19 May 2019

Uganda: Makerere University Staff Accuse Council of Betrayal

Makerere University academic, administrative and support staff in an emotive meeting on Friday accused the university's Appointments Board of using information provided by a former chairperson of the Makerere University Council to 'victimise' his subordinate.

Prof Anthony Mugagga, the deputy principal of College of Education, said Mr Charles Wana-Etyem, the former Makerere University Council chairperson, testified against Dr Deus Muhwezi, the chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa), before the Appointments Board using information he had entrusted him with as a leader.

It is on the basis of this information, Prof Mugagga said, that the Appointments Board based to suspend Dr Kamunyu from the university service for six months. He said this set a bad precedent that has left those in leadership exposed.

"I am privy to a lot of information from staff and students. Kindly assure them that what former Council chair did with information he was given as chair will never happen again," Prof Mugagga shouted out to Mr Daniel Kidega, a member of Council, who attended the associations' meeting to review the decision of the Appointments Board.

Dr Robert Kakuru from the College of Humanities said the decision left the staff divided.

"You found us with a small puncture in Dr Deus Muhwezi as an association leader. You requested to take it and repair the puncture. You brought it back without two wheels. How do you expect the associations to react?" he asked.

Mr Kidega asked the staff to be patient and explore all the avenues available, saying that the University Council would not accept decisions that are against the Constitution.

Some of the staff members in the meeting wanted a resolution made to declare a strike until Dr Kamunyu is reinstated. At the start of this semester, the staff went on strike when the Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, suspended Dr Kamunyu and other leaders of staff associations in a way that the staff said was improper.

The strike was suspended after it was agreed that the Appointments Board would investigate the matter. The members of staff are now aggrieved with its decision despite it clearing other leaders and Dr Kamunyu on some charges except on the charge of alleging corruption on the part of some top leaders of the university.

It emerged during the meeting on Friday that the testimony on which the board based to convict Dr Kamunyu was provided by Dr Etyem, who reportedly got the information from Dr Kamunyu when the former confided in him as chairman of Council. Mr Kidega moved to calm the flaring tempers.

He said: "There is the Whistleblowers Act. It is very unfortunate that a senior citizen can testify against staff with information he had been given. I have a lot of respect for Engineer Etyem. You don't speak about your staff even when you are a senior citizen and have capacity to respond. It is being unethical. We adhere to the Constitution of Uganda and make sure this university is governed under it. The protection of the Whistleblowers Act is in place. We shall utilise it in this university."

The staff later agreed to suspend their industrial action for an extra two months to allow the tribunal to hear Dr Muhwezi's appeal, which he said he will submit on Monday. The meeting, which was chaired by Dr Edward Mwavu, Dr Kamunyu's deputy, also appealed that all affected staff whose cases are before the tribunal that will be chaired by Justice Patrick Tabaaro be concluded expeditiously.

The members agreed to contribute Shs50m towards Dr Muhwezi's legal fees and make a contribution to supplement his half pay the appointments committee subjected him to as he serves six months on suspension without accessing the university premises as a lecturer.

The university accused Dr Kamunyu in January of taking part in an illegal strike, using abusive language, acts or omissions that are prejudicial to the proper performance of duties or the university's image, non-adherence to any other university policies and slander. A committee was instituted to investigate the accusations and has since convicted Muhwezi on one count out of the five. During the probe, the university presented four witnesses, including Prof William Bazeyo, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of Finance, the former university Council chairperson Dr Etyem, Dr Robert Wamala and Mr Gordon Mulangira, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe's personal assistant.

However, the committee chaired by Masaka District Chairman Jude Mbabaali said prosecution had failed to prove that Dr Muhwezi had committed the offences except on non-adherence to any other university policies in which Dr Etyem accused him of giving him information without proof against the former Appointment's Board chairperson, Mr Bruce Balaaba, and the Finance committee chair, Mr Thomas Tayebwa.

"It is clear from the un-rebutted prosecution evidence that the respondent neglected and failed to adhere to the university's general code of conduct. Additionally, that he neglected and wilfully refused to comply with guidance and directives issued to him as a member of staff," reads the May 13 ruling.

It adds: "Evidence adduced shows that respondent was warned by the vice chancellor in writing to desist from attacks on unsubstantiated allegations but he refused and neglected to comply with the directives. It is our opinion that all this conduct was in bad faith and unbecoming.

This charge has been proved and therefore find the respondent guilty of this count as charged. The board in its wisdom has decided to use its discretion as provided in the university human resource manual; that instead of dismissal to sentence the respondent to six months suspension with immediate effect."

Other committee members were: Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, Chris Ninsiima, Ms Jolly Uzamukunda Karabaaya and Mr Winston Tumps Ireeta.

Dr Etyem testified that he met the respondent while he was still council chairperson alleging that Mr Kabaasa was receiving bribes to award jobs but when he asked him for evidence, he couldn't provide it and that Mr Tayebwa who was chairing the appointment's board finance and investment committee was over stepping his mandate.

Accusations

Dr Etyem's other accusation is that Dr Muhwezi complained about the Makerere University manual which had been changed without consulting the association. He testified that he warned Dr Muhwezi to stop making those allegations without proof which he disregarded.

"After the meeting, he came to a conclusion that all those complaints raised by the respondent were mere allegations without proof because when he asked him for proof so that as chair of council he can handle the complaints, he didn't provide them," the report adds.

Dr Muhammad Kiggundu, the director of communications, said management was open to any negotiations to end the impasse.

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