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High cost of intrigue in Kyambogo VC search

Shs500m spent on recruitment and university still has no vice chancellor

The main administration block at Kyambogo University. The university has not had a substantive VC for years. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA
The main administration block at Kyambogo University. The university has not had a substantive VC

An unusual quietness pervades the Kyambogo Universitycampus at Banda near Kampala with most students away on recess. But the quiet belies the anxiety over the apparent failure to streamline its management, starting with the appointment of a substantive head; the vice chancellor.

Kyambogo, which is one of the biggest public universities in Uganda, has in the past been rocked by strikes of students and their lecturers over lesser issues. There is now worry over what will happen when more students return and are possibly sucked into the camps of vying candidates.

Kyambogo’s hunt for a VC is now entering five years since the last one; Prof.OmoloNdiege was removed from office. And the costs are piling up. Ndiege sued for wrongful dismissaland the High Court awarded him a cool Shs1.7billion in compensation.

Another Shs500 millions has been sunk into the process of finding Omolo’s replacement. But just when the search was thought to be coming to an end, the whole process was recently cancelled amidst allegations of corruption and intrigue. The process must again be restarted, possibly to cost another Shs500 million or more.

People at the university have different views on what is delaying the appointment of the top administrator. But many speak of infighting, poor remuneration, and cliques surrounding the position.

What is clear is that the VC search has stalled.  The search had earlier appeared to be nearing an end when, on June 13, the universitysenate, pushed two names out of six it received from the VC search committee, to the governing body; the University Council to vet, interview, and pick a winner.

One of the names was of Prof.Eli Katunguka, who is Acting VC after being appointed two and a half years ago,and the other is Prof. Geoffrey Bakunda, the Dean Faculty of Marketing and Hospitality Management at the nearby Makerere University Business School (MUBS).

According to informed sources at the university who spoke on condition of anonymity, Katunguka edged Bakunda when he scored 76% during interviews conducted by the senatewith Bakunda scoring 66%. However, the process ran into trouble when it got to the University Council.

Apparently, for a VC to be appointed, three names must be nominated to the University Council from the university senate according to the University and other Tertiary Institutions Act. The two names sent by the Senate could therefore not be vetted.

The Council has ordered the search committee to go over the process again and candidates are waiting for the re-advertisement of the job. The move has raised concern since the first one already cost the institution more than Shs500 million.

There is also anxiety because other positions have to be filled too and further delay will only complicate management matters, according to people who spoke to The Independent.

Intrigue at the centre

Jackson Betihamah, the Chairperson of Kyambogo University Senior Administrative Staff Association (KYUSASA), told The Independent that the KYUSASA position is that once the job is re-advertised, there should be a quick search for the new VC and a decision is taken there and then.

“If we got a substantive VC, it would be a landmark many people have acted in this position for a number of years,”Betihamah says.

He says since October 2015, the main university positions of Chief Internal Auditor, University Secretary, and Dean of Students remain unoccupied. He says a substantive VC would direct management to resolve this.

He said it is crucial that the VC position be filled so as to streamline management of a university whose structures and operations have been faulted by previous audits.

He also names lack of promotion for non-teaching staff and pending disciplinary issues as part of the Kyambogo management problem.
Betihamah says intrigue could be at the centre of the senate’s failure to follow clearly spelt out rules.

“There were double standards and also errors in specification for the job. The Senate is very instrumental in the process,” he said.  He pointed out that one member of the Senate, Prof. George William Baziraki, was part of the team that made specifications for the VC position as part of the recruiting team but later turned around and applied for the position.

Betihamah says Baziraki was disappointed when the Senate dropped him from the original list of six candidates nominated by the search committee. Baziraki, according to Betihamah, petitioned the University Council where he is a member.

Betihamah says trouble started when the third best candidate, Prof Wanyama scored below the required threshold of 60%.

When The Independent spoke to the acting VC Katunguka, his tone was filled with frustration about how the search process has gone so far.
“The process has been marred by intrigue, sectarianism, hatred, malice,” he said, “but we will see what happens, I will re-apply.”

With a career as an academic spanning 37 years, Katunguka started out as a teaching assistant at Makerere University. Today, sources at Kyambogo University say, he may eventually emerge triumphant due to the power of incumbency. But he could be badly bruised in the battle for the job.

Old staff versus new

A member of staff at Kyambogo who preferred to remain anonymous told The Independent that Katunguka has possibly made a few enemies over the two years he has been acting as VC.

“Some people do not want him, they wanted someone from within,” he says. “There are some staff who have been here for very long. They don’t want their systems changed.”

Apparently, Kyambogo has a culture of cliques and anyone who tries to shake things up suffers the consequences.  Katunguka, who arrived at Kyambogo from Makerere University in 2014, is seen as an outsider and the source says the perception threatens Katunguka’s chances of being named VC.

