Days to the opening of the new academic year, Makerere University is steeped in administrative and management disputes that threaten to pile more problems on the already troubled institution.
Correspondences Sunday Monitor has seen and insider accounts point to fraud, abuse of office, nepotism, corruption, conflict of interest, bribery in recruitment processes, among other things, which have left staff at Uganda’s premier university “demoralised”.
For example, sources at the university told Sunday Monitor, that the “stop-gap appointments”, a temporary measure of recruiting staff until a post can substantively be filled, are being abused by top officials, who solicit favours, including money, to appoint people in those positions and keep them there, most of the time illegally.
On June 1, different staff associations of the university under the Forum for Staff Associations met at the university guest house and discussed some of the issues touching on irregular appointment of staff and abuse of the “stop-gap appointments”.
The associations include Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa), Makerere Administrative Staff Association (Masa) and the National Union of Educational Institutions.
Resolutions were made and consequently communicated to the University Council in a letter dated June 5, 2018, a copy this newspaper has seen, with a warning that failure to address some of the issues will “cause unnecessary discord and animosity among staff members, who are in the circumstances already demotivated”. Muasa chairperson Deus Kamunyu, one of the signatories on the document, told Sunday Monitor that they had issued the document.
Dr Charles Wana-Etyem, the Makerere University Council chairperson, also confirmed to Sunday Monitor that he had received the letter bearing the staff resolutions.
He explained that the concerns have to be deliberated on by the members of the University Council before reaching a particular decision.
“There are some (issues) on the basis of my assessment I determine there is no merit, we let it go. Makerere is a public institution and people will always have various interests, and people will also place interpretation, sometimes they don’t have a basis upon which to raise their concerns. All they see is the output rather than the processes which they may not have access to. On that basis, I am unable to, at this point in time, give you a response to these issues. But we are addressing them,” he added.
In their resolutions, the staff accused Mr Bruce Balaba Kabaasa, the chairperson of the university appointments board and other senior university officials of being behind the alleged problems.
“Members noted that the behaviour of the chairman appointments board [Kabaasa] to order and recommend recruitment of staff is contrary to our Human Resource manual. We demand that this behaviour, which is unlawful and unbecoming, should be investigated and appropriately handled,” the letter reads, in part.
Case in point
Two staff were, for example, appointed on contract in the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, even after their competence for the job and positions in the approved structure of the office were queried.
In a note on September 22, 2017, Ms Dorothy Senoga Zaake, who was acting as human resources director, queried the appointment of a one Ms Kobuyonjo as an “admin secretary” in the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration office, on grounds that she is not qualified for the job. This followed an email on September 19, 2017 by Mr Kabaasa indicating that he had agreed with the Vice Chancellor to have the two appointed as support staff to Prof William Bazeyo, the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration.
“She cannot be appointed as admin secretary because her qualifications are not in Secretarial Studies,” Ms Zaake wrote to Mr Kabaasa. She also indicated that Ms Kobuyonjo and a one Ms Tushabe were “project staff” and not “regular members of staff”.
On the same day, however, she would change her mind and approve the appointment of the same and another Ms Tumushabe on a contract of six months at a salary of Shs3.5m each per month. Almost a year later, the duo are still serving in the same posts.
Mr Kabaasa is also a subject of a petition dated May 9 by “graduate support members of staff” to the Inspectorate of Government on “gross abuse of office by the chairperson appointments board” in which he is accused of having influenced the “irregular” recruitment of at least 16 personnel, including an acting Deputy Vice Chancellor.
In the petition, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), is implored to investigate the recent recruitment of the director internal audit, deputy university secretary, director legal affairs, director human resources, director estates and works department and the university librarian.
“I also request you to investigate the finances handled by Mr Bruce Kabaasa when he was still chairperson convocation Makerere University; look through his expenditure and accountabilities critically. I believe you will be able to tell what I am talking about and know the challenge Makerere University encounters,” the petition reads in part.
Mr Kabaasa did not respond to our repeated calls and when we sent him a text message about the allegations, he made our subsequent phone calls busy.
In May, Mr Kabaasa and others were subject of a stinging letter by Mr Elias Nuwagaba, a former personal assistant to the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, who accused them of personalising and abusing university property for their benefit. Mr Kabaasa and other officials, including the Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, denied any wrongdoing.
Prof Nawangwe told New Vision on May 7 that Mr Nuwagaba’s claims were “ridiculous”.
Mr Nuwagaba claimed in his letter that Mr Kabaasa uses the university main hall for his private activities and yet he does not pay the money due to the university. It was alleged that Mr Kabaasa’s University Forum is housed in a university property without any revenue accruing to the institution yet many university staff, including professors, lack accommodation.
The complainants allege irregular appointment of staff, with a number of officers in the university reportedly appointed without following the laid down procedures in the university’s Human Resource Manual of 2009.
Positions, it is alleged, are also being filled without an approved administrative structure and that the committee that was working on the same chaired by Mr Kabaasa failed to complete its work after he resigned from it.
After quitting the committee, Mr Kabasa reportedly went ahead and “single-handedly” drafted the current structure and delivered it to council without consultations with the respective staff associations.
