Until the beginning of this year, the sitting posture at Bank of Uganda’s level 7 boardroom told who exactly wielded power.
The governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile sat in the middle sandwiched on his immediate left by deputy governor Dr Louis Kasekende, followed by Justine Bagyenda, the then executive director for supervision. On the right, sat Dr Adam Mugume, the executive director, research. Mutebile called on these to answer any questions concerning their departments.
“The banking sector is stable,” Bagyenda usually answered assertively to any journalist who questioned the sector’s health. Oblivious to the reporters was the power she wielded in the central bank itself both as the director, commercial banking and later executive director, supervision.
Last week, Bagyenda told the Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu-led parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (cosase), that in 2014 there were minutes of the closure of Global Trust bank and its resultant sale to Dfcu bank and that the decision had been agreed upon by the entire board. But BOU secretary Susan Kanyemibwa, shot back: “Mr Chairman, through the governor, I have all the minutes from January to December 2014 and those ones [of Global Trust bank’s sale] are not in.”
Then came more revelations. That the bank was sold just hours after she pressed the padlock. That National Bank of Commerce was sold to Crane bank via a mere phone-call. If anything, this literally shows how muchpower the Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh Business School-MBA graduate wielded over the country’s financial sector.
On several high-level conferences around the world, including at the World Bank, IMF and other premium organisations, she presented papers on corporate governance and its significance in the banking sector. In short profile submitted to the World Bank and International Finance Corporation’s financial and private sector development forum in 2007, Bagyenda described herself as having experience in “bank supervision, restructuring and resolution...and prudential norms and practices.”
“She has been instrumental in conducting diagnostic and due diligence reviews of problem banks and has taken a lead role in resolving and liquidating failed banks,” read her profile in part.
The information available shows that Bagyenda has worked as a short-term consultant to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for East AFRITAC (East African Regional Technical Assistance Center) missions. She is chairperson of the Uganda Anti– Money Laundering Committee. Bagyenda also has a bachelor’s degree in finance and a diploma in credit appraisal.
In the committee, her profile crumbled as MPs – some of whom not economists – helped poke holes into her and her former colleagues’ responses at BOU. In February, 2018 after more than 25 years at BOU, Mutebile decided to fire her with six months to run her contract. She refused to hand over office because her contract was still standing. At parliament, there have been moments that bordered on humour and absurdity.
For instance, last week, on failure of directors to answer questions, Katuntu pressed to get Mutebile get in and he dropped a bombshell: “If the heads of departments can’t answer, how do you expect me to answer?” While this showed that the governor gave his officials liberty and power to carry out their roles, the Mutebile of yesterday would never say that, said one analyst.
Policy analyst and economist Ramathan Ggoobi twitted rather sarcastically that the governor “should tell us [the country] who was in charge]”.
In 2004, a whole chapter in the book, The World’s Banker, by US journalist Sabastian Mallaby, was dedicated to Mutebile. The journalist described him as a no-nonsense technocrat who often told off President Museveni that his policies would not work.
“I told him, look, we know you are going to fail; allow us to continue preparing for when your program fails,” Mutebile reportedly told off Museveni as the latter tried to gamble the country on barter trade.
So, did he hold firm even after settling in as the governor? This is the question that will be answered when the committee releases its final report.
For now, the sitting posture in Cosase has mostly changed from that of level 7 – perhaps symbolic of changing dynamics at the country’s most important bank. Mutebile sat at the first chair near committee leaders, his current and former officials, including Bagyenda follow in the line. He watches on quietly as they are being baked.