Politics, nepotism rear ugly head at UETCL 

UETCL offices in Lugogo on Fourth Street, Industrial Area, Kampala. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • Emerging accounts of corruption and maladministration cast a shadow over activities at power transmission company.

An investigation into the alleged flaws in the managerial and oversight operations of the country’s energy transmitter, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) has exposed gross recruitment irregularities and fraudulent deals allegedly orchestrated by the company’s human resource (HR) department.
Several recruitment deals are alleged to have been done by the company’s HR under fraudulent circumstances. Evidence seen by Sunday Monitor reveals that the company’s senior management—including those sitting on the Board of Directors—flouted recruitment protocol to fix their children, friends, and relatives into key positions at the company.

Mr Peter Ucanda, the UETCL board chairman, dismissed the accusations as a smear campaign being sustained by two new recruits to the power transmitter’s office he chose not to name. In a separate interview, Ms Pamela Byoruganda, the UETCL spokesperson, admitted to findings that called the HR unit into question. The integrity of the HR unit has also been called into question after some staff members holding junior positions were found to have close relations with their line managers.

The auditors particularly took exception to the HR department, noting thus: “There is no robust human resource strategy as part of the wider corporate plan. KPIs set for organisations are not linked to performance management and this reduces the impetus for exceptional performance.”
This impacted UETCL’s capacity to deliver capital projects. One of the auditors told us that the quality of employees was shockingly bad.
“There was no evidence of university background checks, their recruitment processes have gaps especially on the manpower request form, review of job descriptions, and background checks,” he stated.

Besides recruitment irregularities, fraud, witch-hunting, and blackmail allegedly committed by some members on the Board of Directors were found to have impaired the company’s operations for nearly a decade.
We understand that UETCL exhibits clan and hierarchical cultures. These two types of culture are largely characterised by long reporting lines, deep relationships (friends, relatives, and in-laws) as well as structural silos. A member of UETCL’s Operations team—who could only speak to this newspaper on condition of anonymity—for instance revealed how some board members manipulated the HR department of the company to fix their relatives into key positions.

Conflict of interest
This has not only jeopardised the institution’s operations but also bred a situation where conflict of interest has left the board wearing an operational rather than strategic garb.
“They have competency issues, especially since most of the recruitments have a relation with the senior management or the strategic organ of the institution, the board,” our source added.

Despite such illegalities being reported to the line ministry (Energy), nothing has been done since the latter is not a shareholder in the company. In fact, last April, former Energy Ministry Permanent Secretary, Mr Robert Kasande submitted a 288-page report to the World Bank Group. The report details squabbles that have continued to hinder the company from executing key deliverables such as securing power supply security via regional interconnection.

In the wake of the increased (electricity) installed capacity uptick in neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya, Uganda has a unique opportunity to secure power supply to its constituents. 
It could also take power to areas in the region with power deficits like eastern DRC and South Sudan. But the report pointed out that this opportunity could slip through Uganda’s hands if UETCL struggles to meet its targets of rollout of HV and EHV interconnection.

Flawed recruitment
A 2021 audit report also noted that UETCL’s HR department and recruitment processes left a lot to be desired. It captured irregular absorption of candidates closely or tribally related to the recruiting authority, and the absence of “clear interventions in diagnosing and transforming this culture to a high-performance culture.”
The audit also found role duplications in the management of the organisation such as the mandates of the Corporate Services as well as Governance, and Compliance departments.

Whereas a good breed of talent was discovered in the Projects and Operations, many of the staff members were found to be traditional, clerical, and lacked agility and focus. While the recruitment processes follow an advert, the quality of employees eventually recruited was said to be critically lacking, an indication of process flaws.

By 2020, more than 17 employees who joined UETCL on temporary terms (six months), were later contracted for more than one or two years. The majority of such individuals were earlier irregularly (not assessed and interviewed) turned into contract employees. This practice—the auditors noted with concern—was a recipe for the poor quality of talent at the company.
Sunday Monitor has learnt as per the 2021 external audit report that UETCL’s trade and other receivables have grown at an annual average of 19 percent while trade and other payables have grown at an average of 10 percent since 2014. This has systematically reduced the networking capital of the company from 92 days in 2014 to 27 days in 2019. This means UETCL has over the years collected money at a lower rate than it pays out.

Whereas the networking capital position is still positive, if this trend continues at the same average decline rate of 22 percent, UETCL risks facing significant cashflow challenges characterised by an inability to service payable obligations within 12-24 months.
Most—if not all—of these deficits are captured in UETCL’s internal audit reports from 2018 to 2020. Resultantly, in the financial year 2019/20 financial statements of the company, dodgy procurements missed daily income on bank accounts and impairment provision of Shs135b were key audit matters highlighted by the Auditor General.

Procurement influence
UETCL has a major role in developing an efficient electricity sub-sector in Uganda through planning, developing, and maintaining an efficient transmission grid to meet the national electric power requirements within the allowable national and regional standards. It owns, operates, develops, and maintains the high voltage transmission grid. The grid connects power generation plants to load centres throughout the country as well as interconnection with neighbouring countries.

Presently, the transmission grid comprises 150km of 220KV (initially operated at 132KV), 1443km of 132KV, 300m of 132KV underground cable, 35.2km of 66KV high voltage transmission lines, and 20 substations (includes Kabulasoke and Nalubaale switching stations).
We attempted to confirm the findings of the audit with one of the Board members, Mr Apire. When contacted, he declined to comment for fear of contradicting his boss, Mr Ucanda.

Although a review of the 2019/2020 UETCL procurement plan reveals that the development of the procurement manual is planned, the company has not documented a procurement manual or standard operating procedures for its procurement process. In their recommendation, the auditors asked the government to take tough measures in streamlining the company’s internal control structure.
“The several repeat findings and issues—that have taken long to close—calls into question the efficacy of the internal controls of the company. A detailed competency and workload assessment should be undertaken to ensure that there are the right talents in business,” it said.

They also acknowledged the existence of a toxic environment with different “cliques” that include “those who are in for the deputy managing director and those who are in for the managing director.” The board, the auditors added, “has also split into two.”
Adding: “We also found substantive information in regards to delayed compensation of project-affected persons (PAPs) because of connivance by some officials in the system. Some of these landowners have spent ten years without getting their pay.”

UETCL response
Ms Pamela Byoruganda, the UETCL spokesperson admitted to key issues raised during the company’s internal audit and were rediscovered during the investigation by the external audit carried by Empower Consult. She told us that disciplinary measures have been taken internally.

When contacted over the rot at UETCL, Mr Ucanda said commenting on the matter would worsen the current situation. Although he admitted to undercurrents illuminated by the auditors, he said he would “rather keep quiet and people investigate it themselves.”
Adding: “Once they find the truth, it is up to them…to the best of my knowledge, we have done nothing wrong except people are fighting us left and right.”

Mr Ucanda also blamed the current bickering, politics, and fights within the company on two individuals whom he declined to name. He added that no scandal has taken place on his watch during the 15 years he has served at UETCL.
“The people causing these are two new officials and I wouldn’t wish to speak about it in the press. Let them go ahead if they wish, and the truth will come out,” he said.