By Mulengera Reporters
The Works Ministry PS Waiswa Baligeya has furiously responded to claims that in selecting names to constitute the new governing board for Uganda Airlines, his boss Aggrey Bagiire (State Minister in charge of Transport) didn’t consider merit and profiles of people he was appointing but his own interests.
Several aviation industry stakeholders had earlier on spoken to Mulengera News furiously protesting exclusion of more seasoned people in favor of those some called “weaklings” that Minister Bagiire can easily push around. Some claimed the idea was to reward old friendships while settling old scores and fixing those the Minister hates.
Having failed to get Bagiire and his boss Monica Azuba, Monday being a Cabinet day, we rang PS Baligeya who said disturbing as they are, the alarms being raised “were expected because many people expected to be on that board and became disappointed on being left out.”
He didn’t give names but said many lobbyists tried their best to put their own people on the board whose establishment Uganda Airlines Technical Advisor Cornwell Muleya told Mulengera News completes the corporate governance structure for the company.
“There are only 7 positions and Hon Bagiire didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not even his list. As required, he took the matter to cabinet and his Minister colleagues nominated names from which the final list was selected and there was a lot of vetting. But you see it wasn’t easy because even when they knew the slots are only 7, some Ministers nominated more than that number and just imagine the level of disappointment. We were very careful through that process and there is no way you can please everybody with just 7 positions,” Baligeya said.
“People have failed to understand we have a scarcity of positions. It’s like in the procurement process. You have to complete and many have to be disappointed and that’s what happened. We expected all that sour grapping and we aren’t disappointed.”
Speaking anonymously to avoid reprisals, critics (within and outside government) had raised specific concerns on some of the nominees especially Benon Kajuna who serves as Director Transport in the Works Ministry. Even within the Works Ministry, senior officials are quietly grumbling as to why Kajuna, who is an administrator, was favored at the expense of posting one of the mainstream engineers the Port Bell Road-based Ministry has in plenty.
Some disgruntled Works officials went as far as claiming Kajuna has even previously been reported to the IGG for some improper conduct diminishing his suitability for the Uganda Airlines posting. But Baligeya was very defensive of his Director telling Mulengera News “Benon is a transport economist and the task at hand is of transport nature requiring an economist of his standing more than an engineer.” Regarding the IGG inquiry into Kajuna’s conduct, Baligeya said he wasn’t aware of that.
Critics had also accused Bagiire of deliberately sidelining Laban Mbulamuko who, as Commissioner Infrastructure, should have been the ideal person to represent the Finance Ministry but Baligeya “he [Mbulamuko] can’t bake his cake and eat it at the same time.”
He said having served on the old board/taskforce team the new one is replacing, Mbulamuko “has clearly done his part and should let others also serve.” Critics had said as someone who was part of the process from day one ever moving from one meeting to another and had to market the Uganda Airlines restoration to very reluctant colleagues at the Finance Ministry, Mbulamuko deserved retention for purposes of institutional memory and continuity. Baligeya said such arguments didn’t make any sense during the very “rigorous” vetting process.
On claims that even some of the seasoned pilots that had been expensively recruited to spearhead Uganda Airlines revamp have become demoralized and are considering quitting in protest (because they are uncomfortable serving under a BoD that lacks basic knowledge about aviation and will therefore spend much time just learning), Baligeya said they are prepared for anything as mother ministry “because you can’t please everybody.”
Aviation experts also made lots of criticisms against Stephen Aziku Zua calling him “too low-profiled to be the only one retained from the old taskforce team” but Baligeya says that assessment is being extremely unfair to Aziku whom he praised as “an aviation engineer and very excellent expert on these things.” The PS said Aziku has “19,000 hours of flying time to his name.” Critics belittled all that saying the man was only an aircraft technician under the old Uganda Airlines.
Baligeya said “they can make all their criticism in the media but that won’t be of any consequence because the Board has been inaugurated and they are starting work seriously.” He disclosed that on Tuesday there will an induction for the new board members whereafter serious work begins.
Baligeya didn’t respond to criticisms that in constituting the board, his minister had deliberately sidelined some key actors in the Finance Ministry who had been part of the revamp process for 10 years counting from 2009 including investing a lot of time cajoling the President to buy in.
The PS equally didn’t respond to claims that Pereza Ahabwe wasn’t the most suitable for the role of Board chairperson because he doesn’t have even basic experience about aviation. Saying aviation business is too hard “not like planting coffee,” one pundit claimed desire for political rehabilitation must have informed the decision to prize Ahabwe with such a very complex task.
