By Joan Akello
Is Fagil Mandy fighting for change at national exam body or is it all about money?
When President YoweriMuseveniappointed him chairmanof the board of the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) in July 2012 ,it was a dream come true for Fagil Musa Mandy. At his installation ceremony on July 8Mandy talked tough “ I come with speed, summersaults, and ground experience,” he said, “I am intolerant of non-performers and politicians out there who think they can mess up UNEB; stand warned.”
A week later, he told The Independent in an interview about his vision for UNEB.
“UNEB must set the tune schools dance to,” he said, “Examinations should target practical ability, not theoretical knowledge.”
But, just six months into the job, Mandy’s vision appears threatened as he is being investigated by the Inspector General of Government (IGG) for alleged abuse of office and financial crimes. If the allegations are proved, President Museveni might have to sack him.
Integrity of personnel is critical at UNEB as national exams are a high stakes affair with staff under pressure to leak exams, alter marks, and issue dubious academic documents for a fee.
If Mandy is sacked, he will go down in history as the shortest serving chairman of the board of this quiet organisation which has for 31 years been conducting national exams for primary and secondary level education and technical institutions.
So what has gone wrong?
That is the question we asked him when we caught up with him on Jan 24 at Kitante Primary School where he had just finished an afternoon training session with holidaymakers under his private business; the Fagil Mandy Education Consultancy (FAME CON).
Clad in a white t-shirt, and purple track suit and a pair of sandals, Mandy agreed to step out of his dark-blue Toyota Vitz for our talk.
Mandy says he is under siege because he is scrutinising the annual Shs60 billion UNEB budget and conducting a human resource audit that are threatening the old guard.
“When these allegations came up,” Mandy told The Independent, “I knelt down and prayed to God and said thank you for holding the meeting with staff at the beginning. Most boards do not know what is happening.”
He narrated how, on the first day at the UNEB main office at Plot 33, Martyrs Way in the Ntinda suburb of Kampala city, he had called a meeting of all the 240-plus staff.
“I made a self-introduction and told them that I want to understand the operations of UNEB,” he said. “I told them; from top management to sweepers, to answer three questions; what do you think have been the major achievements of UNEB; what are the challenges you see at UNEB which you would like the board to deal with and; what would you like me as chairman to do.”
He gave each of them papers and told them to write candidly without disclosing their identity.
“By the third week, I knew exactly what was taking place in UNEB from the comments made by staff.”
And the problems the staff listed are what he is attempting to correct and they are the reason he faces the sack.
He says he is not afraid of being sacked if it found that he committed a crime.
“I have so many things to do; not just the affairs of UNEB,” he says, “And the country will lose if I leave the institution.”
He says, however, he will not allow the main problems at UNEB to be lost in pursuit of peripheral allegations. His accusers say Mandy is interested in money only.
For a 66-year old, Mandy is quite unusual physically and mentally. A stocky man with very light skin and narrow eyes on a big head with a distinct box-cut hair style, Mandy easily stands out in a crowd.
To most people, he is famous for his somersaulting, jogging, and boxing exercises which he prescribes for whoever crosses his path. He is also known to harbor strong views, especially on education, that he compiles into books.
His critics, however, tend to focus on his lips. Thin and wide, Mandy who is an actor, avid talk show panelist, and inspirational speaker keeps his lips quite busy talking about almost everything under the sun. That, unfortunately, is how his current trouble at UNEB first came out in the media.
It started on Jan. 20 when he told a Monitor newspaper reporter that UNEB would be releasing the Primary Leaving Examination results late because UNEB “scanners had again crashed”.
One day after this story appeared, on Jan. 23, the UNEB Executive Secretary, Mathew Bukenya, who runs UNEB, refuted Mandy’s claims.
“The top official quoted in the story as saying that ‘scanners used in compilation and computation of final examination results had crashed” gave wrong information and was not speaking on behalf of UNEB,” Bukenya said in a press statement.
Dr. Rose NassaliLukwago, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of Education which oversees UNEB appeared to support Bukenya.
The Daily Monitor on Jan. 22 quoted her saying: “That chairman (Fagil) is playing games. That is his method of work… just save us and do not cause unnecessary panic.”
But Mandy was not to be outdone.
“Why tell such a blatant lie that the machines have not crashed yet you are not able to print out mark sheets?” he asked at a press conference.
He then launched into an explanation about an apparent power struggle at UNEB in which Mathew Bukenya is apparently trying to cling on and his newly appoint successor, Dr. John BoscoNtangaare, is being fought.
“Bukenya should be satisfied for serving UNEB for 16 years,”Mandy told journalists, “His cohorts must be worried that he is leaving.”
Kicked out like a criminal
Mandy has said repeatedly that he wants Bukenya out of UNEB and in August 2013, barely a month into office, announced that Bukenya was leaving. Bukenya, who is about 80 years old, was recalled from retirement in 1997 and has been serving on extended contracts that end in April. Previous contracts have been routinely renewed but Mandy is putting an end to it.
“At first I thought Mr. Bukenya wanted to retire, but I am personally disappointed that he was maneuvering for five months without a contract and without informing the board. He wants to be seen as indispensable,” Mandy says.
Mandy says Bukenya wrote him a letter about it.
“The last line read: `I don’t feel I should be thrown out of UNEB like a criminal’,” Mandy says.
Mandy says Bukenya is “a soft man manning a powerful institution with so many strings and a lot of money.”
“He is a man who has been staying at Nakasero Road , earning Shs 17 million monthly minus allowances, a shamba boy, medical care.”
But in replacing Bukenya, it is not clear why Mandy disregarded advice given by PS Nassali.
