Fight erupts over top job at MUBS

Prof Juma Waswa Balunywa. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Sections of the academic staff at the school have petitioned the Education minister over handing Prof Juma Waswa Balunywa another contract as Mubs principal. 

A feisty fight for the job of Principal of Makerere University Business School (Mubs) is raging at the Nakawa-based institution.

Sections of the academic staff at the school have petitioned First Lady and Education minister Janet Museveni over handing Prof Juma Waswa Balunywa another contract as Mubs principal.

Another group has petitioned the ombudsman to investigate 23 officials at the school.

Mubs has not had a substantive principal since May 31 when Prof Balunywa’s five-year contract ended.

Prof Moses Muhwezi has been holding the fort since then. The vacuum seems to be fuelling rounds of bickering, with several accusations levelled against Prof Balunywa, the University Council, and other members of staff.

While attempts by Sunday Monitor to sound out Prof Balunywa were unsuccessful, Mr Isaac Mubarak Ngobya, the chairperson of Mubs’ University Council, was dismissive of the latest round of accusations.

“This kind of blackmail has always come up whenever the principal’s contract is yet to be renewed,” Mr Ngobya said.

The fights have been blamed on failure by the Ministry of Education to fill the post in line with the provisions of Section 83 of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 (as amended).

The provisions require the minister to discharge the said duty on the advice of the Education Service Commission on terms determined by the Commission.

It is not clear why the ministry is yet to fill the post. Repeated calls to Mr Dennis Mugimba, its spokesperson, went unanswered.

Staff petition
Sections of the academic staff claimed in a May 19 letter, a copy of which Sunday Monitor has seen, that they had received information that either Prof Balunywa or his younger brother, Prof Mohammed Ngoma, had been lined up for appointment to the office, adding that the two “are the most undesirable and unsuitable candidates to lead Mubs…”

Prof Balunywa, who has been principal at the school for 25 years, is eligible for reappointment under the provisions of Section 83(3) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 (as amended). The section makes it clear that “the principal shall hold office for a period of five years and shall be eligible for reappointment.”

Monitor has also established that Prof Ngoma was never a candidate in the race for the job. So why is he and his big brother in the eye of the storm?

We have since learnt that the petition was precipitated by a recommendation that the Mubs University Council had earlier sent to Ms Museveni, handing Prof Balunywa another five year contract.

Ms Museveni was informed that Prof Balunywa had by way of an April 3 letter expressed interest in continuing to serve as principal of the school.

The letter signed by Mr Ngobya, stated that a three-man committee comprised of Mr Ngobya, the vice chairperson, Mr James Mwesigye, and the chairperson of the University’s Appointments Committee, Dr Tom Okurut, assessed Prof Balunywa’s performance during a special meeting of the council held on April 5.

“…a performance evaluation of Prof Waswa Balunywa as principal for the tenure of his subsisting term of office [was conducted] and rated his performance at 89.7 percent (outstanding performance as per the performance evaluation criteria), given the various achievements registered by Mubs during his tenure of office as principal,” the letter reads in part.

Council accused 
It was basing on that evaluation, the letter adds, that the committee recommended that Prof Balunywa be “considered for reappointment in light of his outstanding performance both at institutional and national level.”

It is this claim that sections of academic staff at the Nakawa-based institution— 30 PhD holders, some of them deans of faculties—are now querying. 

The petitioners accuse Mr Ngobya of being an “inside trader.” They add that Mr Ngobya is “directly conflicted”, with the fact that his firms have been doing construction work at Mubs prominently cited.

That allegation, which was first made in a March 2020 petition to State House’s Anti-Corruption Unit, was repeated in an 11-page July 25 petition filed by Salim Matende, a nephew to Prof Balunywa.

“Engineer Ngobya owns Destiny Engineering Company, which was contracted to construct the access road from the main gate to the library in the financial year 2017/2018. However, to date, the road is incomplete and yet they were fully paid,” the July petition reads in part.

Mr Ngobya vehemently denied links to the said firm, adding that he “know[s] nothing about that company” and that he has “never even recommended anyone for a contract or job [at Mubs].” 

Other accusations
In a June 12, 2023 addendum to the May 19 petition against Prof Balunywa’s reappointment, Dr Kituyi Mayoka, the dean of the faculty of vocational and distance learning, called on Ms Museveni to investigate the erstwhile Mubs principal for issues raised in their earlier petition.

The petition had accused Prof Balunywa of failure to remit the right Pay as You Earn and other taxes to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), which they claim has led to loss of billions in government revenue.

While Prof Balunywa was not available for a comment, Mr Ngobya told Sunday Monitor that Mubs is up to date as regards its payments to URA.

“We reconciled the situation with URA. People do not understand how it works … when you get money for this quarter, you pay what you owed for the previous quarter. We are now in the clear,” Mr Ngobya confirmed.

Recruitment queries
The petitioners also accused Prof Balunywa of disrespecting a presidential directive not to recruit staff. They allege that nearly 400 new members of staff were recruited on Prof Balunywa’s watch, leading to an increase of Shs25b in the wage bill.

The situation, they claim, has led to payment of salaries that are not provided for under the salary structure of the Public Service ministry.

Mr Ngobya, however, defended the recruitments as necessary so as to bridge gaps left behind by academic staff who leave to pursue higher education.

“The rapid staff development programmes often mean you have to recruit teaching assistants to support the work, but even then we still have gaps. We, for example, need 201 assistant lecturers, but have only 97. We need 604 lecturers, but have only 293; we need 201 assistant professors, but have only 21 and; we need 101 professors, but have only 11,” he revealed, adding, “Can one then say the recruitments are not necessary?”

The petitioners also accuse Prof Balunywa of having refused to pay tuition fees for staff on PhD programmes, even when he was the one who mobilised most of them to pursue the said courses. Mr Ngobya said such accusations are misplaced.

He said: “The 2022/2023 budget was cut by 40 percent. But when we got African Development Bank scholarships for 11 people to pursue PhDs, we realised that we could get more out of it if people studied in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Cameroon. We ended up getting 33 people to pursue PhDs. Who then abused the funds?”

NSSF remittances 
The Prof Balunywa-led management team also stands accused of failure to remit staff’s contributions to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Mr Isaac Mubarak Ngobya, the chairperson of Mubs’ University Council conceded that the institution has been finding it hard to remit money to NSSF, but was quick to blame the situation on lack of funds.

“Money that should have been going to NSSF has not been coming under the government’s subvention. Government does not provide us with the 10 percent that we are meant to match with the five percent from the staff’s salaries. That is why we are struggling to pay,” Mr Ngobya explained.