Minister fires UNBS chairperson 

Combo: Sacked UNBS chairperson, Charles Musekuura (L) and Trade minister Francis Mwebesa (R). PHOTOS/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • UNBS was established as a statutory standards regulator by an Act of Parliament and domiciled under the Trade ministry. It became operational in 1989. Its mandates include enforcing standards to protect public health and safety and the environment against dangerous and substandard products; ensuring fairness in trade and precision in industry and strengthening Uganda’s economy through assured product quality.   

The Trade minister, Mr Francis Mwebesa, has sacked “forthwith” the chairperson of the Council that oversees the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS).
“… your services as the chairperson of National Standards Council are hereby terminated forthwith,” the minister wrote to Mr Charles Musekuura on October 11, directing him to hand office over to Eng James Kalibbala, a council member he named acting chairman.

Eng Kalibbala will serve as an understudy until Cabinet decides on a substantive office holder, Mr Mwebesa wrote, and directed UNBS Acting Executive Director, Mr Daniel Nangalama, to ensure “handover and takeover take immediate effect”. 

Other members of the Council are Dr Tom Okia, Mr Alfred Oyo Andima, Mr Robert Mwanje, Ms Pamella Achii, ICT ministry Permanent Secretary Dr Aminah Zawedde, Mr Omar Mohammed, Ms Sarah Walusimbi and Mr Nangalama (as an ex-officio member). 
Their tenures will continue running until completion of their three-year mandate, the minister said.

Mr Mwebesa gave no reason in the sacking letter for his decision which he said was in exercise of powers of a minister granted to him by the Constitution, whose applicable provision(s) he did not cite.
On the same Wednesday, the minister in a separate letter to the standard agency’s acting executive director introducing Eng Kalibbala as a stand-in chairman of the entity’s Council, however clothed his act with Section 5(1) of UNBS Act.

Headlined resignation and removal of appointed members, the referenced Section provides that “a member of the [National Standards] Council shall hold or vacate office in accordance with the instrument of appointment”.

UNBS is domiciled under the Trade minister, making the line minister, in this case Mr Mwebesa, the political overseer and appointing authority of members and chairperson of the National Standards Council.
Mr Musekuura last evening confirmed receiving the letter terminating his services and described the action against him as illegal.
The law, he argued, does not provide for the position of an acting chairperson of the Council and he will be handing over to an “imposter” if he complies with the ministerial directive. 

“The UNBS Act only provides for the position of chairperson and envisages that the chairperson cannot be dismissed; so, it didn’t cater for an acting chairperson. By him (minister Mwebesa) asking me to handover [to Eng Kalibbala], I will be handing over to an imposter,” he said.

He added: “I am still studying the letter before deciding what course of action to take next. The good thing is that there is not about to be a board (Council) meeting in the next two weeks; so, I am not in a hurry to make a decision.” 
In an interview earlier in the day, Mr Musekuura argued that a chairperson of a Council of a statutory regulator cannot not be fired abruptly for undisclosed reason and without a fair hearing as required by the rules of natural justice. 

“Even shamba boy (gardener) would be told why he is being fired. A board chairperson is a very important position and you cannot just wake up and fire him or her without giving the person a reason and without a fair hearing. There are procedures for hiring and firing,” he said.

He added: “[The minister is] saying the Constitution has given him power, but doesn’t state the article, he is saying my contract is terminated forthwith, but does not give the reason, where is the natural justice, if the termination is true?”

By last evening, the UNBS website still reflected Mr Musekuura as the chairman of its Council, 48 hours after the line minister said he had fired him “forthwith”.  
There was no indication by press time that a “takeover and handover” that the minister on Wednesday directed to be done with “immediate effect” happened.  

Minister Mwebesa yesterday declined to divulge the reason for sacking Mr Musekuura, saying he could not make such disclosures in a telephone call and was “busy” to schedule in-person interview over the matter.
The firing of the National Standards Council comes roughly seven weeks after the same minister ordered a suspension of the then UNBS Executive Director, Mr Livingstone Ebiru, shortly after he told a parliamentary committee that he paid Shs100m to Council chairman Musekuura, through an interlocutor, to retain his job.  

Despite retracting the claim a day later, Mr Ebiru, who was already a subject of investigations by the government Ombudsman, was summoned and appeared in court where a case is pending against him.