“Therefore, members observed that the current internal adverts aimed at recruiting new administrative staff is irregular
since the procedure for creating the structure was not followed as expected. Staff resolved that the current staff recruitment against an illegal structure should be halted until this matter is resolved since even a section of our members have already brought this matter before the courts of law,” the staff resolutions read, in part.
There is also a quarrel over the university’s Human Resource Manual of 2009, which the staff contend has been irregularly amended. The matter first came up in a May 22 letter by Muasa executive to the University Council. The staff associations argue that the irregular amendment of the human resource manual implies that business begins and ends at the council, which is against their interests as stakeholders.
“We demand that all appointments that were made without strict adherence to the Human Resource Manual of 2009 should be rescinded to pave way for lawful appointments,” the resolution reads in part.
Even when positions were created under affirmative action for some academic departments, the staff argue, the appointments board has since taken advantage of the affirmative action window to appoint, for example, all assistant lecturers on contract while their counterparts in administrative ranks are on permanent terms.
“This window is also being used to deny [chance to] permanent staff who qualify to compete for these appointments by continuously filling vacant positions with stop-gap staff without any interviews based on internal or external adverts as is required in the Human Resource Manual and the Employment Act 2006.
“…there are also staff who were appointed with a clear conflict of interest, for example, appointing children of members of appointments board and other members of university organs without any evidence of demand from the end user units and declaration of conflict of interest by these persons as is required under Section 5.4 of the Human Resource Manual.”
There are reports that next month, the appointments board will regularise a four-year contract for all staff on “stop-gap” basis in disregard of allegations that the same staff were appointed irregularly to the positions they currently hold.
The aggrieved staff resolved that the “stop-gap” measure appointments be advertised internally for all eligible members of staff to be given an opportunity to apply and compete for the positions.
“We demand that appointments which were made without following legal process (vacancy, minutes of request from user unit and adverts) should not be renewed upon expiry. The culture of appointing staff irregularly without following established procedures, through nepotism or single hand sourcing, has undermined the efforts of our members and threatened tranquility of our working environment,” the letter further reads in part.
Inactive Staff tribunal
No sittings. The petition also raises the issue that the Independent Staff Tribunal of the university has not been sitting and by June, there was a backlog of at least 16 cases.
“We have learnt that the secretariat of the tribunal is under external pressure to reject appeals of some staff with disputes. We have also been informed by our representatives to the tribunal that the office of the University Secretary could be interfering with the independence of the tribunal by appointing staff who hold a conflict of interest,” the staff contend.
Staff recruitment. They add: “We have also learnt that Dr Daniel Ruhweza, who was appointed as registrar of the tribunal, has since been replaced by a university officer under the supervision of the University Secretary. Members noted that this is tantamount to conflict of interest and the interference of the independence of the tribunal. We, therefore, demand that the staff tribunal should be left to do its work without any interference from management or any organ with immediate effect”.
Debts. A May parliamentary report put the debt burden of Makerere University at Shs64.2b arising from, among other things, non-payment of service providers for students’ food, pension contributions and staff arrears.
It has emerged that Makerere is losing money due to failure to substantively replace retiring staff, especially in administration and support. What this implies is that the university ends up shouldering the entire pay of such staff using internally generated funds for staff on stop gaps when it could have paid about 15 per cent if these staff were regularly employed.
Fight over university property
University souvenir shop.
On December 12, 2013, Prof Nawangwe, then Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance & Administration), wrote to Kampala Capital City Authority’s (KCCA) director of revenue requesting for the exemption of the University Souvenior shop from paying a trading license.
“Madam, this is to humbly request for exemption for this souvenir shop from payment of trading license as most of the items sold therein are actually sold at a subsidised price,” the letter reads in part.
Despite getting the exemption, sources at the university say Makerere University does not get any revenue from the souvenir shop whether from the profit made on the items sold or from rent. The shop is housed in the basement of the Main Administration Building.
The shop, we have since established, is owned by a long serving top female administrator (name withheld), who has served at the university for more than 20 years. Sources say she uses her position and influence to wade off any attempts to vacate or pay for this and other university properties. Attempts to kick her out of the same date back to 2012 with no success.
Staff members allege that the Edge House, which until last year was controlled by the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, has for close to 20 years been run by “a cartel” of officials who used is as a hostel for international students and would charge rent on the same without remitting it to the university.
On average, an international guest was charged $15 (about Shs55,000) for a bed per night in the hostels created at the property, staff members allege.
“It has since come to the knowledge of management that the house is used by the Department of Pharmacology as a guest house and not remitting the proceeds to the central university account as required by law,” Prof Nawangwe wrote in an August 1, 2017 letter withdrawing the house from the College of Health Sciences.
Prof William Bazeyo, who deputises Prof Nawangwe in acting capacity, has since reverted the Edge property management to the
College of Health Sciences.
On April 18, the head Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Dr Jackson Mukonzo, wrote in an attempt to repossess the property: “We hereby bring it to your notice that as a Department that ran the operations of the Edge House for several years until when it was rudimentarily taken over by the DVC’s office and contributed to the efforts to claim it back, we request to know the current status of the same.”