Bombardier jet grounded, jobs advertised amid storm

President Museveni (in white)disembarks from one of Uganda Airlines CRJ900 Bombardiers at Entebbe International Airport in 2019. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Former Uganda Airlines board chairperson Pereza Ahabwe has written to President Museveni, warning that circumstances under which the jet was grounded are suspicious and requires thorough probe.

As turbulence continues to rock Uganda’s national carrier, it is emerging that one of the airline’s four CRJ900 Bombardier jets has been grounded at Entebbe for more than one month now due to lack of spares.

The development comes less than two years after the airline commenced commercial flights from Entebbe to Nairobi, Mombasa (Kenya), Mogadishu (Somalia), Juba (South Sudan), Bujumbura (Burundi), Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) in August 2019.

Having received the four Bombardier jets in two batches, with the first arriving in Entebbe on April 23, 2019, and the second on October 7, 2019, the lack of spare parts comes at a time when the first batch of Bombardiers is only 27 months old and the second about 20 months.

Government paid out an estimated Shs560 billion ($149.6 million) for the four jets.

Sunday Monitor has established that the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Airline, Mr Pereza Ahabwe who, together with other board members, are serving a three-month suspension on the orders of President Museveni, has indicated in a June 21 letter that a spare has to be switched from one jet to another to enable the grounded jet fly.

The other members of the board are Benon Kajuna, Godfrey Ssemugooma, Catherine Asinde Poran, Rehema Mutazindwa, Charles Hamya, and Stephen Aziku Zua.

“The aircraft has been grounded for a month now for lack of a spare part called the ‘Intake’. I am told for that aircraft not to go into long-term storage, which would require very expensive maintenance, the ‘Intake’ from one of the other CRJ900 jets that is functional would be ‘borrowed’ to make this one fly for one day and then be parked. The ‘Intake’ would then be fitted back to the aircraft where it was ‘borrowed’,” Mr Ahabwe wrote.

Mr Ahabwe acknowledged having written the letter addressed to the Works and Transport permanent secretary, Mr Bageya Waiswa, and copied it to the acting permanent secretary and Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Patrick Ocailap. Mr Ahabwe declined to discuss the contents of the letter.

“All I can tell you is that I wrote a letter to the shareholders based on instructions that I was given on June 18 following a meeting that we held at the Ministry of Finance,” Mr Ahabwe said.

However, Sunday Monitor has established that Mr Ahabwe, in the June 21 letter, says the circumstances under which the jet was grounded are suspicious.

“This state of the aircraft being grounded requires a thorough investigation into the cause and reason it continues to be unattended to despite the airline having adequate funding from government,” Mr Ahabwe wrote.

He added that matters around the grounding of the jet have been complicated by the suspension of the entire procurement department.

By press time, it was not possible to talk to the acting chief executive officer of the airline, Ms Jennifer Bamuturaki, for a comment on the matter.

The Finance ministry spokesperson, Mr Jim Mugunga, declined to discuss the contents of Mr Ahabwe’s letter, saying the Works and Transport ministry was best placed to discuss the issue.

“The issues raised in the document you sent are broadly operational and related to airline management. However, the matter is of interest at Executive level and is being handled by the relevant organs, which means it will be expedited to its logical end,” Mr Mugunga said.

But Mr Waiswa denied knowledge of any plane being grounded.

“The planes have, to the best of my knowledge, been moving. The ones that are down are the Airbuses because of the certification process,” Mr Waiswa said on Friday.

Fears of financial loss

Mr Ahabwe says in the letter that the airline stands to lose lots of money because of lack of competent and highly skilled people in its commercial department.

The board had in a previous letter written in May explained away some of the accusations levelled against them that some of the General Service Agencies (SGA) that were contracted to market the airline in places where it has no offices had been ripping it off until it hired a South African National, Ms Zarina Sirkoth.

Ms Sirkoth is said to have helped the airline recover $550,000 (about Shs1.9b) from three different GSAs in the period between August 2019 and September 2021. But Mr Ahabwe says there are now plans to push her out, which will expose the airline to losses.

“There is a directive to terminate this resourceful staff and the airline stands a risk of losing a lot because of lack of skills to protect the sold revenue… business might appear to be going on well and the company saving some little money on the expatriate staff salary to wit, $4,000 (Shs14m), but the risk is quite high as seen from the results of her input,” Mr Ahabwe warned.

Risk of liability

Mr Ahabwe also warned in his letter that the airline risked paying high costs for breach of contracts.

“There is an issue of breach of contract that might cost the airline more than $200,000 (Shs708m) if the supplier decided to follow the contract terms as they are. This quoted amount is exclusive of any penalties that might come up. This must be followed up by a competent person as a matter of urgency to avert the likelihood of incurring huge costs for breach of contract,” Mr Ahabwe wrote.

Mr Ahabwe said the airline invested at least $1.9m (Shs6.7b) on the procurement of the global Enterprise Resource Management (EPR) system and Amadeus, but it might not get value for money from them because of the absence of the core management team.

“There is a likely risk of not getting value for money as implementers might not implement the exact product signed for due to lack of internal capacity to do necessary checks before acceptance. In case this happens, there will be loss of money to the project,” he further wrote.

Jobs advertised

Other sources have since told Sunday Monitor that even amid those troubles, the airline recently placed advertisements in sections of the media inviting applications for up to 180 jobs, including for a country manager in charge of Uganda, procurement officers, travel documents verifiers, load controllers, human resource planners, and talent acquisition officers.

But sources within the airline have indicated that most of the said jobs already have substantive office holders, some of whom are simply on suspension, for which the airline is being opened up to costly litigation. 

But Works and Transport permanent secretary, Mr Bageya Waiswa, denies this. “None of the suspended people’s jobs have been advertised. The jobs that were advertised were for handling equipment, which had been bought, but remained stored. We intend to make that operation by the end of August,” Mr Waiswa said. 

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