The appointment of Sam Mwandha as executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority has caused a rift in the political leadership of the Ministry of Tourism with minister Ephraim Kamuntu and minister of state Godfrey Kiwanda not seeing eye to eye on the decision.
While Kamuntu decided to appoint the candidate who reportedly performed best in the interviews conducted by the Public Service Commission, Kiwanda preferred that outgoing Dr Andrew Seguya, who came third, retain his job.
At the centre of the disagreement is the realisation that Mwandha, who takes office effective March 1, was seven years ago sacked by the same organisation and faced the prospect of legal action being taken against him.
However, Mwandha came into the UWA top management frame again after he beat off six candidates, including Seguya, Sam Mugasi (Naads executive director), Gladys Kalema of the NGO Conservation Through Public Health and Sam Werikhe, a former UWA employee.
Others are, Nature Uganda’s Achilles Byaruhanga and Daniel Aleper, a former UWA employee. Late in January, the candidates were subjected to three sets of interviews by the Public Service Commission – two written and one oral, out of which Seguya, Mwandha and Byaruhanga were shortlisted.
Kiwanda, whose docket is wildlife and conservation, is said to have taken exception to the decision of his senior Kamuntu to advertise the job whereas he felt Seguya had performed relatively well and deserved an automatic contract renewal.
The UWA board of trustees had also reportedly advised minister Kamuntu to renew Seguya's contract. According to Kiwanda, under Seguya's reign since 2011, the number of visitors to national parks has grown from 207,994 to 245,725 while revenue collections rose from Shs 20 billion in 2011 to more than Shs 70billion in 2016.
“I advised the minister to renew Seguya’s contract. I even met all the board members and gave them my position [because] I am directly responsible for this sector,” Kiwanda told The Observer on February 19.
Seguya moved from Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) in 2011, to head UWA as caretaker following the interdiction of Moses Mapesa.
Mapesa was fired along with Mwandha, Joseph Tibaijuka and Olive Kyampire for alleged mismanagement of funds meant for the ‘Friend-a-Gorilla’ campaign in 2010.
According to a September 2010 forensic audit report of UWA by Ernst & Young, Mwandha, who was at the time the director of conservation, was found to be culpable in the questionable payments to Saatchi & Saatchi, a PR firm contracted to publicise the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign.
In an October 18, 2010 letter firing Mwandha, UWA chairman Dr Muballe Boysier Oumar wrote:
“At the board of trustees meeting held on 15th October 2010, it was resolved that your services with UWA are no longer required with immediate effect. As per the human resource manual you are entitled to three months’ salary in lieu of notice. This termination is not a bar to legal action UWA may institute against you...”
Kiwanda is said to have raised this situation with Kamuntu but the senior minister reportedly told his junior that Mwandha had explained himself. Kamuntu told The Observer on February 19 that he had appointed a competent individual.
“The process which interviewed and recommended the names to me looked into all those issues and found the three candidates competent enough to head UWA in the position of executive director,” Kamuntu said.
“My role was simply to appoint any of the three recommended to me, therefore, I did not act outside the law,” he added.
However, Seguya himself has not been a stranger to controversy during his time in charge.
On May 2, 2017, President Museveni wrote to the Inspector General of Government (IGG), asking Justice Irene Mulyagonja to investigate "wrongdoing in the Uganda Wildlife Authority."
The president listed eight issues that he said ought to be investigated, including an allegation that Seguya had authorised the export of high value pangolin scales contrary to international conservation norms.
Museveni also made reference to the alleged theft of 1,300kgs of impounded ivory worth Shs 3bn from UWA stores, which in 2014 led to the suspension of Seguya pending investigations. He was later cleared.
It is, therefore, suspected that Kamuntu was acting under pressure from State House when advertising Seguya's job and going ahead to offer it to Mwandha even when Seguya was among the three shortlisted candidates.