Coffee entrepreneur Rugasira set to tussle it out with incumbent Olive Kigongo for UNCCI presidency
As the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) goes to the polls to elect new leaders, the battle lines have been drawn for the top job.
Among those set to be elected in more than 120 regional offices include the president and the district leaders- chairpersons; vice chairpersons; secretary; district mobilizer; and treasury – for a five year term.
Ezra Rubanda, the the head of policy, research and advocacy at the UNCCI, told The Independent that the Board oF Directors will soon set the dates and guidelines for the election. But he remained guarded on the alleged poor performance of the Chamber, which has been under the leadership president, Olive Kigongo, for last 15 years.
Coffee entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira has publicly declared interest in the job and table an ambitious vision to revitalise the UNCCI. But as the election draws closer, the business community say their expectations are high in the coming leadership. They fault the Chamber’s current leadership for being timid and unable to enhance business environment for businesses to flourish.
Gideon Badagawa, the executive director of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), says UNCCI has performed below expectations in terms of mobilisation of members and policy formulation over the past decades.
“For that whoever is eying the top job should know that the expectations are very high,” he says, adding that there’s need for the new leadership to focus on growing membership and involve in formulation of policies like taxes, infrastructure and trade negotiations to stir growth of businesses for the economy to grow.
Started 83 years ago, the total number of UNCCI’s members is unknown as the members’ register is not public. For the past 15 years, it has been led by Ms Kigongo, formerly wife to NRM Vice Chairman Hajji Moses Kigongo. Very few if any of the stakeholders has a positive thing to say about the UNCCI currently.
“At the moment, UNCCI is an institution that is on a life support,” says Everest Kayondo, the executive director at the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), who served at the Chamber way back in 2007. “Political interference has made it lose relevance as independent minded people are no longer tolerated in the institution.”
Kayondo says KACITA’s disengagement with UNCCI stemmed from their disagreements with the Chamber over the liquidation of prime assets in the city.
Enter Rugasira, a graduate of Law and Economics from the University of London, who declared his intention to contest for the 83-year old institution on Sep. 18.
“It is my intention to build on the Olive Kigongo’s contribution and to re-engineer the chamber to better serve the private sector by harnessing its enormous potential,” Rugasira said at the launch of his bid at a high profile event at the Kampala Serena Hotel.
He has promised, if given the opportunity, to turn the Chamber around through a seven-point strategy.
Rugasira said the Chamber is “currently broken” and institutionally irrelevant to the aspirations of its members.
It is not clear who else apart from Rugasira is interested in the top job. Even Ms Kigongo is yet to declare her intention to retain the seat. But in an interview on NTV, Kigongo dismissed Rugasira’s claim saying that the stressed economy has nothing to do with the Chamber.
“To say that if the Chamber had been active we wouldn’t have gone into this, I would say that is ignorance,” she said.
However, Kasim Omar, the director at the East African Business Council, attributed the low performance of the UNCCI to other factors. He said the mushrooming industry associations serving their own interests had weakened the institution both in terms of membership and funding.
“In addition, membership into the Chamber is voluntary, and some members actually stop paying subscriptions once their problems have been solved,” he adds.
Going forward, Kasim says there’s need for the government to come out and support the private sector especially the UNCCI financially. “Unless the government comes out to facilitate its operations, its performance will remain below the expectations,” he says.
With some help from the erstwhile huge political influence of her husband, Kigongo was first elected in 2001 for a two-year term that under the 1988 constitution was meant to expire in 2003. However, the constitution was amended in a manner her critics say was irregular and her term subsequently extended to 2006 when she was re-elected for two more five-year terms.
In December last year, some members of the Chamber – Patrick Makweta, Peter Jurua, Charles Elasu and Rugasira – dragged Kigongo along with the treasurer Ezra Rubanda and secretary general Godfrey Kakooza, for allegedly conducting the UNCCI affairs in breach of the Chamber’s Memorandum and articles of Association. In the case, which is yet to be disposed of, the petitioners wanted the Court to declare the amendment of the company’s Memorandum and articles of association null and void and order the accused to produce members’ register.