The current security installations at Entebbe International Airport are old-fashioned and neither the body nor baggage scanners can detect explosives, according to an intelligence briefing to President Museveni.
This implies the security equipment don’t match current international standards in light of fast-evolving global terror threats.
Urgent upgrade to close the loopholes, which the President ordered for two years ago, are yet to commence, but not without controversy.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the body responsible for aviation security, including at Entebbe airport, for unexplained reason, delegated the multi-million dollar acquisition to the police contrary to public procurement rules as stipulated in Section 39 of PPDA Act, 2014.
CAA yesterday declined to respond to specific allegations that its managing director, Dr Rama Makuza, had sidelined the board and senior managers in the transactions; that the prices of key items had been inflated; and, no memorandum of understanding (MoU) exists between the aviation entity and police to formalise the $5 million (Shs17.6b) procurement.
“This is now a national security matter that we would rather not comment on,” CAA’s acting public affairs manager, Mr Vianney Luggya, said after consultations with Mr Makuza.
The solicitor general’s office cleared the deal, according to official records, and police’s under-secretary Rogers Muhirwa on June 25, signed a contract with the Dubai-based Restrata Solutions FZ-LLC, represented by its general manager Ian Todd.
Our investigations show that under the agreement, Restrata Solutions will, among other items, supply X-ray machines, body scanners, escalator systems, binoculars, night vision goggles, intelligent camera system and spare parts at $5m.
The government wants another $30m (Shs105.7b) set aside, which the Works and Transport minister John Byabagambi said was based on estimates by security organs as required funding for unspecified long-term airport security measures.
A scrutiny of the contract reveals that Restrata Solutions will in turn buy almost all of the equipment from Rapiscan, a company with a local representative in Kampala.
Rapiscan has previously supplied CAA directly, installed and maintained security fittings at Entebbe International Airport, Nakasongola military airbase and Gulu airfield.
Mr Byabagambi told this newspaper that police were asked to procure the gadgets because CAA technocrats lacked the expertise to tackle the evolving terrorism threats.
“When the law (1991 CAA Act) was passed, there was no terrorism. Terrorism has taken different forms and become more complicated. The only authority that undergoes trainings to curb different types of terrorism is police,” the minister said.
In Uganda, the police are the lead security agency on counter-terrorism operations, although other security organs have in-house experts.
Uganda’s security chiefs, meeting on July 7, agreed that the security equipment for the airport be leased to expedite the works and cheaply.
This was after Mr Museveni froze CAA’s initial plan, based on an evaluation by Uganda’s Security ministry, to outsource management of the airport’s security to a French firm.
An Israeli and a Chinese firm had separately wanted the same business, but PPDA officials in October 2014 rejected the arrangement because documents submitted to them for evaluation were company profiles and trip reports, not substantial bid proposals.
Instead of the approved asset leasing option, CAA, which repeatedly said it had no budgeted funds for the procurement, went ahead to delegate police to sign up for the $5 million outright purchase.
Early last month, Mr Makuza wrote to Mr Byabagambi exhorting him to liaise with his Security counterpart Mary Karooro Okurut to “support the Inspector General of Police (Kale Kayihura) to seek the funding [for the security upgrade] from His Excellency, the President”. Ms Okurut was unavailable to speak on the matter.
In a July 24 internal memo, which came a month after police signed the deal with Restrata Solutions, CAA’s Makuza tasked his Finance director to survey financial institutions and explore the “feasibility” of procuring the security gadgets through asset leasing, and prepare a paper for retrospective consideration by management and the board for approval of the lease option.
Mr Byabagambi in an interview on Saturday said he would not entertain the excuse of “no money” by the aviation authority because the entity has, since 2007, been collecting $10 per passenger for security.
The government, he said, imposed the levy “to secure passengers paying it, not for CAA officials to enhance their salary or travel in business class”. With 1.3 million passengers travelling through Entebbe airport in 2013, it means the facility rakes in at least $13m (Shs45b) each year from the $10 tax on each passenger ticket.
“I am entering their empire where they have been the Alpha and the Omega as if the CAA is for their family,” Mr Byabagambi said, adding: “Whoever doesn’t want to work as I direct will have to go; give me three months and Entebbe airport will be different and this will be by force.”
His abrasive work methods have caused discomfort among some CAA officials, the minister acknowledged.
Beyond the disturbed working relation, questions are being raised about what some industry insiders say is an agreement favouring Restrata Solutions and CAA’s failure to sign an MoU with police as a safety net.
The aviation entity spent substantial amount of money between February and April on four external technical appraisal trips by individuals drawn from spy agencies and police without evidence that they had expertise on aviation security or were familiar with the electro-mechanical engineering, structural and layout designs among other capabilities at Entebbe airport.
Mr Makuza was the only CAA official on the evaluation team.
Capacity at airport questionable
The new integrated security system, according to government officials, should be able to network with the existing technology at the airport and provide real-time feed to Intelligence command centres and other end-users.
However, this newspaper understands that the listed X-ray machines to be supplied at $2.7m (Shs9.4b) are standalone components unable to interface with the existing terminal building systems.
Daily Monitor has seen a dossier about the transaction in which it is alleged the escalator systems quoted at $350,000 (Shs1.2b) will be costing Uganda double the market price.