KAMPALA – Management scuffles at the Uganda Railways Corporation – URC, nearly disrupted the recently approved Ugx1.1trn loan, from the African Development Bank – ADB, to specifically boost the body’s network revival plans.
While some of the management challenges are internal, others are influenced by external forces – including the Ministry of Works and Transport, in addition to other political forces.
The challenges are surrounded by claims that Works Minister, Edward Katumba Wamala appointed Hannington Karuhanga to retain his position as the chairman of the Board of Directors, against the wishes of President Yoweri Museveni, who had reportedly preferred and recommended former State Minister, Joy Kabatsi due to her previous supervisory experience of the agency as minister.
The board was inaugurated on September 10. But just after three weeks, President Museveni reportedly, directed: “the minister to dissolve the entire Board, insisting that the Directorate of Public Prosecution – DPP drags its members to court,” according to State Minister for Works, Fred Byamukama.
“Also, the president stated that there were irregularities in the recruitment of Stanley Sendegeya as the Managing Director of URC -necessitating his suspension from the office,” noted Byamukama. The Board has since appointed Steven Wakasenza, act as Managing Director as Sendegeya remains suspended.
Works Minister, Katumba Wamala has since appointed Al-Hajji Abdallatiff Dhakaba Wangubo as the new Board Chairperson, replacing Hannington Karuhanga, who reportedly resigned in October 2022. Wangubo, formerly an MP and member of the Education Service Commission took oath of his new office, alongside two other board members at the Ministry of Works and Transport headquarters, starting his duties on November 30.
The President’s letter had come after a parliamentary probe report stated that Sendegeya did not have the requisite qualifications of a Masters’ Degree to be appointed head of the corporation, one of the reasons the Board appointed Wakasenza in acting as Managing Director, as Sendegeya remains suspended.
John Linon Sengendo, the Senior Public Relations and Communications Officer at URC confirmed that Sendegeya was still the Managing Director, but on suspension.
“He was not sacked. He is on his forced leave,” said an official at URC, who was hopeful that he would return to the office.
“It will end. There is really nothing much about him because he was not involved in the purchase of the locomotives, or even the issue of qualification. The man is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) which is higher than a Master’s,” said another official, on condition of anonymity.
It has also been reported that when President Museveni later met with the Board, Karuhanga had pleaded that a hearing was done before action is taken on the persons named in the investigations but this was rejected.
Less than a month later, Karuhanga resigned from the board alleging insubordination by some officials who reportedly undermined the decisions of the board. He gave the example of some officials whose contracts had ended but had refused to vacate office.
A source named the URC cited the Principal Legal Officer, Rebecca Atwine, whose contract came to an end in November and her plea to the Board for an extension was rejected. The direct intervention of the chairman was not enough to evict her from office and he remained hapless, forcing him to resign, less than three months after being appointed.
The Board sought to have a compromise solution and offered Atwine an office they had created, as an envoy of the board at Dar-es-Salaam. She instead sued URC for mistreatment.
“The lady was given a position after the end of her contract as a soft landing to be a Railway Representative in Tanzania by the board. Actually, they termed it as a board appointee. At first, we thought the matter was closed only to sue the corporation and the Board!” another official told URN.
When asked for her comment on these allegations, Atwine promised to get back to us ‘in a short while,’ saying she was in the midst of another event. She didn’t, despite the reminders, and text messages to her went unanswered.
The office of the Principal Legal Officer is charged with the documentation and legal custody of URC property and most of all, the untitled land belonging to the corporation. “This office works on all URC untitled land, and all these she has refused to hand over with impunity,” an official closely working with the Principal Legal Officer said.
The official however declined to divulge details on why the Board rejected the renewal of the contract or whether it was related to any mismanagement.
“…You may be aware of the PAU situation last month where employee contracts expired, were not renewed and the positions advertised. Any organization has a right to retain or let someone go after the end of the contract.”
Some officials at the URC think that former State Minister for Transport Joy Kabatsi still has influence at the URC, especially through the senior officials whom she closely worked with at the time.
But Kabatsi has since denied having any wrong doing at what is happening at URC, saying that for close to two years she has been out of that ministry, she has not been in contact with either the ministry or its agencies and officials.
“Before I left, there were some issues I had raised about URC, which were aimed at developing and turning it around. Maybe those are the ones still haunting the management,” she said, adding that many people say things out of speculation. She, however, expressed worry that the goings-on at the body could affect the performance of the railway sector.
“I think that organisation is being run down,” she said in an interview with Uganda Radio Network.
Minister Byamukama declined to comment on the reports that Ms Kabatsi was behind the management struggles, and that he was also said to be in support of her. He, however, said that he has heard about the conflicts and had sent a team to investigate them and their causes.
Additional reporting by URN