Uganda Airlines Bosses Face Criminal Prosecution

President Museveni has ordered for the dissolution of the board of directors of the national carrier, Uganda Airlines, following an investigation that revealed widespread corruption, collusion and mismanagement.

In what sources describe as "a major surgical operation", the President has ordered Works and Transport Minister, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, to dissolve the board of directors and consider prosecuting Uganda Airlines officials he accuses of indulging in corrupt practices such as pocketing bribes and mismanaging the national carrier like personal property.

The presidential directive is likely to spotlight the role in the saga of Uganda Airlines board chairperson Perez Ahabwe, who was a junior cabinet minister from 2009 to 2011. It is also likely to raise questions about the competence and integrity of Benon Kajuna, the director of transport at the Ministry of Works and Transport, who was the lead government representative on the Uganda Airlines board. Several months after revelations of the rot in Uganda Airlines and his possible role in them, Mr Kajuna remains in his position and continues to oversee the operations of the national carrier on behalf of the ministry.

The President has instructed Gen Katumba and other relevant government authorities to interdict all suspended Uganda Airlines managers and hand them over to the Inspector General of Government (IGG) for possible prosecution.

"All disciplinary, dismissals, termination of contracts, prosecutions and interdiction should be carried out expeditiously and following legal procedures," the President wrote last month in a letter seen by Daily Monitor. "All implicated officers should be referred to the IGG for prosecution and possible recovery of public funds."

In the interim, the President directed that the permanent secretaries of the ministries of Works and Transport, as well of Finance, should handle matters of Uganda Airlines until advised otherwise.

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A number of Uganda Airlines officials have been accused of extorting money from job applicants, bungling procurement contracts, recruiting relatives, friends and church members across the network, maintaining ghost workers on the airline's payroll and giving jobs to unqualified pilots at the expense of the safety of passengers.

In trying to sanitise Uganda Airlines, the President ordered for a review of all contracts of the airline of both monetary and non-monetary value including catering services, fuel, ground handling, uniforms, aircraft spare parts, consumables, systems etc., and ordered for changes in order for the airline's procedures to comply with the procedures of the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority guidelines.

The President has also directed Gen Katumba to headhunt a commercial director, preferably an expatriate with international experience within Africa and, if possible, globally. His first assignment will be to restructure the commercial department of Uganda Airlines and align the business arm of the national carrier to the standard of a long-haul network operation.

Investigators have also implicated Uganda Airlines officials in fast-tracking pilots qualified to fly the smaller CRJ aircraft to training to fly the much larger and more complex Airbus jetliners without the required hours. In what the report flagged as a major breach, an accountable manager approved pilots with less than 500 flying hours to attend Airbus training, creating a major breach of policy and potentially risking passenger safety.

The President has been told that in addition to this glitch undermining aircraft and passenger safety, "this kind of gesture in the name of building local capacity will eventually attract higher insurance premiums."

In his letter to the Works and Transport minister, the President observed that the current Uganda Airlines organisational structure is marred by disorganisation, improper staffing, duplication of roles and structural gaps in responsibilities, work processes, accountability and impedes organisational development.

For the Airline to develop capacity for a global operation, the President has directed Gen Katumba to ensure that the current structure is updated to add strategy development, performance analysis, and proper coordination as well as profiling of manpower to improve and drive Key Performance Indicator-based performance management.

Jobs at risk

All staff (except those that have already undertaken KPI) are going to be subjected to competence-based reassessment/re-interviews to ascertain whether they are the right profiles for the jobs they hold. The President has directed Human Resources department of Works docket as well as the acting team at Uganda Airlines to handle the exercise with a view of retaining only qualified and experienced employees.

The president has listed a total of 14 grounds against six board members led by former Minister Prerez Ahabwe, Benon Kajuna, Godfrey Ssemugooma, Catherine Asinde Poran, Charles Hamya and Rehema Mutazindwa.

The board members have been accused of incompetence, ignoring security vetting, perpetuating corruption in recruitment, grounding the two airbuses for eight months [December 2020 and January 2021], collusion with management, mismanaging contracts and micromanaging the institution and sloppiness.

Mr Kajuna, who represents government interests on the Board, continues to supervise Uganda Airlines as Director of Transport at the Ministry.

