By Joan Akello
Mismanagement, fraud, unhygienic conditions take centre stage as public university goes to the dogs
The arrest and eventual prosecution of seven top administrators of Kyambogo University is only a tiny indication of the rot going on at one of Uganda’s leading public institutions. The arrests appeared to cap a difficult period for the institution, which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons ranging from student and staff strikes, fraud involving billions of shillings and administrative wrangles.
But the administrative chaos is not the only problem at the public institution. Sanitation is pathetic, putting the lives of thousands of students at risk. A sewerage crisis resulting from leaking sewers, is yet to be dealt with.
Two halls of residence – Portal and Stanley – have faulty taps and showers. The taps are running all day and night and have not been fixed for close to two months. Secondly, in Portal Hall, water oozes out from the pipes and floods the floor. The shower heads are also faulty.
Some halls like Owen were closed due to poor sanitation and the sorry state of its facilities. Rubbish especially litter is common place, for example, around the security office, Guild Café and lecture halls. Roads are a terrible mess and stagnant water is everywhere.
One student leader told The Independent that when he reported the issues to the Estates department, he was told that the University did not have money. “So the university has money to waste in paying high water bills but no money to repair faulty taps?” The student leader wondered.
The government coughed Shs 226 million for water and Shs 767.8 million for electricity in the university’s budget for 2011/2012. As the wastage continues, it is also projected that this figure will remain the same for 2012/2013, though the university will get Shs 300 million from non tax revenue, majorly from tuition fees, to foot the water bill.
On the academic front, students have decried the late release of results while others say they are released in bits. “My results for industrial training for last year have not been released but I have already been given placement for another one this year,” one student said.
Another student said that by May 13, results of Automobile Engineering for Year Three and Microfinance for the same year had not been pinned on the notice boards yet it is already examination time for the new semester. “What if I have missing marks, this is the uncertainty you have to live with at this university,” she said.
Some students are said to connive with lecturers to better their grades, cancel retakes or even buy examinations. Some say Course not Completed (CNC) is common for finalists to get as part of their final results.
A former student told The Independent that he was given CNC because his marks for a certain course unit in year one were missing and that he also had three retakes in his first semester Year two, yet he had never had missing marks nor retakes as indicated on the notice board.
One lecturer said that this usually happens due to human ‘error’ meaning a certain student may have bought marks or had them changed.
Most people at the university who The Independent talked to said they were not surprised by the tuition scam. What they said surprised them was how long it took to uncover it. The procedures for paying tuition and receipting it are prone to abuse and need an immediate overhaul.
There are cases where officials write receipts even before the money is paid in the banks. Desk officers, their unofficial agents and accomplices, solicit for willing students to be accomplices in the fraud.
Official reports say Shs 5.5 billion could have been lost in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences alone due to fraud in tuition fees.
Students are issued fake examination cards and the registration process is abused including falsification of receipts.
An accountant working at another university told The Independent that the manual tuition fees payment system is what Kyambogo needs to change. With the manual system, students pick slips from the reception then go back to accounts or the desk officers at their respective faculties or departments for registration. With a population of over 25,000 students, there is little room for verification because of the pressure.
Makerere changed this system several years ago in a bid to eliminate such problems. Today, a student at Makerere pays in the bank but because the bank’s computer system and the university’s are linked, the information is shared in real time. Students can then get an electronic printout of their statements from the Bursar’s office and then process their examination cards.
For Kyambogo, some of these problems are historical and would require a strong leader to overhaul them. The embattled Prof. Ndiege, who came a year after an interim management was dissolved and restructured in 2008, was determined to bring about change, but he was kicked out by the Council. Lutaalo Bbosa, the first VC after the merger, was also pushed out of office when some staff got disgruntled.
Fresh recruitment and an overhaul of management and the council may be the only solution to redeem the university from its limbo. Jessica Alupo, the Minister of Education and Sports appears to be powerless, but would want the ministry to consider a collegiate system as a way of dealing with the rot. But that is in the long term. What the authorities will do in the short term is what could bring some stability, which still eludes the institution.
Examinations are going on smoothly amidst the rift between the Council and the IGG over the estranged Vice Chancellor Omolo Ndiege. Observers say the standoff and eventual outcome of the court cases could open the door for more reforms in the quasi manner the institution is administered.
Last year, the University Council sent Prof. Ndiege on leave, after the council received complaints from staff over Omolo’s leadership style. It instituted an adhoc committee before taking action, but many say its decision was a knee-jerk reaction.
This, according to observers, was because of the bad blood between some Council members and Ndiege. Indeed, Ndiege accused the Council of blaming him for all sorts of things including failure to initiate procurement, collect house rents, late release of results, lack of water, dirty toilets, delayed payments, cross-checking vouchers, low staff morale, sexual harassment, reprimanding errant staff, sponsoring negative articles in newspapers, intimidating staff, unswept classrooms among other things. Though he has been away for several months, the situation is only getting worse.
Now, different camps have emerged, those who back Ndiege and those who support Prof Opuda. While Lawrence Madete, the Kyambogo public relations officer, says some are not bothered by the drama, the rifts have left the university sharply divided.
“He came with the attitude of a sweeper but his people management skills created a problem,” Madete said of Ndiege. “He is a high flyer, bright but also arrogant, which tends to rub some people in the wrong way.”
While appearing before the Parliamentary Social Services Committee that was investigating the problems in Kyambogo University, the University Secretary Sam Akorimo also blamed the leadership style of prof. Ndeige, which he said “was not fit for any university.”
Akorimo said Prof. Ndeige’s style was characterized by barking at staff, disrespect, inability to listen, and witch-hunting members of staff who hold divergent views.
Some staff who spoke to The Independent say Ndiege called himself ‘Chief Executive Officer,’ – thus usurping the powers of the University secretary and that he used security officers to witch hunt them. However, some of the staff who support Ndiege say that his opponents are either sour grapping or unhappy that he blocked payments of responsibility allowances.
In a letter, dated October 19, 2012, to the parliamentary committee investigating the mess, Victor Locoro, a staffer in the Faculty of Special needs and Rehabilitation, said Ndiege was not popular because of his ‘unbending strictness’ against fraud.
“There is reason to believe that this allegation is a plot by a group of staff and some members of management with indiscipline and or fraud –related interests to get him out of office to allow room for them to pursue their selfish motives especially now that the university is expecting to receive a Shs 72 billion grant from the African Development Bank,” Locoro wrote.
He said some officials were making fraudulent teaching claims, and that there was gross abuse of overtime and extra load provisions.
For some time, concern has been rife about the rapid disappearance of the university’s land, until the IGG stopped any transactions involving the university’s land. Other assets like vehicles and repairs are abused with careless abandon.
Also in a mess is the system of paying lecturers. In Kyambogo, a lecturer is paid for marking coursework, tests, setting an examination, invigilating during examinations and marking examinations scripts. This is separate from what the government pays full time staff and also what the university pays as top –up. Because there are more part–timers, the latter benefit more from such claims.
A full time staff member said the problem in the university is that staffs are paid for everything they do, yet it does not make economic sense to pay a teacher to set an exam.
“The systems are all broken; some departments do not have computers or even chairs for staff so how do you expect them to do research or even mark scripts and release results in time? Another lecturer asked.