Some industry sources suggested names of deeply knowledgeable aviation experts that could have done a fantastic job including pioneer CAA ED Akandonda, Advisor Muneza and Waiswa who was chief pilot in Uganda, Nigeria and US. “These guys are available and have been doing private consultancy works in the same field but Bagiire deliberately shunned them. There are even many Ugandans working abroad and doing very well in aviation. You don’t have to put them on the Board but have the courtesy to consult them,” ranted one of the many sources we spoke to for this article.
Another critic claimed Bagiire lobbied colleagues to overlook an earlier resolution cabinet had passed guiding on the credentials each of the 7 board members must have including persons with air craft, customer service, pilot and aircraft engineering experience. But Baligeya said this can’t be true because there is no way the same cabinet would have passed the 7 new Directors if indeed Bagiire had constituted the Board in a manner that departs from Cabinet’s earlier guidance. “The composition of the Board was decided basing on the Business & Implementation Plan that was approved by cabinet in 2017 and that’s all.”
One critic claimed the new board selection was largely influenced by desire to cut deals and partake of the money the company will be making and the Shs120bn being provided for the company under the FY2019/20 as working capital. But Baligeya said there isn’t much to be fought over in terms of money.
“There is a retainer of merely Shs3m per month and an allowance of Shs600,000 per sitting. It’s really work and that’s why those who thought it’s about eating are going to die of disappointment,” Baligeya cynically said. But critics referred to the Shs700m that was expended on the modest ceremony at which the President received the Bombardiers in April as evidence of potential for a lot of money being spent recklessly with some of it ending up in the pockets of the powerful officials in the company.
Members of the tourism fraternity are also dissatisfied arguing they should have been represented by Lilly Ajarova the CEO for Uganda Tourism Board as opposed to the less prolific person Bagiire put on the new Uganda Airlines board, something Baligeya wasn’t comfortable discussing.
On claims that Bagiire was looking forward to appeasing his protégés who will be chairing Board sub committees like the one of Budgeting, Training, Engineering & Maintenance, Mzee Baligeya said: “Why are they judging him prematurely? Let’s wait and see but to us, this assignment is about work and not eating because after all there isn’t much to be eaten.”
The new board comprises of Pereza Ahabwe, Benon Kajuna, Godfrey Semugoma, Catherine Asinde Poran (of Standard Chartered bank), Rehema Mutazindwa, Charles Hamya and Steven Aziku Zua.
Aviation experts maintained that with the new board, flat-footed as it is, it’s very unlikely the July flights commencement date that management has announced will even be met. Baligeya said this wasn’t something he was comfortable discussing. He referred us to CEO Ephraim Ntaganda to establish the readiness to commence as promised. Saying he was very busy heading to a meeting, Bagenda referred us to Technical Advisor Cornwell Muleya.
Saying it wasn’t his mandate to discuss the competence of the Board members, Muleya said ideally the naming of the Board should make their work as management easier and faster.
“It’s a very important step to have the board in place because we needed that corporate governance structure in place. Whether they are the best we could have, that one is a shareholder matter and we as management can’t choose who comes to the Board,” is all he said clearly showing discomfort discussing more on that subject.
He admitted not much has been done to prepare for the promised commencement date because going into things like opening the Nairobi ticketing office can only happen after they are done satisfying CAA regulatory requirements resulting into their Air Operator Certificate being issued.
He said satisfying CAA requirements “is a five stage process and we are now on phase three and all I can say is that we remain on target.” Muleya, who first wondered why the CEO wasn’t comfortable speaking to us, was clearly uncomfortable committing himself on the commencement date. He said it will all depend on how quickly they are cleared by CAA whose clearance is what they will use to finalize with aviation space regulators in the jurisdictions they intend to have flights in.
He explained that phase three, where they are now, is about submitting documentation which CAA is now reviewing saying it’s harder than phases 4 and 5. He explained whereas 4 is mounting things to have a demonstration of their readiness to the regulator, phase 5 is about getting the rating certificate.
Because safety is paramount, aviation is one industry that is heavily regulated. This simply implies those looking forward to being part of the first flight might have to wait longer than was originally anticipated. Watch out for our next investigative piece detailing why the already existing airline operators aren’t sleepless over the return of Uganda Airlines. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).