By Dicta Asiimwe
Makerere University’s new VC hopes a new governing law will give him control over a powerful University Secretary
Who controls the purse at Makerere University?
That is the question raised by an ongoing power struggle between the university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba and the University Secretary Muhwezi Kahunda. At the heart of the struggle, however, is the question of whether the young, new VC and the radical reforms he is undertaking will be bought by the university’s status quo defenders.
Some University officials accuse Baryamureeba of micro-managing, involving himself in everything at the University, reforming too fast and copying everything he sees abroad.
The University Secretary is the accounting officer of the university and authorises all the expenditures of the University. Baryamureeba needs to control the money if his reform agenda is to succeed. The argument is that Baryamureeba wants to either remove the post of university secretary or have the job holder report to him instead of reporting directly to ministry of finance as the current law says so that he can control the money.
A member of the Social Services Committee of Parliament, who did not want to be named because he is not allowed to reveal its proceedings, told The Independent, that Baryamureeba and Kyambogo University Vice Chancellor Isaiah Ndyege Omoro told the committee that having posts for the university secretary and the deputy vice chancellor in charge of finance and administration causes duplication of jobs. The Committee is drafting a new law for public universities and tertiary institutions.
In an interview with Baryamureeba told The Independent that removing those positions was not his suggestion. He said a reform committee set up by his predecessors at the university had made those recommendations to parliament.
He said this committee told the social services committee that the university structure in its current form causes wastage of resources, conflict, and overlap of duties. He said the reform committee argued that having on one hand the posts of deputy vice chancellor in charge of academic affairs and a deputy in charge of finance and administration and then a university secretary and academic registrar meant people do the same job.
Dr. Tanga Odoi, the Chairperson of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) and member of the Reform Committee, said they picked the view to do away with some posts from other universities in Africa.
He said the reform committee went to public universities in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Kenya and they found out most of these universities are better than Makerere University. ‘In any, case the university secretary seems not to account to anyone,’ Dr Tanga Odoi said.
Dr Tanga Odoi added that he had not received any complaints from the members of MUASA about the working methods of Prof. Baryamureba and said they had agreed they should always bring their complaints to the leadership of MUASA. He however added that he had heard of complaints that Baryamureba was working too fast but said he was okay with Baryamureeba working too fast.
It is not clear how the rift between him Baryamureba and the University secretary will be resolved but the signs are not good for Baryamureeba. The power struggle has led to misunderstandings between him and senior professors at the university. Baryamureeba has stopped holding management meetings that used be held every Tuesday at the university due to these misunderstandings. These meetings have been a constant since Professor Livingstone Luboobi and Prof. John Mary Ssebuwufu.
Baryamureeba, says he stopped the weekly meetings because he thought they were a waste of time since everyone knows their duties and they can report every once in a while.
But his accusers point to his alleged involvement in the botched guild presidential elections as one way in which he has tried to manage everything that goes on at the university and the negative repercussions of this method of work.
Byarureeba said the misunderstandings during the Students’ Guild elections were caused by the Dean of students, John Ekudu. Ekudu, according to the VC, told the students and the university administration conflicting information which resulted in distrust.
The Makerere guild elections were postponed following alleged rigging in three halls. The university managemennt had suggested a re-run but it was over taken by events after the university electoral commision announced John Teira as winner something the others in the race opposed. the University administration asked them to go through a tribunal that ruled in favour of the opposition candidates in the guild race. John Teira went to court to reverse the tribunal’s decision. But court upheld their ruling.
Baryamureeba said ‘there was no need to do away with some of these posts since the university has enough work for everyone’ and that he had no quarrel with the University Secretary whom he said they have always solved any misunderstandings between them amicably.
He said when he became vice chancellor there were reports about Muhwezi Kuhunda being involved in some intrigue and causing conflict between workmates at the university, but he proposed to management to allow Muhwezi Kahunda a chance so he can mend his ways.
The University Secretary, Muhwezi Kahunda, said he did not know there was a suggestion to do away with his post and added that the Reform Committee should not copy everything they see outside Uganda.
He also said he knew his position invited some jealous because some might want to control the university money but added that academicians could not deal with matters of policy. He also said his position was becoming more relevant in the corporate world than ever before.
The committee report, which is likely to decide where this intrigue will lead, is almost complete and sources in the committee say it will be ready for presentation within three weeks. Its recommendations are critical for Baryamureeba; he and his deputies are temporally in their positions because amendment to this law was delayed.