he had travelled to the village and would get back to us. Despite repeated calls to his known phone number, he did not answer his phone by press time.
When Mr Mandy resigned from his job last week, he said: “I wrote to the Minister of Education that I am resigning. I don’t agree with the way things are being done at Uneb whether it is a directive from President Museveni or not, I don’t agree.”
Follow the Uneb Act
The Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) Act of 1983 placed the responsibility of appointing a chairman with the President, the board would then appoint the secretary with approval of the Minister of education. Ongom believes, the body’s biggest challenge stems from a failure to follow the law.
“This is where the problem started. Instead of appointing a glorified teacher, they appointed an accountant, since then the problem started, they have been marking time, and the government has been protecting the mistake they already made.”
According to Minister Alupo, the Uneb board will meet tomorrow to determine how it moves forward but without a chairperson and therefore incomplete, it can only do so much. A key question for discussion in the Monday meeting is how long Bukenya should stay on since the President’s renewal of his term (which is contrary to the law which places that responsibility squarely between the board and the line Minister).
Ms Alupo says an independent recruitment firm will advertise afresh and do the recruitment for the board to endorse and appoint from the candidate who emerges best.
In Ongom’s view, the chairman of the board should be selected on a rotational basis from Vice Chancellors of the five Public Universities saying such a person would be well suited to manage the delicate and complicated process of managing an examinations body.
He says Uneb should be more than just a group that administers exams but one through its research department which improves teaching.
Next Uneb secretary should be a teacher, says Ongom
When and how did you leave Uneb?
I joined the then East African Examinations Council (EAEC) as deputy secretary in charge of examinations and research in 1976. But this changed a year later when Idi Amin government started hunting people who originated from Lango. I fled with my family to Nairobi and returned in December 1979.
The EAEC offices in Kampala had remained after the collapse of East African Community in 1977. This was phased out in 1980. Uganda National Examinations Board was then formed and Basil Kiwanuka was its first secretary, with Peter Eriaku as his senior deputy secretary.
Cyprian Cele and I were under Eriaku as his two deputy secretaries and acted from 1977 to 1979.
Kiwanuka was removed a year later for unknown reasons and Eriaku took over. He died in 1984 suddenly and I replaced him while Cyprian Cele took over my position.
I held this job in acting capacity for five years until it was advertised in 1989. I had applied with other people but they didn’t qualify so I was asked to take over substantively.
I was asked to leave in 1995 after exams leaked in Kampala, Mpigi, Mukono and Masaka. Some investigations faulted the board while another police report showed the exams had leaked from the printer. I was replaced by Cele who didn’t stay long before the Ministry of Education could recall Mr Mathew Bukenya, a former chief finance officer to take over the job. Cele was the last teacher to head the examinations board.
Looking at the ongoing controversy within uneb, where did it go wrong?
Instead of appointing a glorified teacher, they appointed Mr Bukenya. That is when the examination body started losing it. Government made a mistake and is trying to protect its mistake by reappointing Mr Bukenya.
I am very sorry, Uneb is dead. If they had appointed the right person, Uneb should have risen. Uneb should be doing serious research. You can use exams to improve and reform the education.
The worst mistake was to appoint Mr Fagil Mandy as Uneb board chair. Appointing Mr Bukenya was already bad enough. Examination is the most powerful instrument in a country. You must appoint the right person to head it. Remove the wrong person but appoint the right person.
Is the Uneb law in it’s current state okay?
Ugandans don’t want the truth. They want lies. But let Uneb law work. Give the Uneb act an opportunity to work. Mr Bukenya should leave Uneb. He should have left like 10 years ago. Give Ugandans opportunities to compete and put the right person.
Who in your view would be the right person for Uneb?
Those deputies who are there right now have masters. Why don’t they qualify? There are people in Uneb who qualify. Maybe they come from the wrong direction.
Appoint the right person to remove Mr Bukenya so that the deputy secretaries can act as the board advertises to find a substantive person. The deputy secretaries can also apply.
The government doesn’t have the powers to appoint the secretary of Uneb. It is the chairperson of Uneb board who will appoint the secretary on approval of the minister of Education
The chairperson of the board should be one of the vice chancellors of the public universities on a rotational process.
Uneb will not die if you allow a deputy secretary to act
The next secretary should be appointed on merit, a gloried teacher, professor or lecturer, should have studied education.