Nassali, in a December 9, 2013 letter to Mandy, wrote: “Complaints have already reached this office that you as chairman of the Board are directly involved in receiving applications, sorting them out and selecting candidates to be shortlisted for interviews as well as directly informing both successful and unsuccessful candidates of the outcome of the exercise.
“I wish to remind you that your actions are not only irregular but are also outside the Board’s normal procedures and processes of the recruitment policy as stipulated in the UNEB Act.”
Nassali was responding to letter from Mandy dated November 19, 2013 asking her to recommend one KedranceTuryagendaRwankore for a UNEB job.
“I wish to bring it to your attention that there is already a succession plan that was approved by the Board which was chaired by Prof. LutaloBbosa. I am therefore, advising you in retrospect to refer to the Minute of that Board and implement the recommendations made therein on the succession of Mr Matthew Bukenya. This will facilitate a smooth transfer of power and continuity of the Board’s functions without any adverse disruptions,” said Nassali.
The UNEB board is mandated to name a new executive secretary and, it appears his predecessor, Prof. LutaloBbosa had made some progress on it. But it has since emerged that Mandy is under investigation for allegedly bending rules to hire Ntangaare, his favoured candidate.
The IGG, Irene Mulyagonja, is investigating allegations that Mandy was involved in long-lasting and shortlisting some 53 candidates who applied for the position yet the term of the relevant Appointments and Disciplinary Committees supposed to handle the recruitment process had expired. The committees were appointed on December 23, yet the shortlisting was done on October 8, 2013.
On Jan.15 the IGGwrote to the Minister of Education, (Rtd) Maj. Jessica Alupo, halting the appointment Ntangaare, a former Makerere University lecturer.
“Mandy, with no human resource competences, personally designed the job advertisement for the post despite UNEB having a fully-fledged human resource department with competent staff,” Mulyagonja cited as one of the reasons for halting Ntangaare’s appointment.
Mandy, who according to IGG is a member of the Uganda Theatrical Fraternity convinced Dr. MirembeNtangaare, a lecturer at the Department of Music Dance and Drama at Makerere University and an associate of his to ask her husband, Dr. Ntangaare, to apply for the job. During interviews, Mandy allegedly gave a 76.5 mark way ahead of the competition.
Earlier, on December 5, 2013 an IGG official, David Makumbi, had written to Mandy giving him 30 days within which to respond to allegations that he had “caused irregular procurement of a private consultancy firm code-named `Taskforce’ to offer systems analysis consultancy and investigative services for the board , which is in total disregard of procurement and regulations.” It is this Taskforce which selected Dr Ntangaare.
It is also alleged that on November 11, 2013 Mandy got Shs 320,000 as allowance for the one-day job on the Taskforce. One John W. Arinaitwe who led the Taskforce got Shs880, 000; Sarah Birungi earned Shs580, 000, while Patrick Balyogera and NsumbaLyazi got Shs 320,000 each. In all, UNEB paid about 2.5 million in sitting allowances for the appointments committee chaired by Arinaitwe.
A week later, on November 28, 2013, Mandy and Arinaitwe got the same amounts as above while R.N. Kafeero, Y.K Nsubuga and H. Mutazindira signed off Shs 320,000 each, W. Kabanza and J Nambuya got Shs 150,000 and Shs 60,000 respectively for the same exercise. This cost Shs 2.4 million.
In all, they took Shs.4.9 million for the two days.
Mandy also allegedly took US$2500 (about Shs6.3 million) from UNEB without indicating the date and purpose for the money though it was attached with other cash Payment vouchers for the Appointments Committee. A UNEB official says he was given money to travel to the U.S. but did not as his passport has no U.S. Visa to show he did.
But Mandy says he travelled twice to the US and South Africa in 2013 with government officials under the Uganda Libraries Board to learn how to make libraries more productive.
Mandy also defends the Taskforce because it was doing board work. He says the board agreed not to advertise because recruitment in the board is marred by tribalism and favouritism.
Another worker at UNEB told The Independent that Bukenya was upset that Mandy has been pestering him for an office at the UNEB headquarters although he is not a permanent employee.
“Fagil has created himself as a permanent worker of UNEB. He is not the spokesperson of UNEB.”
As the allegations against him are investigated, some observers, likeJoseph Ssewungu, a former teacher turned-politician say Mandy’s character is his undoing.
“He is egocentric, a self-seeker. What he knows, he thinks is the best for all,” Ssewungu says.
He adds that Mandy’s track record in the ministry of Education depicts his “chaotic personality”.
Ssewungu recalls the time when Mandy was Deputy Commissioner for Education and Commissioner for Inspectorate Ministry of Education & Sports.
“As head of the committee on UPE (Universal Free Primary Education), he was arresting headmasters for charging money in UPE schools and was intimidating teachers instead of advising the government on tackling loopholes in the policy,”Ssewungu said.
Kyadondo East Member of Parliament, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, also says Mandy is the cause of chaos at UNEB as he only works with those who kowtow to him.
“UNEB is a conservative, traditional institution that needs people who are calm. It cannot have a board chairman who is an attention seeker,” Ssemujju says, “Fagil is very quarrelsome. He wants to throw the headmasters in the mud. He now wants to build his chaos at UNEB.”
But Mandy is unapologetic.
“I am a tough person,” he told The Independent. True to form, Mandy kept his tough guy act on as the PLE results were released on Jan.31 and he, together withBukenya, and Alupo smiled for the cameras. But the thousands of students whose results for O’ and A’ level exams are still with UNEB must have one hope – that the results will be released on time.