Other officials on the management team are; Cornwell Muleya, the chief executive officer whom the President according to sources holds personally responsible for the mismanagement and financial impropriety in the Airline. For President's investigations, he observed numerous gaps that required his attention on errant staff under his direct supervision. The President has directed that he shows cause why disciplinary action against him shouldn't be taken.

The President also accuses Mr Muleya of failure to curb corruption of the errant officials such as Paul Turacacysenga (director finance), Joseph Ssebowa (HRmanager), Moses Wangalwa (Procurement manager), Deo Nyanzi (Sales and marketing manager), Roger Wamara (Commercial director), Andrew Tumusiime (Senior administration manager), Michael Kaliisa (Quality manager), Bruno Oringi (Safety Manager),Harvey Kalama (Ground Operationa Manager), Kenneth Kiyemba (First Officer),Alex Kakooza (First Officer) and Juliet Otage Odur (Crew Training Manager)

Other officials named in the auditor's report are Moses Wangawa and Tom Gidudu. The President has accused the duo from procurement of messing up a good project and their actions have baffled him.

In the procurement deals, State House auditors as well as officials from PPDA found causes of fraud and forgery, falsification of documents, best evaluated bidders presenting forged tax clearance certificates; poor record keeping, poor planning, unfair evaluation, unjustified use of direct procurement, missing payment records, contracts signed against expired bids and irregular procurements.

Sources at Uganda Airlines told this newspaper that the investigators found evidence implicating officials in the training of pilots that failed simulator training. For instance, a one Alex Kakooza failed his simulators twice but was still rostered to fly at the expense of safety of passengers. The President was told that Kakooza was left on the payroll and given a third chance to redo his self-sponsored simulator training.

"Is this normal is aviation?" The President asked.

For fear that small transgressions at Uganda Airlines might lead to disastrous future consequences, Mr Museveni explained that he proactively took action by removing suspected individuals to pave way for investigations.

Following the suspension of a number of managers and subsequently the Board of Directors from the Airline, preliminary investigations were carried out by a team of from State House. The President has now used audit findings to consider it necessary to raise the issue of disciplinary action against board members and managers.

Although the president had directed that the investigations and prosecution of all the culprits be concluded without any form of collusion or delays before July 30, it emerged yesterday that the President's letter of July 17 had not yet reached the IGG's office. It's not clear why the letter delayed to reach the IGG's office.

Reactions

The IGG spokesperson, Ms Munira Ali, last evening said: "The last time I checked, we didn't have that complaint. There is a person who called us sometime back on July 22 and he was asking the same thing but we didn't have anything. Give me time I crosscheck and get back to you."

She cross-checked with the registry team and other officials at the inspectorate and called Daily Monitor to say: "We don't have it."

Works spokesperson Susan Kataike last evening confirmed investigations into corruption allegations involving suspended Uganda Airlines officials, and reiterated that the officials she didn't name had been written to defend themselves.

"The development is; you know when those guys [Uganda Airlines officials] it was to pave way for an in investigation as the President had directed, so the investigation has reached a point where now, they have been written do to defend themselves in regard to the issues. So it's really basically that," Ms Kataike said.

"It's now about them responding to the issues raised from investigations and then conclusion will be drawn after. That's the position as far as that matter is concerned."

She added: "Works is a shareholder in Uganda Airlines. Ours is an oversight role. We are not going to take over their duties. The senior managers were suspended andtheir junior took over their roles in acting capacities as investigations go on. We are now filling the vacant positions and the Uganda Airlines continues to operate. It's just that there are no senior managers and the board."

When contacted the suspended Mr Ahabwe, the Uganda Airlines board chairman at 3:31p.m. to explain the cocktail of corruption and mismanagement accusations in the President's letter to Gen Katumba, he said he was in a meeting somewhere and promised to call later. However, by press time Mr Ahabwe had not yet responded.

Ms Doreen Mulindwa Nambatya, the head of marketing at Uganda Airlines, said she could not comment about the allegations of corruption and mismanagement and referred Daily Monitor to a lady she identified as Ms Santa, the assistant to now suspended chief executive officer of the national carrier.

When issues were put to her she said: "Sorry I have no idea about what you are saying."

She later sent a text clarifying why she was unable to explain the allegations against the board and the management: "I am sorry am not authorised to discuss matters of the company with the press."

