TOTAL CHAOS AS WORKS MINISTRY DEFIES GENERALS M7 & SALEH OVER TOP UGANDA RAILWAYS CORP JOB
By Mulengera Reporters
Sometime back, Generals Salim Saleh and YK Museveni held a discussion about the need to expedite and amplify key interventions aimed at revamping Uganda’s railway infrastructure as part of broader government efforts to lower transport costs and generally the cost of doing business in Uganda.
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The two political veterans, who effectively run this country and control all major decision-making in Uganda, are convinced there is no way the above ideal will ever be sustainably realized without a functional railway network whose revamp Gen Museveni believes will smoothen the movement of oil and petroleum sector-related logistics in the coming years. He also believes that revamping the full railway functionality will free up roads and increase their durability or life span by diverting heavy cargo trucks which are blamed for cracking up roads.
The railway, which is even cheaper and faster in some instances than the heavy trucks, is expected to de-congest the roads so that it’s mainly for passenger vehicles plying them. During his Tuesday speech at budget reading, Gen Museveni equally made this reference when he said that funding the revamp of railways infrastructure had been prioritized for the next Financial Year for purpose. He specifically referred to the Pakwach and Kasese railway lines whose revamp he said was very urgent business for his government. The funding is already there having been secured from a Spanish group to the tune of close to $400m.
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The Spanish loan, as approved by Parliament some few years ago, was meant to procure new locomotives to replenish the performance of cargo transportation business by URC though there are concerns that the equipment that was procured or purchased from South Africa was of less quality yet it was 10 times more expensive than it would have cost if the same had been bought from the Chinese supplier who some government officials had identified. Parliament’s COSASE was sometime back implored to inquire into claims that the defective locomotives that were bought (at close to $50m) even lack some basic components such as functional engines and that URC is sometimes stuck with such near junk equipment.
So, Gen Museveni and his brother Saleh believe the necessary funding has been availed and what is now lacking is strong enough leadership at URC which badly needs strict enforcement of corporate governance values and principles. Gratefully, corporate governance-related gaps is something the AG John Muwanga, COSASE and State House Anti-Corruption Unit have all previously investigated and made very helpful recommendations which can safely be implemented once the strong Board-level leadership is in place.
Saleh and Museveni have since come to the conclusion that, with the strong and ‘incorruptible’ Katumba Wamala serving as Minister for Works and Transport, there must be a stronger and more effective board than the Hannington Karuhanga had turned out to be. The Karuhanga board was faulted for not being firm and indeed failed to rid URC of inefficiency and anomalous finance, HR and procurement decisions. They were seen as not being in a hurry to ensure government land, held under URC and in thousands of acres across Uganda, is effectively and wholly protected against selfish grabbers who sometimes are proxies of rogue-mined officials in government.
Gratefully, as the two powerful brothers were having this discussion, the mandate of the Karuhanga board was coming to an end. As we reported earlier, their time ran out in February this very year after each member had served out their two terms each of 3 years making a total of 6. But to avoid a vacuum, Gen Katumba had acted very prudently by extending their tenure for another three months which finally came to an end in the last week of May.
Generals Museveni and Saleh had planned to avoid that vacuum by zeroing in on former Minister Joy Kafura Kabatsi as the new Board Chairperson for URC replacing the very powerful and wealthy but busy Hannington Karuhanga. Sources say that Gen Salim Saleh reached out and signaled Gen Wamala about the Kabatsi deployment (indicating to him the H.E. had endorsed it) although the General from Ssese, who previously worked with Kabatsi but found her complicated, didn’t promptly buy into the proposal. He sounded lukewarm during that discussion though he naturally lacked guts to overtly say no to Gen Saleh. People close to both men (Museveni and Saleh) went ahead to popularize the Kabatsi choice among other key decision-makers at the Port Bell Road-based Works & Transport Ministry.
Sources at the Cabinet Secretariat, which prepares the agenda for Cabinet meetings during which such Board level deployment decisions are ratified and approved, have indicated to Mulengera News that matters relating to the new URC Board have curiously turned out to be more complicated than could ordinarily have been expected. “The list of new board members had been sent here for us to consider for inclusion on the Cabinet order paper for the subsequent Monday session but one of the top officials from the Works and Transport Ministry contacted us raising a red flag. The official suggested that the list was very controversial because Fred Byamukama, the State Minister charged with supervising agencies like URC, had not been consulted for his input yet Cabinet expects him to take lead since this is his docket,” the Cabinet Secretariat source says.
That when they consulted, State House advised them to omit to include that item on the agenda for the subsequent Cabinet meeting until the Works Ministry gets harmonization between Katumba Wamala and Fred Byamukama regarding who is supposed to be the chairperson of the new URC Board and other members (between Kabatsi and Hannington Karuhanga who some consider less eligible because he would struggle to demonstrate the transformation his team has spearheaded at URC in the last 6 years they have been at the helm). Some also believe that after doing 6 years, it’s prudent that the stinking rich Hannington Karuhanga (who is also too busy with other Boards) calls it a day so that someone else comes in.
The extent to which the URC Board business remains complex and unresolved was once again manifested yesterday on Wednesday during a top level Works Ministry meeting which Gen Katumba Wamala (who always chairs it) skipped and left his right hand man Musa Ecweru in charge. The other members for this top Ministry meeting are Fred Byamukama (basically the three Ministers), the Permanent Secretary Waiswa Baligeya and the two Directors namely Samson Bagonza (in charge of Engineering & Works) and Benon Kajuna who is in charge of Transport.
Ecweru shocked members present when he revealed that he was here to chair the meeting but he had been strictly instructed to ensure the issue of Hannington Karuhanga’s return as Board Chairman was feta accompli, irreversible and therefore not debatable. The veteran politician from Amuria went on to inform the meeting the matter was urgent and that the meeting was only about notifying internal top management members about the decision which had been taken on the list as opposed to permitting them to discuss or make any input regarding the prudence of Hannington Karuhanga’s reappointment.
Some of the members at the meeting were uncomfortable with this draconian approach that was being adopted for the first time at the Ministry but remained silent fearing reprisals from Gen Katumba Wamala, the disclosed Principal in whose place Ecweru was acting. Members were told it had become urgent and desirable that the list of the URC new Board members gets presented to Cabinet next Monday and for that to happen, the PS had to quickly prepare and send the list to the Cabinet Secretariat for the appropriate processing and inclusion on the agenda of next Monday’s Cabinet agenda. (For comments on this story, get back to us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734 & 0200900416 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).