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Fall of the legends  

Mutebile, Bagyenda and Kasekende

From Uganda’s celebrated bankers to 2018 bummers

Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | In 1991, some of the most powerful people in business and public office In Uganda from western Uganda jointly opened a bank. They called it the Kigezi Bank of Commerce with a commence capitalization of US$20 million.

They included none other than current Governor of the Central Bank, Tumusiime Mutebile. At the time, he was the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Finance Planning & Economic Development. Others were tycoon Amos Nzeyi, current Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, retired Supreme Court judge, George Kanyeihamba, former Finance Minister, Ezra Suruma, and former Information Minister and decorated bush war heroes, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, and Mathew Rukikaire. The powerful Asian family; the Mukwanos injected in capital.

A few years later, a Kenyan family of Asian descent called the Gidoomals acquired 86% shareholding in the bank and, along the way, it was renamed the National Bank of Commerce Uganda (NBCU). Later, the Gidoomals sold their major stake to other shareholders. In October 2009, investors from Abu Dhabi, invested US$10 million in the bank. Then in July 2011, Emirates Link, an Abu Dhabi investment company acquired 25% shares of the bank and its owner, Ahmed Darwish Almarar, became Chairman of NBCU.

But these were turbulent times at NBCU as minority shareholders squabbled with majority shareholders about the direction of the bank and the role of the new, powerful, investors.

And that is when Bank of Uganda (BoU) Executive Director Supervision, Justine Bagyenda, in March 2012 seized the opportunity to assert her authority on the commercial banking sector.

Bagyenda’s power

Bagyenda appointed a special advisor, Abbas Mawanda, to guide NBCU through the murky phase. Some of these actions prompted a run on the bank of sorts by apprehensive customers.

Then on September 27, 2012, BoU took over NBCU and transferred its deposits and branches to Crane Bank. Court cases ensued that left NBCU’s affairs in limbo. But from the ashes of NBCU, Bagyenda showed the steel that had already earned her the moniker of ‘Iron Lady’ within the corridors of the central bank and strike fear in the managers of commercial banks.

For taking action on a bank owned by some of the most powerful people; Mutebile, Mbabazi, Rugunda, Muhwezi, Rukikaire, Nzeyi, Rugunda, and their Arab tycoons, Bagyenda had showed that nobody in the sector is untouchable.

Bagyenda’s power was again revealed in 2014 as BoU moved to takeover Global Trust Bank over alleged mismanagement. This bank had powerful external tentacles, including a former president of a foreign country, who even flew in to meet President Museveni. The shareholders assured Museveni that they were willing to recapitalise the bank and Museveni assured them, GTB would be safe. Museveni was furious and threatened to fire Bagyenda and Mutebile. They remained firm and later convinced Museveni that the bank had to be closed. Museveni nearly apologised to Bagyenda.

She became known for being tough on bankers and was easily the most feared official both within the walls of BoU and throughout the financial sector.

She could fire a bank chief executive officer, a BoU official told this reporter. But how did she do it?

According to revelations from the on-going investigation by parliament’s committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) into Bank of Uganda’s sale of assets of the seven defunct banks, she did it recklessly, with impunity, and without following right procedures.

She also might have enriched herself in the process, insiders claim. The Independent has learnt that in one incident, Governor Mutebile learnt about the sale of another bank in a phone call. In another, Bagyenda simply placed a phone call to the buyer of a bank she had chosen. In yet another case, she sold the bank 15 days before closing it. There is no record of negotiations. Some critical documents are missing. These are some of the findings so far of the on-going investigation by COSASE.

As these cases reveal, the investigation is a climax of scandals that have rocked the central bank violently bringing down its longstanding facade as an island of excellence run by people of integrity.

It appears, however, that Bagyenda’s actions had precedents that she had witnessed even before she became BoU’s Director of Commercial Banking in 2002.

She possibly was privy to how the BoU took over Teefe Bank (1993), International Credit Bank Ltd (1998), Greenland Bank (1999), and Co-operative Bank (1999), which all appear to have been badly handled. So she possibly did the same  with the National Bank of Commerce (2012), Global Trust Bank (2014), and Crane Bank (2016).