Previous fights

Before the President intervened and suspended the board and senior managers, former State Minister for Transport, Ms Joy Kabatsi, had at some point threatened to suspend the chairman board of directors of Uganda Airlines over 12 pertinent issues she said were affecting the national carrier.

Ms Kabatsi in her April 26 communication to Mr Ahawe listed a cocktail of issues that arose in a meeting the former board chairman allegedly refused to attend

The President accuses of Mr Ahabwe of micromanaging Uganda Airlines. Mr Museveni told GenKatumba that Mr Ahabwe wanted a personal office at airline commercial premises symbolising interference with the day today management function.

"When that didn't work, he forced the airline to purchase him a vehicle that so beautifully bypassed normal procurement procedures and not easily detected in the Airline financial statement," the President's letter reads.

Some of the issues raised are why the certification of the bombardier CRJ 900 aircraft has never been concluded, lack of the timeline for certification of the A 330-800 Neo aircraft, and non-utilised ground handling equipment that was purchased four months ago.

"Ground handling equipment was purchased and has not been utilised for four months, yet the airline is paying ground rent and storage charges. Did we get value for money? The prices of the equipment are questionable. What is the plan for the airline to start self-handling?" Ms Kabatsi demanded.

Other queries

The minister also demanded to know why there was lack of capacity by heads of department and their technical staff to develop manuals that are satisfactory to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, and what measures are being taken to address the capacity deficiency.

Background

After nearly two decades in limbo, in June 2016, President Museveni announced that Uganda Airlines, a national carrier, could fly again. This was during his first address to a new Cabinet and termed the lack of a national airline "a big shame," Mr Museveni criticised Kenyan, Ethiopia and South African "brothers" for ditching the comradeship and instead opting to exploit Ugandans.

The president directed the new Minister for Works and Transport to conclude discussions with investors to help Uganda start a national airline as a matter of urgency. The Uganda Airlines then resurrected, and was officially registered in 2017 and had its maiden flight to Nairobi in August 2018.

The Uganda Airlines, which was established in May 1976 under the Idi Amin government, was in 2001 liquated over heavy debts that stood at a tune of more than $6m (about Shs21b). The debt had been reduced from $12m (42.8b).

The liquidation, a painful reality, did not settle in well with a number of stakeholders, who blamed government for deliberately killing the airline.

Issues for board members

1. The board's involvement in recruitment leading to corruption.

2. Collusion with management in recruitment of relatives and friends.

3. Flawed procurement and contracts mismanagement.

4. Poor risk analysis, management, implementation and follow-up

5. The board involvement in the day to day operations- micromanagement

6. Certification of Aircraft -inability to supervise the process as the board.

7. Ground handling wastage by the board

8. Aircraft maintenance organisation.

9. The board approval of high costs/ expenses without due diligence due to self-interest.

10. The board's lack of a performance score card for Senior Management team.

11. The board's lack of functional and active committees

12. Ignoring security vetting.

13. Retaining pilots that failed simulator training.

14. Reports of bribery solicitation.

Conclusion by the President: Uganda National Airlines has a dysfunctional, if not incompetent board. I would require them to defend themselves as to why I shouldn't dissolve it and relieve it of its duties with immediate effect.

Management Issues

1. Cornwell Muleya- Chief Executive Officer

-Failure to curb corruption of the errant officials

2. Delayed operations of the Airbuses into service.

3. Delayed Self Handling project.

4. Gross procurement exceptions.

5. Poor market price assessment on procurements.

6. Lack of transparency in purchases.

7. Retrospective procurements

8. Instances of possible collusion and misuse of public funds.

9. Irregularities in bidding opening.

10. Awarding contracts to non-compliant bidders.

11. Signing contracts against expired bids.

12. Missing contract signatures.

13. Failure to appoint contract managers.

14. Irregular advance payments.

15. Award of contracts without approvals from Solicitor General.

16. Different bidding documents to same bidders in the same procurement process.

17. Receipt of unsolicited bidders.

18. Differential rates.

19. Glaring revenue leakages.

20. Unethical human resource practices in recruitment.

21. Retaining pilots that failed simulator training.

22. Ignoring security vetting

23. Uncoordinated crew training.

24. Lack of transparency in purchases.

Source: The monitor

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