By j.semakula, J. masaba & b.Mayanja
It is common to find foreigners occupying big offices in foreign and local companies in Uganda. In many firms owned by foreigners, foreign employees have edged out Ugandans. In Serena Hotel, which is principally owned by the Aga Khan, over 90% of management positions are held by Kenyans.
National Insurance Corporation, Ecobank and Crane Bank are some of the companies with a sizeable number of foreigners. In the oil sector, expatriates are sourced from developed and oil-rich countries even for simple jobs like welding, on claims that Ugandans lack experience. Based on that background, there has been an influx of foreigners, masquerading as expatriates. Overall, the banking and hospitality sectors employ the biggest number of foreigners.
Why employers prefer foreigners
Maggie Kigozi, the former executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority and board member of Crown Beverages, said some employers take on foreigners because Ugandans lack skills and are not trustworthy. “We lack experience because our companies are still young. When Uganda was embroiled in chaos in the 1970s, Kenya was peaceful and growing her skills in the hotel and banking sectors.
That could be the reason why they have good managers,” she added. The other undoing, according to Kigozi, is lack of trustworthiness. That is the reason why positions like accounting and finance managers, which require high levels of integrity, are occupied by more foreigners than Ugandans. “The coffee business, for example, has a small profit margin that if someone who is not trustworthy is left to manage the weighing scale, he could blow the profits. For such tasks, an employer may opt for a foreigner,” she said.
This view is also shared by the immigration department spokesperson, Jacob Siminyu. “Riley Packaging once showed us a long list of Ugandans who had been dismissed over theft. Another company, Multiple Industries, reported a case of one of its employees who vanished with sh80m. When companies face such challenges, they would rather stick with people they trust. Sadly, most of them are foreigners,” he says. He says many times they are frustrated when immigration insists they employ Ugandans.
According to immigration rules, for the employer to be given leeway to hire foreign nationals, he must prove that the skills they are looking for are not possessed by Ugandans. But Kigozi noted that more Ugandans have gained experience and skills needed for managerial positions. She cited Crown Beverages, where she said there were no foreigners in a leadership position and that Ugandans were efficiently managing the business.
On the other hand, Rajni Tailor, the proprietor of Gapco Uganda, said companies employ foreigners because they are trustworthy and productive. Tailor said companies work almost the same way as Governments, where members of the ruling party are given juicy jobs in the Cabinet and elsewhere, because they are trusted.
Tailor added that employers are giving jobs to foreigners because some Ugandans are lazy and spend most of their time rumour-mongering. “The problem of most Ugandans is not poor education or lack of skills, but laziness, exhibited by reporting late for work,” he said.
A recent report put Ugandan’s productivity below that of other East African countries. According to the State of Uganda’s Population Report 2010, you need one Kenyan to do the work of eight Ugandans. The report also noted that one Tanzanian national can do a job that is done by four Ugandans.
Some of the Asians the Police rounded up in 2007 in an operation in Old Kampala. Those who were found without work permits were deported
Do locals benefit from investors?
Whenever a foreign company is established, locals celebrate, hoping to get jobs. But the locals who get jobs in foreign companies end up working for food and rent. The chances of making any savings from their wages are minimal. There are many Ugandans who earn sh4,000 per day from foreign companies.
As a result, many employees forego lunch, despite working tirelessly. At Darling Company in Kazinga, Wakiso District, most employees earn sh5,000 per day, which translates into sh100,000 per month.
Darling manufactures weaves. One of the casual labourers at the company said her colleagues who do not carry lunch from home work during their lunch break. She said despite the fact that they earn peanuts, they cannot complain because anyone who does so is reminded about how lucky they are to have a job and to look elsewhere if they were uncomfortable. In the past, employees at Darling protested over poor pay, but with the increasing unemployment, there is always someone willing to take on the job.
