In May 2013, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga announced that parliament would start its own radio and television stations to educate the public on the role of the legislative body.
With guaranteed funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kadaga had hoped to have the project ready by the end of the 2013/2014 financial year.
However, the long wait could be coming to an end as the outlets are expected to go on air next month. But an internal fight over control of the multi-million shilling project threatens to derail it.
It is understood that the fight is mainly among three top parliament officials; Chris Obore (Communication and Public Affairs), Dison Okumu (Planning) and the deputy editor of The Hansard, Esther Mwambu.
Okumu is said to have taken the lead in the procurement of services and equipment related to the project, which has left other officials feeling sidelined.
For instance, he contracted WBT Consortium to offer consultancy services for the radio and TV studio designs.
According to documents seen by this writer, the consultancy firm, which was paid Shs 80 million for the job, is owned by Vision Group employees Mark Walungama and Bill Tibingana, and one John Bwirehi. Some sources have linked radio personality Joel Isabirye to the group.
According to our source, the consultancy services were privately sourced as opposed to public bidding. Such a procurement activity would be sanctioned by the Parliamentary Commission, the administrative arm of Parliament, the source said.
However, according to a member of the Parliamentary Commission who spoke to The Observer on Monday, such a decision has never been taken.
“I don’t remember [the commission] procuring any consultant. In fact, as far as we are concerned no consultant has ever been engaged,” the commissioner said.
The consultant nonetheless concluded the job and submitted a report at the end of June.
Last week, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) placed an advert in the press seeking the public’s views on an application by parliament for a television broadcast licence.
Securing the license was part of the tasks that had been given to the consultant but it took the intervention of the Kakumiro Woman MP Robinah Nabbanja, a parliament commissioner, to obtain it.
“It was the decision of the commission that she heads a sub-committee to fast-track the implementation of the project,” said commissioner Peter Ogwang (MP Usuk).
UCC had reportedly refused to allocate a frequency to parliament, having taken a decision years ago to suspend issuance of licences for Kampala on account of being crowded. Parliamentarians had to exert pressure on UCC Executive Director, Geoffrey Mutabaazi, to get an exception.
“After passing [the resolution] that we set up a parliament radio and TV, we then got information that they were denying us the frequency because UCC was not issuing any more frequencies for Kampala because it is crowded,” Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers) said.
Parliament came up with the idea of setting up its own broadcast houses based on the experiences of legislative bodies in Zambia and South Africa.
“We have been using UBC but it has too many programmes yet elsewhere in the world, parliaments have their own media that specifically talk about what really parliament is as an arm of government,” Ogwang said.
He added that parliament is in advanced stages of procurement and its TV and radio are expected to hit the airwaves by September, giving regular information about parliamentary activities.
However, some parliamentary commissioners said they were not privy to details of the project’s total cost, which some officials have put at approximately $350,000 (Shs 1.26bn). Asked to reveal the total cost, Okumu, the director of planning, said he too doesn’t know.
“I also don’t know; it is not a parliament project but a UNDP project. They are the ones doing all the procurements, the advertising, and all the consultants are being paid by UNDP,” Okumu said.
He added that the donor is expected to place newspaper adverts by next week calling for bids to construct the studios and other related activities.
Asked to comment on the alleged fight between him and other directors for control of the project, Okumu described it as “complete nonsense”.
He said: “There is a project team headed by commissioner Nabbanja. Whoever is saying [that] is confused, doesn’t know what he is talking about, should not associate with it [the project] and should not talk about it.”
Okumu added: “I am only chairing a technical team of 11 people and that team has some other directors like those of ICT, Communications and Research.”
Obore, the director of communication, also denied knowledge of any fight for control of the project. He instead told this writer that Speaker Kadaga is upbeat about its near implementation.
“She is happy that donors have the willingness to fund the project,” Obore said.