Makerere University gowns crisis has escalated, forcing graduands to buy the gowns from private shops in the surrounding suburbs for the graduation that starts today.
The few gowns that were supplied late by the university to some graduands were problematic as some graduands did not receive a complete set, which comprises the gown, hood and cap.
Some graduands were given only a gown and a cap without a hood while others received hoods and caps.
Daily Monitor yesterday saw some graduands buying Makerere University-branded gowns from private shops in Wandegeya suburb with a full set costing Shs80,000.
This is slightly lower than the money the students paid to the university for the gowns.
Each student paid Shs98,000 to the university for gowns. With the 13,500 graduands, this translates into Shs1.33b to the university.
Other students, who received partial attire without other components from the university, were also seen buying the hood at Shs15,000, a cap at Shs15,000 and gown at Shs50,000.
"I received the gown and cap, but the hoods got finished before I got mine. I have decided to buy it from private sellers because I want to look smart in full attire," one of the student graduating today said.
Some of the traders selling the replica of gowns said the prices of gowns would go up, especially the hoods since most students did not get them at the university.
"We are selling these gowns at 80,000 and the prices are expected to go up due to high demand," one of the vendors said.
Some students resorted to borrowing from their colleagues who graduated last year despite the fact that the gowns bear the year of graduation.
A section of students yesterday staged a protest after the university failed to give them gowns on time as others demanded a refund of their money.
They chanted: "We want our gowns, we paid for them," near the University Senate Building where the administration was issuing graduation booklets and invitation cards.
"We paid for those gowns in December last year. You cannot tell us to come back on Wednesday when I am graduating on Thursday. What assurance do I have that I will get it?" a student, who preferred anonymity, asked.
"Nawangwe carried along something they could not manage. They made abnormal profits and they have failed to deliver. Those gowns must be made from Wandegeya because they could supply all of us on time in the previous years," he added.
Police yesterday blocked the scheduled press conference by the University Guild leaders over the saga.
The guild leaders were slated to address journalists about the delay in the supply of gowns and announce the next course of action but police intercepted them before they could meet the media.
Police claimed the Guild Council had nothing to do with the graduation.
Police trucks were seen stationed at the Guild Council offices to counter any eventuality.
When contacted later, the vice Guild president, Ms Judith Nalukwago, said they were disappointed with the management for failing to produce gowns on time yet the students paid a lot of money for them.
"Two years back, we were buying those gowns from private shops at Shs40,000 but the university monopolised this service and made the gowns very expensive. It is shocking that they have failed to deliver them on time," Ms Nalukwago said.
"The few students who have received their gowns do not have the hoods. This is not acceptable," she added.
Ms Nalukwago said it was disappointing that the gowns were imported from China yet some of the private suppliers of the attires are former graduates of the same university who are unemployed.
Prof Nawangwe speaks out
The Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, insisted the management was working to ensure all students graduating have gowns.
"Gallant Makerereans, the official supplier of gowns for students graduating next week informed management at the last minute that he was experiencing challenges supplying all graduation gowns on time. His actions are a breach of contract," Prof Nawangwe said.
"Management has put in place emergency measures to ensure that gowns for all graduands are ready by the day they attend the ceremony. All graduands for 14th and 15th January should receive their gowns before they graduate. The rest of the graduands will collect their gowns according to a schedule to be issued by the Academic Registrar," he added.
The owner of the company Team Uganda who has been identified only as Kasumba is not known.
Last week, Prof Nawangwe told Daily Monitor that he did not know details or identity of the supplier and the location of the company.
"I do not know the other name of Kasumba who owns the company, and I do not know where the company is located. What I can tell you is that he was contracted three years back to supply us after he won the bid," Prof Nawangwe said.
Mr Muhammad Kigunddu, the university communications manager, too did not reveal the identity of the supplier when contacted last week.
The details of the company location and identity of the proprietor remains unknown to the public and general university staff.
Efforts to contact Mr Kasumba on his known mobile phone number were futile as he did not pick our calls since last week.
The gown crisis started last Tuesday when inside sources told this newspaper that the owner of the company was demanding the university Shs75m in arrears for the previous supply of gowns for last year's graduation and that he was withholding the gowns until his outstanding balance had been cleared.
However, Prof Nawangwe refuted the claim, saying the university had imported the gowns but they were being held at Entebbe airport over customs issues. He said all graduands would have received their gowns by Wednesday last week.
On Wednesday, the university deputy vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, Prof Umar Kakumba, admitted the university owed the supplier some arrears and that he had also asked for an advance before another supply.
He said the university had given the supplier about Shs300m for his arrears and part of the money for this year's gowns and he delivered the first batch on Thursday last week. The four-day graduation ceremony that ends on Friday will see 13,500 graduands walk out of the university main campus in Kampala with degrees and diplomas.
Prof Nawangwe says those graduating on Tuesday are students from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Natural Sciences, Education and External Studies and College of Health Sciences.