The mishandling of BoU’s takeover of banks being investigated by COSASE was exposed by the September Auditor General’s report, which details concerns over the way the seven defunct banks were closed and sold by the central bank.

More than anything in the history of the central bank, the scandals that have emerged out of these investigations have unmasked the once celebrated regulators of the country’s financial sector.

The most exposed officials at this point appear to be Bagyenda, who has since left her post of Executive Director Banking Supervision (EDS) and her former deputy Benedict Ssekabira, who remains at the central bank.

But the biggest victims of these scandals are likely to be Governor Mutebile and his deputy Louis Kasekende. The two have even been asked to resign by, among others, President Museveni’s handlers.

For Mutebile who as Governor is directly responsible for supervising the EDS, the question many are asking is; where were you when all this was happening? His deputy Kasekende faces the same question because he sits on the central bank’s board that is supposed to play the oversight role over the actions of the central bank.

6 comments

  1. This is an interesting article. Knowing a bit about my country Uganda, how was Bagyenda this powerful iron lady without backing? I may need to be corrected incase i hv a poor perspective as to the way power and authority games are played in Uganda. Was she powerful because she was firm and principled and made decissions knowing she is backed by the law and her position OR was she powerful because she had an invisible fighting hand/tool.

  2. There is a cabal in this country that eats everything. When they are half done, they “invite” other Ugandans to join in. They later clean their plates by piling all the leftovers on the invitees’ plates and then the whole world can point a blaming finger. Bagyenda couldn’t have done this single handedly. Abbas Mawanda worked with Bank of Uganda before joining Greenland bank. By the time Bagyenda sought “consultation” from him about NBC, he had helped in the sinking of Greenland bank. So, what motivated his hiring when NBC was facing financial difficulties? We’ve seen him in the Mubende gold scandal and how the military finally came in. Military military military!!!!

  3. This article is unresearched and repeats allegations made in the previous media reports that are sensational. You refer to some of the banks as ‘defunct’ and then question their closing. Make up your mind. What you describe, in NBC bank, is a bank in disarray. As you should know, Greenland and ICB were insolvent. That means they could not carry on business. The only scandal is an Auditor General’s report full of mischief. How can it matter that a former President came to rescue his bank? Why did he not put in more money? Because it was badly managed and selling was a better option. The media love a good story, but in this case, the media is too hungry that it has swallowed all the contradictions in the AG report and in the Inquiry. Crane Bank was also insolvent. BOU is not obligated to rescue a failed bank. The problem, as you clearly describe, is inside the commercial banks. Why complicate matters further? Anyway, why is Global Trust, UCB, and Crane Bank included in an inquiry into bank closures????? They were never closed! They were sold!

    • “Anyway, why is Global Trust, UCB, and Crane Bank included in an inquiry into bank closures????? They were never closed! They were sold!”

      SO , sir, in your wisdom , you cannot close an entity, bank, shop etc, and then sell it later.

      Educate us please.

      • Well, Banks are not like shops which can be closed and sold. Instead of closing it, you have to transfer the customers, loans, liabilities etc to a buyer for a smooth transition to keep operating. Closing and reopening is not an option because it means customers stop getting services for sometime and the bank collapses. Nobody would then want to invest in it anymore.

  4. Great article but you have hidden a lot of background information on how this Justine bagyenda made it to the top in the banking sector . You may have to agree with me that most scandals and con jobs that have impacted on this economy have been by ugandans from the western region.
    A few examples will suffice here. In the 90s talk was that the world bank had insisted on Dr Frank Mwine to revive and expand UCB. but did it cross your mind that he was a brother to one of Museveni’s fallen bush war comrade? The rest is history. The late Cheeye Sezi in his confidential used to talk about the fall of General parts and the name Ezra suruma features prominently.you can tell how the once rich Hajji is faring today compared to the bureaucrat Suruma. And finally in the earlier days of” Andrew Mwenda live ” and the Monitor newspaper do you still think of the arrested Mwenda being tortured in dentetion while his elder brother (a decorated miiltary officer) looks on ! And an elder sister at the heart of the ruling party central committee. Many cases and many hoaxes are common today its only a keen eye that can spot them. and for all their misdeeds sudhir inclusive , these people stiill remain very important in the wider scheme of things. And by the way what became of Frank Katusime (don’t ask which one?] – godfrey.

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