A project worth $115million (about Shs287 billion) meant to improve the teaching and development of science and technology in higher education institutions has delayed for nine months and is at the risk of collapse.
The project is funded through a loan from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The delay is a result of a protracted fight between the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education and Sports, Ms Rose Nassali Lukwago and the Country Representative of the AfDB, Medjomo Coulibaly.
Mr Coulibaly has raised objections to the manner in which Ms Nassali conducted the recruitment of staff to the project code-named AfDB V, saying it did not meet the bank’s rules and procedures. But Ms Nassali insists the bank should endorse the staff she has selected through PILA Consultants, a recruitment agency.
Sunday Monitor investigations show that AfDB officials are angry that while the memorandum they signed with the government indicated that project activities, including recruitment of staff should be done in accordance with the bank’s best practices, the Education ministry had employed underhand methods.
According to several correspondences between Ms Nassali and Mr Coulibaly, copies of which Sunday Monitor has seen, AfDB argues that while in the past the ministry recommended serving officials to coordinate AfDB projects, Ms Nassali changed the method, reasoning that she needed a competitive recruitment process. While the bank agreed to it, AfDB is now afraid that it was a ploy to recruit people outside procedures.
“The recruitment process of the Project Coordinator was done according to the rules and regulations governing Public Service. The bank has always been informed of all the process and there is no time it has ever objected,” reads Ms Nassali’s letter January 3, 2014.
But on January 24, Mr Coulibaly wrote back, saying Ms Nassali only sent terms of reference and request for expression of interest which the bank approved.
“Subsequently the MoES undertook to process the received applications from expressions of interest. However, no shortlist of applicants was received in the bank for review and clearance, and to date, this has not been submitted,” reads Mr Coulibaly’s letter.
He said “the statement in your letter that interviews were held and the best candidate recommended to MoES in order of merit for appointment has not received the no-objection of the Bank to lead to the interviews.”
“According to the submitted report, some of the applicants have not been graded based on the criteria set for evaluation. It is imperative that all who applied and complied with the criteria set in the request for expression of interest be graded, and reasons be inserted for level of grading,” Mr Coulibaly said.
He said PILA Consultants had not been recruited into AfDB project activities, therefore; they should be seen as advisors to the Ministry who should not have a final say on AfDB related activities. The bank insists that the Ministry should “clearly indicate reasons for disqualification of any applicant…”
AfDB is unhappy that in spite of several meetings between the bank and key ministry officials, the action of the Ministry appeared aimed at violating the terms of the memorandum between the government and the Bank.
The bank has threatened not to pay salaries of staff recruited without adherence to their rules and regulations. They have also threatened not to release the money. The implication is that taxpayers will continue to pay commitment fees even when the loan has not been utilised.
Genesis of stalemate
Apparently, the stalemate is an extension of the already ‘poisonous’ work environment at the ministry.
Basic communication has broken down in the ministry, with Ms Nassali reportedly writing letters of policy nature without copying to ministers.
Ms Nassali who was appointed PS last year but delayed to assume office after the Public Service Commission raised questions about her suitability for the job, is accused of orchestrating vendetta against some officials.
Ms Nassali once worked as the boss of Education Standards Agency (ESA) and a member of the contracts committee under the same ministry but she was interdicted and later demoted over alleged “condoning of crime and concealment of information from senior management, negligence of duty and insubordination”.
Apparently she seems to be carrying over animosity against her predecessor Francis Xavier Lubanga and officials who worked closely with him. The staff currently running AfDB project activities worked with Mr Lubanga and Ms Nassali’s is accused of interfering with the recruitment process in order to eliminate them. According to the consultants grading which Sunday Monitor has seen, the officials running AfDB project activities but applied for the next project, were scored zero in experience even when they hold senior positions. PILA consultants give no reasons for the zero score of the candidates.
Apparently, the decision not to allow staff running AfDB projects was made by Ms Nassali after applications had been submitted. A letter to the Undersecretary Doreen Katusiime from assistant commissioner Joseph Eilor revealed that the PS wanted Ms Katusiime to communicate to PILA Consults to exclude AfDB project staff from the shortlist and interviews.
“With regard to ADB V project, since the responsibility for recruitment lies with your department, PS instruction [that] we should NOT recruit ADB V staff from ADB V project should immediately become one of the criteria for shortlisting eligible applicants,” reads the letter. “The division of human resource management should be made aware of this position,” it adds.
But Ms Katusiime wrote back. “The terms of reference for this position were developed by your department and submitted to the bank for no objection without specifying the exclusion of current ADB IV staff from applying. Any change in terms of reference would lead to the cancellation of the entire process and start afresh, bearing in mind that project implementation is already behind schedule.”
According to Ms Katusiime, “all human resource matters including recruitment and selection must take into consideration the labour and employment legislation currently in force in the country”. The labour laws prohibit discrimination.
Following threats from the AfDB to withhold funding, the Education minister Jessica Alupo has written to her colleague at Finance ministry, Ms Maria Kiwanuka to intervene and rescue the project, saying Muni and Busitema universities whose development is hinged on this project would be critically affected.
“I am getting concerned by the pace at which the project activities are being implemented in my ministry which is the Executing Agency,” reads Ms Alupo’s letter dated January 30.
“From the correspondences I have come across between the Bank and the ministry, it appears that the Bank is of the view that the Ministry is not complying with conditions, rules and procedures of the Loan Agreement. Most of these communications between the Bank and my permanent secretary have not been copied to me…” she said.
Ministry of Finance signs loan agreements on behalf of the government.
Ms Alupo is worried that the loan might be cancelled yet delay has already attracted service charges and commitment fees. She is also worried that higher education institutions might lose out if AfDB recalls the loan and gives it to another sector in the country.