UETCL board chair talks about new direction following shake-up 

Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd board chairperson Kwame Ejalu Ejuku. Photo/ Courtesy

What you need to know:

In an August 10 internal memo, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd (UETCL) board of directors announced the departure and replacement of managing director, George Rwabajungu, and four other top officials. The new management team becomes the first set of changes that the new UETCL board is enforcing after taking office in April. Tobbias Jolly Owiny caught up with board chairperson Kwame Ejalu Ejuku.

Tell me more about yourself and the tasks that lie ahead for you 
I am Kwame Ejalu. I am an entrepreneur, mostly in the insurance and pension space for the past 24 years.
I would like to draw you back to June 8, the day of our inauguration by the minister of Energy, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa (the ministry is a new shareholder in the company) and Evelyn Anite (junior Finance minister, also a shareholder). 
In that inauguration, they listed to us challenges the company had, starting with indecisions within the organisation which culminated in some bickering between the management and board where the end product was that service delivery suffered. 

So our brief was; one, be decisive and make sure that operations of the organisation are efficient, and have zero tolerance for corruption and nepotism, and deliver to Ugandans the service that UETCL was set up for.
Going forward, the first thing is to get a 360-degree view of the organisation and in doing that, we had conversations and meetings with all the stakeholders, management, the regulatory authority and sister agencies such as UEGCL, contractors and everybody whom the company interfaces with to learn more.

Your predecessors had a lot of challenges, ranging from business efficiency, teamwork, corruption and nepotism leading to nearly a slump. How do you intend to streamline these?

Management in these modern days, the core principle is corporate governance which assists one in taking clear-minded decisions, and avoids conflict of interest, and also assists with sometimes eliminating bias in your own decision making. 
As the chairman of the board, the board has committees which have been set up and those committees come and report to the main board. I do not sit in any of those committees, the purpose of that is to enable them to take their independent decisions as technical committee, compliance committee, and human resource committee and then they bring it to the main board. 

That means within the board, there are two layers of decision making which makes us check ourselves quite well. Now if I sit in the audit committee and then the audit committee reports to the main board then there is no point in having the main board, this is not rocket science, but it’s what should be happening in day-to-day modern management.
 A recent World Bank report unearthed disoperation at the company, causing the axing of your predecessors. What lessons does your board learn from the report?
Those are the same issues that the shareholders addressed to us during our inauguration, and all of those things drive at one thing, lack of efficiency and delays in the delivery of projects. 

We are addressing those recommendations by the World Bank report very aggressively and they were very serious issues because when I did the northern tour of our projects I discovered that we have very skilled Ugandans, we have made amazing engineers but they are clouded in all these indecisions which are caused by nepotism. 
We have situations where you cannot tell off somebody’s wife who is a manager because it becomes a problem. All of these things we have started addressing. 
UETCL is an engineering company because it is here to build the grid and it has some very good people, the problem has been marshalling them into a direction where they are most efficient, and that is what this board is here to do.

Incidents of limited synchronisation and parallel planning have been highlighted in the operations of UETCL, together with its sister institutions, resulting in project delays or wasteful expenditures. What do you intend to do about it?
What we do is we deliver power to cities and then somebody else has to deliver it to the household. So if you reach a city and the power has not yet reached somebody’s household, it is almost like you have not done anything, so synchronisation is very important.
In the power sector, as you know, the shareholders of UETCL, UEGCL, and UEDCL are the ministries of Energy and Finance, so at that level they can do the synchronisation because they get a full sight of the entire energy supply industry and as you have noted, one of our directors [Cecilia Menya] sits on both boards of transmission and the distribution. 
So that gives us a sight of what the other people are doing and they also get sight of what we are doing, although I must agree that synchronisation needs to be better.

Let’s talk about eliminating vandalism at a strategic level. Is there anything new your leadership plans to do?
Vandalism is one of those very unfortunate things that we have to deal with. It feels quite bad that we are working to move the country forward and somebody on one end is moving you backwards.
To sort out the various issues, there is no singular approach, there has got to be a cocktail of solutions of which we are grappling to find the correct mixture in terms of that cocktail. 

Of course, it starts with making the cost of vandalism more expensive. The law has been amended to make it less attractive to be a vandal. Second, the management is working with a lot of security agencies to try and apprehend these people and at the same time, they are also going to places where these people sell the metal such as factories and steel yards and confiscating these things.

But the one ultimate solution that I seem to like is that which has been done on the Opuyo-Moroto line. It has got tubular structures, one that looks like a big stem of a tree and it is up there where the lines are stringed. It does not have too many members where vandals can cut. So that would be a very good way to deal with vandalism. Unfortunately, I am told it is about 20 percent or 25 percent more expensive than the current structure we have.

It is a few months down the road, have you made any strides?
First, you need to realise the size of the business, it’s a very huge business and to try and find a very quick solution, one may not get it right. 
The entire journey is to change our culture to become an efficient service delivery company and that is the end product and everything that we are doing is towards that.
The immediate thing that we seem to have achieved is that members of staff and management know that all matters about UETCL are urgent and service delivery is urgent. There was a laissez-faire attitude which was there before, but they now know that it is urgent and that has come through right from our briefing to ourselves, managers and now it went down to the staff and that if we do not treat matters urgently, you can become a casualty.

Aren’t questions likely to be raised against the age, experience and composition of the new management team you recently appointed?
The bottom line is efficient delivery of services. Older people in our community are not going anywhere and sometimes there is a tendency of people to want to rush them like they do not belong. They belong, it’s just that the roles keep changing, meaning that at some point somebody may have grasped modern concepts of management a little bit better than somebody who didn’t have the continuous learning and, therefore, has to come to place. 

However, we need to pay attention to the demographics of the country, the percentage of young people and how you lead the generation X person is very different from the perspective of how you lead the generation Z person, etc. If you are looking at the demographics of Uganda you got to know who is the best person to understand and lead a particular generation. So we are very mindful of that and that’s why some of those changes are coming through.
The new office-bearers are ideally in acting positions, doesn’t it create anxiety and impact performance in the end?
This is a government-owned company. We have rules that apply to how people are recruited and confirmed, so within our powers as the board we can only appoint people in active capacities and for them to be confirmed, there is a process they must go through. So, we are not able to quickly appoint substantives, we have to go through a process. 
However, you are saying anxiety because people are in an acting capacity, you know sometimes when people are uncomfortable they do great things. But where people are too comfortable that’s when they relax. Maybe the former leaders were very relaxed.