Staff say she used CMI spies against them and referring cases to CMI which staff say could have been handled internally.
To describe Jolly Kaguhangire as ‘a get-things done kind of a person’ in April 2017 when she was appointed the executive director of Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) was an understatement.
Look, the authority’s board said then, that her “track record of managing corporate business plans and reforms in Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is what UIA needs at this critical time when we are beginning to implement the Strategic Plan 2016-2021”.
Kaguhangire, a holder of masters of organisational management from Uganda Christian University, was part of a growing cohort of ‘high-profile, high-performing’ women at the pinnacle of Uganda’s public corporate world – most of whom were nurtured at URA.
About fortnight ago, the board which originally seemed so impressed by her credentials interdicted her for three months and forced its way into her office to evict her.
Her 23-year record, spelt out on the social network, LinkedIn had been tattered. The cacophony ensuing from her noisy refusal to step aside, prompting security intervention, may also have dented her reputation irreparably.
Did the board fail to do due diligence before appointing her? Were her reforms threatening some people’s interests? Could it be witch-hunt …? The answer lies in between there. Kaguhangire’s former colleagues at URA describe her with kind words.
“For me she came off as an okay person,” said one, seemingly baffled at UIA employees’ accusations of corruption and abuse of office logged against her with the Inspectorate of Government.
Vincent Seruma, a former colleague and now the URA assistant commissioner for corporate affairs, described Kaguhangire as empathetic, listening and kind.
“She relates well with people,” Seruma told The Observer on Monday.
But kindness and empathy was not always going to turnaround a very troubled UIA. Pragmatism, fearlessness, and the ruthlessness akin to Allen Kagina when she set foot at URA in the early 1990s and replicated when she moved to Uganda National Roads Authority were more like it.
Another product of the URA school, Jenipher Musisi was showing such a hardness at Kampala Capital City Authority with admirable results.
Firing old staff and ordering new recruitments is always part of the equation. Kaguhangire attempted this route – trying a restructuring since July last year, according to one insider. She unearthed a murram mining and land parcelling racket led by some officials at UIA.
“People started whispering whenever she entered office,” an employee told us. “It was not clear who was going to be fired next.”
But what broke the camel’s back was a move in March, 2018 where five directors were given three months to hand over their offices and re-apply for the jobs. Since then, accusations of recruiting relatives, and tribes mates became rife, reaching the IGG in May.
An employee who is among those she fired told Observer: “As soon as she came in, she said she wanted to restructure the organisation to get new people because ‘many of us were incompetent and not up to the task of attracting investors’. She also said that she was ‘a high level person’ in the country who cared about her security so she wanted to work with people she knew.”
“She instigated police and CMI [chieftaincy of military intelligence] to investigate us for corrupt tendencies but all of them found no merit in her allegation. She then sent spies in the Namanve [Industrial] Park who said that we had failed to do our work by allowing people to excavate murram from the area. We were interdicted for six months pending investigations although police had told her there was no evidence but they feared to contradict her because she has connections in State House.”
“She also changed the regulation of getting investor licenses by introducing security vetting of investors by CMI and ISO. This reduced the investors coming for license from 400 to just 192 for the one year she has been at UIA because investors were uncomfortable with security vetting,” the employee said.
Another staff has said there was a lot of outcry internally yet their political master, minister for Investment Evelyn Anite, seemed either unwilling or was incapable of doing anything abut Kaguhangire’s alleged abuses.
And so, the senior minister of Finance Matia Kasaija came in. Anite has told journalists that she was never consulted by the board on the decision to interdict her. She is now the subject of an investigation by the ombudsman of government.
Weeklong efforts to reach Kaguhangire for an interview have been futile.
Looking at UIA’s close to three-decade journey, it would be insane to expect even a saint to succeed at such a politically sensitive authority. The authority’s very first executive director George Rubagumya tested just how hard, or even impossible, it is to run an organisation with so many vested interests.
For starters, UIA deals with investors (some of whom may have been shooed-in through State House), allocates land and touts investment opportunities in the country. Many people, including those with higher powers, want a piece of this.
Rubagumya, a lawyer, resigned after about seven years. Senior journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo summed up Rubagumya’s stay at UIA after he met him in the USA in 2004.
“At UIA, Rubagumya was a harassed man despite the trappings of executive privilege,” Obbo wrote in his Daily Monitor column ‘Ear to the ground’ on March 10, 2004.
“He became an unlicensed punching bag and official fall guy for government leaders who blamed him whenever investors complained even about weather. In the end, George was sacked. Eventually, he returned to the US where he settled back into the life of a lawyer-cum-consultant.”
Not much can be written home about Rubagumya’s term. He was replaced by Yob Okello, who had worked at the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation in Australia.
He resigned after one year. His appointment, however, had coincided with the peak of chaotic privatisation drive in the country. His direct contact with investors earned him foes and friends. The process was too scandal-ridden for him to handle.
In a 2001 paper, economists Arne Bigsten and Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa said: “The privatisation scandals in Uganda, brewing for most of the second half of 1998, reached a head with the resignation of two key members of the government directly responsible for privatisation.”
Okello and Matthew Rukikaire, the then state minister for privatisation, were the officials.
THE KIGOZI EFFECT
Things looked up for the authority when Dr Maggie Kigozi was appointed in 2001. Her presence grabbed headlines and she became a smiling fixture at trade conferences.
But even when Kigozi won UIA the corporate location prize for the best investment promotion agency in Africa and the Middle East in 2001, she found harsh critics of her handling of land issues.
The most visible was the 2006 sale of a Kampala landmark with considerable sentimental value, Shimoni Demonstration School land for Shs 3.6 billion to Saudi investor, Prince Sheikh Alwaleed bin Talal, to build a hotel for the 2007 Commonwealth heads of government meeting.
The deal was laced with politics and has never shaken off the smell of scandal about it. A decade later, the purported hotel has not been built. Kigozi ‘s image was tainted and she was accused of being the “orders-from-above implementer” and a real estate agent transferring public land to powerful people.
When Dr Frank Sebbowa took over in 2011 he found no board and it stayed like that for two years. To assess Sebbowa’s performance, one needs to look no further than the 2014/15 indicting report by the parliamentary committee on statutory authorities and state enterprises (Cosase), headed then by then Kyadondo East MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda.
The former state minister for Investment, Ajedra Aridru, performed the board’s role, Ssemujju’s committee observed. The report notes the executive director played a shadow role with the minister sometimes approving investors’ applications for land.
“In extreme cases, investors have gone to the minister directly and he has been directing management to give them land without due process of appraisal undertaken – this amounts to micro-managing land in Namanve industrial park,” the report said.
Paul Lakuma, a senior research fellow at Makerere University-based Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) told The Observer that the continued fighting and politics at UIA remains bad news for the country at a time when it need to be attracting more investors.
“Absolutely no investor wants to deal with a chaotic institution. UIA was supposed to be a one-stop-centre for business facilitation,” Lakuma said, but it has turned into a hotbed for politic intrigue, fraud and infighting.
It is little wonder then that Kaguhangire is facing allegations of grand corruption, abuse of office and nepotism.