Last week, about 100 local employees of Imperial Resort Hotel in Entebbe went on a two-day strike over poor pay and mistreatment.The situation was normalised after a workers’ union intervened. The employees accused the deputy managing director, Mesfin Admasu Manhalot, of dismissing local workers and replacing them with Ethiopians. Manhalot hails from Ethiopia. They said they were being paid between 150,000 and 300,000, yet their counterparts from Ethiopia were earning between sh1m and sh10m per month.
“The disparity in payment is too much, yet we do all the donkey work. For instance, all my bosses cannot read, write or speak English. I handle all the issues because they are written in English, but I earn peanuts,” said one of the employees, who did not want to be named.
They said management denied them day-offs and maternity leave. conditions for hiring a skilled person According to immigration department spokesperson Jacob Siminyu, only foreigners with skills that locals do not have are allowed to work in Uganda. He says an employer bringing in foreign employees must show proof that they have searched and failed to find a person with the respective skill.
He says rare skills, however, depend on the level of the company. “Three years ago, anyone with expertise in handling mobile money transactions would have been looked at as having rare skills. But that is no longer the case because mobile money is everywhere and more Ugandans have gained the necessary skills,” Siminyu explained. Petroleum firms are taking in more foreigners because it is a new area.
He, however, says the rule is once an employer brings in a skilled foreign employee, efforts must be made to train Ugandans to take up such responsibilities in future. “When we give you a work permit of two years, it is possible we shall not renew it because we expect locals to have gained the skills,” he notes. Siminyu says they have relaxed the rules in areas like finance because foreign employers do not trust Ugandans’ integrity issues
Suspects appearing in court over charges of conspiracy to defraud a telecommunications company. Employers want trusted workers
Foreigners fighting to come to Uganda - immigration
By Vision Reporters
Records from the immigration department indicate that more foreigners are flocking the country than ever before. According to sources in the internal affairs ministry, the immigration department rejected 120 applications by foreigners seeking to work in Uganda in September.
The department says 53 applications are still being scrutinised. And by October 11, another 50 applications had been rejected. One of the reasons why the applicants were rejected was lack of letters of good conduct from the applicants’ home country (Interpol report).
Julius Omoding, the chief executive officer of Finka, a local financial institution, said banks were employing foreigners in areas of risk management and developing computerised systems because Ugandans were not exposed to technology. “To teach someone takes a lot of time, that is why businesses need someone already experienced and skilled,” said Omoding.
“We want to ensure that people who come into the country are qualified to be here,” said immigration department spokesperson, Jacob Siminyu. Rajni Tailor, the proprietor of Gapco Uganda, suggested the restoration of the collapsed local council system, which he said would help deal with illegal immigrants.
He noted that foreigners who failed to get access to Uganda through the proper procedure may still resort to other channels, like the routes at porous borders. Tailor said when he was an LC1 chairman for 15 years, he had a record of all the residents of his village, which helped him monitor them and their operations. This week, internal affairs minister Gen. Aronda Nyakairima said he believed some of the expatriates who come into Uganda bribe immigration officers.
However, Siminyu dismissed the allegations, saying the policy on immigrants is water-tight. “Before giving anyone a work permit, a special panel of immigration officers sits every week to scrutinise the applicants’ qualifications. It is only after the applicant satisfies the panel that they are granted a permit.” He says since the vetting is done by the committee, it is difficult to compromise the whole team. Siminyu blames the influx of illegal foreigners on the disjointed effort from agencies that control immigration.
He says while everyone seems to be pointing fingers at the immigration department, other agencies like the Police and the ministry of gender, labour and Social Development should do more to bring the problem under control.
The other requirements for a foreigner to get a work permit, depending on which category they fall in a Uganda Investment Authority licence, a trading license and a Bank of Uganda certificate of licence, which costs about $100,000 (over sh250m) for investors.
Foreigners who come to Uganda are categorised into groups like Business and Trade (Class D), Manufacturers (Class E), Government Contractors (Class A2), and Government and Diplomatic Services (Class A). Records show that there are nine classes, each with requirements that an applicant must present, before a work permit is issued.