4 November 2016

Uganda: Auditor General's Report Exposes Makerere Management Flaws

Photo: The Observer
Police and the military were deployed in their hundreds to try and contain the riotous students who had gone on rampage, burning tyres and closing roads surrounding the university on top of destroying traders’ properties.

The soon-to-be appointed commission of enquiry into the mismanagement of Makerere University will have its work cut out, if the revelations in the last auditor general's report on Makerere University are anything to go by.

In the report to Parliament, which was signed on December 21st, 2015, the auditor general, John Muwanga, reveals how Uganda's oldest university has over the years continued to flout financial accountability rules with a series of questionable financial transactions.

For years, Makerere has been gripped by a financial crisis, with lecturers now on strike over months-worth of unpaid 'incentive' allowances. Starved of learning, the students staged their own strike on Tuesday.

Later that evening, President Museveni issued an immediate order closing the 94-year Makerere University after the lecturers' strike had entered the second week and the students' strike was becoming more violent.

Police and the military were deployed in their hundreds to try and contain the riotous students who had gone on rampage, burning tyres and closing roads surrounding the university on top of destroying traders' properties.

STUDENTS STRANDED

The impromptu closure of Makerere University greatly affected several students, many of who were left stranded after police evicted them out of the halls of residence. Among the most affected students were foreigners, including at least 233 students from the war-affected South Sudan.

Speaking to The Observer yesterday, Dominic Naturukoyo Kango, a Master of Journalism and Communication student, said he had nowhere to go, especially after the police advised even the private hostels to evict students.

"We are still here (hostel in Kikumi Kikumi) because we have no homes to go to until the management of the hostel tells us to leave. If they ask us to leave, then we will look for hotels to sleep in as we wait for the university to open," Naturukoyo said.

For his part, Albino Akol Akol, overall president of the South Sudan Students' Union in Uganda, said the closure had greatly affected them.

"Some of us have been living in the university halls and we were immediately sent away when the directive was enforced. We are stranded with nowhere to go," said Akol, a law student at Makerere.

Akol said he had gone to the South Sudanese embassy in Kampala to seek facilitation for his members to return to their capital Juba.

"If we are to go to Juba by road, we need Shs 50,000 each but the problem is some of the students are fearing to go because of the insecurity on the road," Akol said "So, some of us want the embassy to get us somewhere to stay until the university is opened."

Since fighting resumed in South Sudan in July, all major roads leading to Juba have been infested with gunmen who loot, kidnap or kill travelers mainly along tribal lines.

TUG-OF-WAR CONTINUES

Despite the closure, lecturers at Makerere University, who are united under the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa), are not backing down. In a missive addressed to the university council, Muasa accused vice chancellor John Ddumba-Ssentamu and his team of mismanaging the university.

On top of wanting their full nine-month-accrued incentives that go beyond Shs 30bn, the more than 1,600-member teaching staff body wants Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu and his management committee to step aside over what they call failure in management of Uganda's premier university.

"Besides our demand for the full payment of our incentive arrears, we call for a thorough inquiry into the management of the this university by our top managers and demand that the said top managers step aside to pave way for a transparent inquiry," reads a letter signed by Muasa's acting chairman Gilbert Gumoshabe.

However, Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu rejects any suggestions that he and his team have mismanaged Makerere. In an interview with The Observer on Wednesday, Ddumba-Ssentamu said Makerere's problems go way back before he was appointed vice chancellor.

"People should stop talking nullities. They should stop these blame games. They are not honest. In this university, the money is inadequate. You cannot talk to me that the problems we are facing are because of the mismanagement of Ddumba-Ssentamu when we are paying debts that go way back to 1996; was I the vice chancellor then?" Ddumba asked.

AUDIT QUERIES

However, according to auditor general Muwanga's report, some of the audit queries are recent. Muwanga discovered that Shs 511 million, of which Shs 219 million was personal advances to staff, remained outstanding for more than 12 months without the university making any effort to recover it.

"The funds were advanced to staff to carry out various activities of the university. In the absence of the relevant accountability documents, it was not possible to confirm that the funds were used for the intended purposes," wrote Muwanga.

The auditor general adds that the university has also consistently declared donor funds amounting to only Shs 10.9 billion from SIDA - SAREC projects. But it did not disclose other non-bilateral donor grants/projects.

"Without proper disclosure of donor funding, I could neither ascertain how much the university received from other donors nor confirm if those funds were used for the intended purposes," the report adds.

The auditor general was also bothered by the Makerere leadership's decision to secretly lease its land in Kololo to a private investor for Shs 1.5bn without the knowledge of the education minister.

"The proceeds from the transactions were transferred directly to the university expenditure account and expensed. I further noted that this transaction was not disclosed and reported in the financial statements under the memorandum statement of disposal of physical assets," Muwanga says.

Makerere University is also struggling with the problem of understaffing, with only 48 percent of the available staff positions filled. According to the university's 2016 fact book, only 1,632 of the academic positions are filled against the established requirement 2,774 of staff.

The auditor general also queried the rationale for paying more than Shs 1bn to external lawyers yet the university has a fully-fledged legal office. He said this could have led to wastage.

MUSEVENI WARNS

Meanwhile, President Museveni has warned that he is not going to tolerate the lecturers' indiscipline anymore. Speaking to journalists in Luweero district, Museveni said his government would take a decisive action against the lecturers.

"It's not good... that the teachers were not teaching and were given an ultimatum: 'Go back' and they said they wouldn't. We had to close the university and really take decisive action," the New Vision quoted Museveni as having said.

"I want to tell you we are not going to tolerate this kind of indiscipline anymore. Finished. This is kisanja [term] Hakuna Mchezo [No playing around], you remember. You cannot have somebody okutuga [strangle] government and say, 'If you don't give me money now, I am going to paralyse the country'. No, no. That's not a good attitude."

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