“I don’t see anyone coming from outside of Kyambogo succeeding in the near future,” the source revealed, adding that Katunguka, however, has also contributed his share of the intrigue.

“He sits on so many committees and he is controlling so many things,” he added.

In 2011, then Vice Chancellor Isaiah OmoloNdiege, was forced out of Kyambogo University over similar accusations and amidst similar intrigue. Both teaching and non-teaching staff complained of Ndiege’s alleged high handedness and almost 90% of staff ganged up and demanded that he be dismissed.

Sources say, however, that Ndiege was trying to nip in the bud the practice of people at the university earning double salaries.

It is said there were a number of lecturers who were doubling as wardens and holding other positions, and the attempt to stop this is what sealed Ndiege’s fate. A High Court decision of December 16, 2015 awarded Ndiege a cool Shs1.7billion against the university citing unfair dismissal.

Minister worried

But a report into the university’s perennial problems by the Inspector General of Government took a longer view. Released in August 2015, the report by the government ombudsman revealed that the problems started when the university management failed to properly implement the merger of the three institutions that formed the university in 2003.

These included the Uganda Polytechnic Kyambogo, the Uganda National Institute of Special Education, and Kyambogo Institute of Teacher Education.

The IGG report also faulted the appointment of Prof Bbosa Lutalo who assumed office as VC in 2005, saying he was beyond the age limit of 60 and that he manipulated council members and meetings to secure the position.

According to the IGG report, the original vision of the merger to form the university as a greater polytechnic specialising in advancing professionalism in science, technology and teacher education was abandoned by Ministry of Education and Sports.

The IGG’s findings also said the failure to integrate staff from the three separate bodies into one unit, and lack of a broad-based University Council were part of the issues that haunt the university to date. Betihamah is dismissive of the IGG report.

“Personally, the IGG report faulted me for being leader of the strike that ousted former Vice Chancellor Omolo Ndiege. Whenever I have asked to appear before the Appointments Board to clear my name, I am told I have charges before the IGG.”

Betihamah says his recent re-election to another five-year term shows that despite the IGG accusations, his colleagues still trust in him.

Another observer, McGinley Mwine, who is the credit administrator of Kyambogo Savings and Credit Cooperative (KYUSACCO), says the Kyambogo VC problem starts with the people who sit on the senate.

“They are almost the same people on the Council yet the Senate has to consult the Council,” he says.

Mwime who is a former student of Kyambogo says the Council has to take a lot of time doing research on the candidates yet decision making at the university “is generally slow”.

“There is too much bureaucracy. It’s a process that involves consulting many people,” he says.

He says it appears the University Council, the non-teaching staff, administrators, and the higher ups like Deputy Vice Chancellors, Directors and Deans are in favour of Katunguka.

But he says the teaching staff; most of them temporary staff, do not want him and are putting pressure on the Council not to re-appoint him.
He says the problem is that most of the lecturers can even go five months without getting paid.

According to Mwine, this has eroded their faith in Katunguka’s administration. The non-payment of staff has sometimes pitted administrative staff against their teaching counterparts.

Mwine says as a result, many on the teaching staff are always seeking loans from the SACCO. He says although interest on such loans brings the SACCO more money, he feels the pain of the lecturers.

“Personally, I am divided on whether Katunguka should stay as VC but the issue of delayed salaries is critical here,” he says.

Mwine says about 90% of the 8000 students at the university clear their fees before they sit exams and wonders why the staff salaries are never paid.

Betihamah, however disagrees with claims made by people like Mwine. He says a university cannot run like a school and the VC cannot be in charge of payment of salaries.
“Why are there offices like University Secretary, Deputy VC for Finance and Administration and a Bursar?” he says, “I really don’t want to fall into that line of thinking.”

As the arguments continue, time is running out. For now, the few students at the university appear not to be concerned about the search for new VC. Some of them appear unaware of the controversy surrounding it, although it has been in the news for some time.

Nicholas Mande, an Engineering student said he had heard that Katungukaemerged winner but is unsure why he has not been confirmed VC.  Another student, Mercy Kasolowe, who is studying Bachelor of Micro-Finance, says the main issues causing the impasse are non-payment of teaching staff and too much bureaucracy in the institution.

When The Independent spoke to Chrysostom Muyingo, the Minister for Higher Education, he seemed resigned about the saga.

“We would also want the new VC to be appointed as early as yesterday. The University Council has the authority to take action against those who abused the law so we will wait because the Council has the final say on this even. They are the ones can make sanctions against those who abused the law. That is within their power”.

He added: “As the supervisor, I will also not tolerate anything that is contrary to the law; we do not want something that will bring us costly legal implications.”

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