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The war turf that UNBS has become  

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Under probe. Mr James Nkamwesiga Kasigwa

On February 9, 2012, the then Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde suspended, Mr Terry Kahuma as Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) executive director.

Mr Kahuma had been in the job for about a decade, and the events that followed his suspension told of an agency at war with itself, burdened by an overly silent supervisor - National Standards Council and an overbearing parent ministry - Ministry of Trade.

Thus, after suspending Mr Kahuma, Ms Kyambadde instituted a commission to investigate alleged mismanagement, insubordination, extortion, and corruption by UNBS staff. 

It was also tasked with examining the suitability of Mr Kahuma to lead UNBS to achieve the desired goals.

In its findings, the commission noted, there was general mismanagement at UNBS, which according to Ms Kyambadde had thrown the standards agency in quagmire and hopelessness, worsened by financial mismanagement, misuse of non-tax revenue, and flouting of budget lines. 

It is on this basis that Ms Kyambadde sacked Mr Kahuma, which decision he challenged in court and was, in 2017 awarded Shs260m for wrongful dismissal.   

In the days leading to his suspension, and eventual sacking, Mr Kahuma had indicated that “my problem is coming from outside work,” and that Ms Kyambadde had “played into the game by returning a National Standards Council that had been disbanded but wanted to return to UNBS to execute vendetta”. 

True to his word, he was thrown out in the final bend of his contract and was eventually, on October 24, 2012, replaced by Dr Ben Manyindo, who had been acting in the position for more than a year.  

Sacked. Mr Terry Kahuma

To his credit, Dr Manyindo kept UNBS out of the bad press, save for the standards agency’s failure to reign in on the entry and manufacture of substandard products. 

Under his leadership, the percentage of substandard products remained a headache, with more than half, or 54 percent, which has since risen to 58 percent, of goods on the market not good for human consumption. 

However, this had been a reduction from about 80 percent that had been quoted in the five years to 2018. 

In his nine years, Dr Manyindo seemed to have managed the internal and external grumblings until he retired in November 2020 after 22 years of service, part of which he had served as the deputy executive director technical.  

Indeed, in a farewell message, Ms Kyambadde acknowledged that whereas UNBS was still facing many challenges, Dr Manyindo had not let her down. 

“I expected [Dr Manyindo] to solve all the quality issues overnight. I expected miracles.  But Ben didn’t let me down,” she said at the send-off in Kampala in December 2020, before subsequently appointing Mr David Livingstone Ebiru as the fourth UNBS executive director on May 11, 2021.

Retired. Dr Ben Manyindo

His experience and educational competence told of a man fit for the job, having obtained a first-class Master of Commerce from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India, and an upper second Bachelor of Business Administration from Makerere University. 

He had also acted in the position for six months from November 1, 2020. Thus, it was not surprising that he was recommended by National Standards Council for a substantive appointment.

The calm under Dr Manyindo extended into the early months of Mr Ebiru’s reign, but cracks had started appearing, with insiders indicating a general lack of morale, intimidation, cliquism, and creation of royalty lines.

This would go on until 2023 when the sore finally cracked open, resulting from a demand for accountability.  

In a June 26, 2023 letter, Mr Charles Musekuura, the chairperson of the National Standards Council summoned Mr Ebiru over the alleged misappropriation of Shs12.5b, and shielding staff who had allegedly stolen Shs9.2b.

The letter demanded that the executive director explains how UNBS had spent Shs12.5b under the pre-import verification of conformity programme noting that from July 2022 to May 2023, approximately $4.9m had been collected, of which $1.5m was remitted to the Consolidated Fund, while $3.4m (about Shs12.5b) was converted into shillings and spent at source. 

Mr Musekuura also demanded to know why Mr Ebiru had not taken any action against five staff who had reportedly stolen Shs9.2b by backdating inspection dates and editing application dates on the e-portal application.

“An investigation was carried out and a report was handed over to you in June 2022 and since then, no action has been taken against the culprits. Surprisingly, two staff ... have since left while the rest are still in the Bureau’s employment, drawing salaries,” he noted. 

However, it was Mr Ebiru’s response in the days after the letter that was more telling of the wider cracks at UNBS. 

In response, Mr Ebiru accused his supervisor, Mr Musekuura, of choosing to run to the media, instead of appreciating “the executive director for keeping the Bureau afloat given the financial circumstances we are operating in”. 

The accusations would worsen, with Mr Ebiru becoming more confrontational and openly admitting before a committee of Parliament of having bribed the Musekuura-led board with Shs100m to save his contract.

More revelations would later tell of a disconnect in how UNBS was working, with a supervisor at war with management, while the Ministry of Trade seemed not to be aware or was merely disinterested in what was going on.  

With the country shocked at the absurd events of the proceedings, Mr Ebiru withdrew the claim of bribery, but the damage had already been done. 

He was eventually sacked in August 2023, with Trade Minister Francis Mwebesa saying the findings of the National Standards Council and Ebiru’s admissions before Parliament left no option but to terminate the executive director’s contract.   

Sacked. Mr David Livingstone Ebiru

Subsequently, the National Standards Council appointed Mr Daniel Richard Makayi Nangalama, who has been holding the position for more than seven months in acting capacity until the appointment of Mr James Nkamwesiga Kasigwa on May 16. 

But barely a week into his appointment, Mr Kasigwa had been drawn into the battles that now define UNBS. 

A petition by lawyers from Wanambugo & Co Advocates on behalf of Mr George Ahimbisibwe noted last week that the new executive director was merely hand-picked since he was not among the best two candidates that went through the interviews.

“UNBS advertised for the position of executive director. Consequent to the advertisement, six candidates were shortlisted for interviews, and following the interviews, the National Standards Council recommended to the Minister of Trade…  the best two candidates … despite the recommendation of the board, the Minister of Trade has gone ahead and instead appointed a candidate who was not recommended,” the petition reads in part. 

The Inspectorate of Government has since acknowledged receipt of the petition and indicated an ongoing probe.

It is difficult to predict how this will end, but in whichever direction it goes, it feeds into the larger story of an agency dogged by leadership fights, amid an increase in the proliferation of substandard goods that endanger consumers, expose manufacturers, and drain government revenue. 

Yesterday, Mr Mwebesa indicated it was too early to comment on the matter noting: “We shall have what to say when the investigations are done.”