By Nick Twinamatsiko
I closely watched the controversy regarding the reappointment of Prof. Wasswa Balunywa as the Principal of Makerere University Business School.
I first encountered the controversy on the Facebook wall of Hon. Asuman Kiyingi, and was disappointed that an issue of university management was being cast in terms of ethnicity and religious affiliation. Then Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba responded with venomous insults which I recognized as typical of him, having worked under him at Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB).
That a professor, a council chairman of a major tertiary institution and a Board Chairman of a national examinations board, can use such language in a public space reflects negatively on our country. At UBTEB, he liberally hurled insults at staff members, but one could say that was within a confined space, not an open space like Facebook.
I resigned from UBTEB in protest against corruption and mismanagement – situations that were, to a significant degree, attributable to Prof. Baryamureeba. In his typo- and insult-laden comment on Kiyingi’s wall, he revealed that he had not involved other Council members while deciding to write the letter recommending Prof. Balunywa for reappointment.
In the same comment, he revealed that it was after he had written and sent out the letter that he had become acquainted with the relevant legislation. When you peer closely into that Facebook comment, and take note of its substance as well as its insults and its typos, you get to see Prof. Baryamureeba’s character and, by extension, the explanation for the corruption and mismanagement at UBTEB.
He had written a recommendation letter from a position of ignorance and the president had responded to the letter. The whole messy saga stemmed from his letter, and would probably not have come about if he had acted with more transparency, since the other council members, had he involved them, would have probably given useful input on the matter.
But, of course, if he had involved the other council members, he would not have appeared as powerful as he wanted to appear. He probably wanted to appear like the appointing authority, so that he could harness that image to always have his way with the Principal and other top managers.
On February, 15, 2018, I had a conversation with Prof. Baryamureeba. I had, a few days earlier, sent him a long document about glaring cases of corruption and mismanagement at UBTEB. He had then suggested that we meet to discuss the document. When we met, he conceded that there was rot at the organization and that some people had been recruited simply to please politicians or Ministry of Education officials.
Ministry officials were supposed to be pleased so that they could help increase UBTEB’s funding or take the agency’s side in the ongoing jostling for good positions in relation to the proposed Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) Council. That was probably the reason why two research officers had been appointed, even though one position had been advertised, the second appointee being a sister to the then minister of education. This was the reason why children of top ministry officials, including the Director of HTVET and the assistant commissioners, had been hired.
A child of a board member was also hired, as was that of the Executive Secretary. UBTEB is a small agency, so those appointed in order to gain leverage in the Ministry, or because they are children of Board members or top managers, constitute a large fraction. The approach to recruitment is reflected in the poor performance of the agency with respect to the fulfillment of its mandate. The agency has failed to conduct competence-based assessment, after nearly 8 years of existence, although it always claims in the media to be doing such assessment.
A European consultant that was engaged to draft the TVET Policy rightly noted that while UBTEB claims to be doing competence-based assessment, it is actually not doing so. Anybody that even takes a cursory look at UBTEB assessments will notice that they are not competence-based, if they know what competence-based assessment is.
This is directly attributable to the rot in recruitment. I should mention, here, that in the document I sent to Prof. Baryamureeba, which I have also sent to the Minister of Education, I reveal how I did my best in my position to change things but was overwhelmed by the strong waves of mediocrity, hence the decision to resign.
In 2014, an advert was placed for the position of Principal Personal Assistant (PPA) to the ES, and the Board, after interviewing the applicants, appointed one of the applicants, Ms. Harriet Birungi Nyakana, to the advertised position, and another, Mrs. Cate Mugwaje (who later became Mrs. Semakula), to the position of Principal Officer – Human Resource, a position that had not been advertised. When I asked Prof. Baryamureeba about the appointment of Mrs Semakula to a position that had not been advertised, he told me that the interview process for PPA had been rigged in Mrs. Semakula’s favour, and yet she was not able to do the job.
So he had intervened to appoint her to head the Human Resource Department, leaving the advertised position to Ms. Nyakana. Mrs. Semakula had, prior to the interviews, been a senior officer in charge of human resources, so it’s indeed possible that she had influenced the process in her favour.
But it is worth noting that Ms. Nyakana, on whose behalf the Board Chairman intervened, had worked directly under him when he had been the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University. It’s interesting, of course, that someone who was considered unfit to manage the responsibilities of Principal Personal Assistant, and who had presumably rigged a recruitment process, was considered fit to head the Human Resource department.
It’s more reasonable to conclude that the reason Mrs. Mugwaje was given a position that had not been advertised, and which was, in many ways, better than the one that had been advertised, was to create room for an applicant in whom the Board Chairman, who also chairs the Appointments Committee, had an interest.
I have formally asked the Inspector General of Government to investigate the recruitment processes at UBTEB. If she does, I am sure the findings will be shocking. Now that Prof. Balunywa is set to continue as the Principal of MUBS, there is a strong case for Prof. Baryamureeba to resign as the Council Chairman.
But the case for him to resign as the Board Chairman of UBTEB, or be removed, is an even stronger one.
Writer is a civil engineer and the CEO of the Kisana Consults Ltd