The Uganda Airlines airbus on arrival at Entebbe airport on February 2. The old management of the national carrier has previously been plagued by corruption allegations. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA


Museveni now to decide Uganda Airlines Board’s fate

What you need to know:

  • The clearing of the Board is a culmination of an investigation that officially commenced on August 10.

President Museveni now faces a new headache on how best to firmly sort out management and governance of the troubled Uganda Airlines. 

Six months after the President directed the suspension of the Board of Directors of Uganda Airlines to allow for an investigation into allegations of corruption, an investigation has now turned out with nothing to suggest culpability by the Board.

The Board of Directors led by former minister of State for Local Government and also former MP for Rubanda East, Mr Perez Ahabwe, was suspended early May. 

Other members of the suspended Board are Mr Benon Kajuna, Mr Godfrey Ssemugooma, Ms Catherine Asinde Poran, Ms Rehema Mutazindwa, Mr Charles Hamya, and Mr Stephen Aziku Zua.

The clearing of the Board is a culmination of an investigation that officially commenced on August 10 when the Minister of State for Works, Mr Musa Ecweru, who was holding forte for Gen Katumba Wamala, wrote to Mr Ahabwe, notifying him of an intention to remove him and other members from the Board of the airline.

The letter also contained a raft of accusations, including among others overstepping its mandate by involving itself in the recruitment of junior staff, which led to alleged corruption and influence peddling and travelling out of station for purposes of getting allowances.

The Board was also accused of collusion with the management to recruit relatives and friends; failure to scrutinize major contracts and service level agreements; failure to check aeroplanes’ maintenance costs; failure to put in place a performance score card for members of the senior management team; ignoring the security committee’s recommendations during the recruitment of a director of finance and; solicitation of bribes from suppliers.

But a member of the Board who spoke to Saturday Monitor on condition that he is not named because he is not authorised to speak for the board, revealed that the Board was absolved during a meeting that representatives of the shareholders, namely the Ministry of Finance, and that of Works, held with members of the Board on October 13 at the Protea Hotel in Kampala.

“After first listening to us individually and later as a group, we were told nothing had been found against us,” the member said.

Mr Ahabwe confirmed the meeting, but declined to divulge other details and instead referred the matter to the company secretary, Mr Kyomuhendo Bisereko, and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works, Mr Waiswa Bageya. 

Museveni’s call
Mr Bageya  said a report was compiled after the Protea meeting, but declined to divulge details.
“The intention of the meeting was to give them the opportunity to be heard as a principle of natural justice and they explained themselves. The report is with the minister (Gen Katumba Wamala). But I am not at liberty to disclose details of that report,” Mr Bageya said.

But a source in the Ministry of Works told Saturday Monitor that the report, which was compiled by the company secretary, Mr Kyomuhendo Bisereko, was sent it to the President, who is believed to have received it between October 15 and October 17.

“The matter having been raised by the President, he was furnished with the report regarding the outcome of our meeting with the shareholders. We are waiting for his input,” the source said.
Gen Katumba declined to comment on the development.

“So are you the President whom I must explain to? Just be patient. We shall communicate (at an appropriate time),” Gen Katumba told Saturday Monitor late on Thursday morning.

 President Museveni (L) and Transport minister Katumba Wamala. PHOTO/COMBO

Museveni’s dilemma 
The question now is how Mr Museveni will proceed if it is true that the Board has been cleared. Does the President move and direct the shareholders to reinstate the Board?
It should be remembered that Mr Museveni on May 24 revealed that it was on his instructions that Board of Directors were suspended.

“The airline was infiltrated immediately (it was revived) by some corrupt elements – employing their relatives, over budgeting, inflating procurement costs, terrible! Terrible things! When I got the information, I dispersed the whole group,” said Mr Museveni who was addressing MPs at Kololo ceremonial grounds shortly after the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the 11th Parliament.

Should the Board be reinstated, would it be in a position to work with the current management team led by Ms Jennifer Bamuturaki Musiime?

Details emerging out of the Protea meeting indicate that the question was put to the Board, and Mr Ahabwe is said to have taken a hardline and told the meeting that he would not be in a position to work with Ms Bamuturaki Musiime.

Mr Ahabwe confirmed to Saturday Monitor on Thursday that his reported stance was a true reflection of what transpired during the meeting.

If the Board cannot work with the current management, the only other option would be for President Museveni to creatively sort out the impasse and save the national carrier from more headaches.

One such option is for Mr Museveni  to direct the shareholders to pay the directors for the period that they should have been in office. Such a development would then allow for the shareholders to put in place a new Board of directors.

The term of office of the current Board expires on May 31, 2022.
But Mr Ahabwe says that government prior to taking such a line of action should have first absolved them from all blame.

“If that option is to be pursued, there has to be a ceremony at which certificates of merit will have to be given to members of the Board in the presence of the press because our names have been tarnished,” Mr Ahabwe says.

Board’s defence

In a 26-page response to the accusations against them, a copy of which Saturday Monitor has seen, Mr Ahabwe, explained that the recruitment policy is governed by among others the Companies Act (1), 2012, the Board Charter, the  Employment Act, (2006), and the Human Resource Policies and Procedures Manual (2019).

Mr Perez Ahabwe, board chairman

Those, he argued, provide that personnel at the level of manager upwards are interviewed by the Board and senior management while other sensitive positions such as pilots and flight engineers are interviewed by management with one member of the Board acting as an overseer for purposes of quality assurance.

“This system was set up and discussed with management in the Board meeting of July 6, 2019. Indeed, it is this set up that has curtailed any potential temptations to corrupt or influence the recruitment process,” Mr Ahabwe wrote.

He said that procurement processes in place were instituted by the previous Board, adding that contracts are cleared by the Solicitor General’s office.

“The recent developments at Uganda Airlines that have seen drastic unexpected changes as directed by the President came against the backdrop of a steady, stable and progressive business. However, these changes are likely to have a far-reaching impact on the airline’s image and performance,” Mr Ahabwe concluded.