Following a social media backlash, Makerere University has distanced itself from the deal that saw a local supplier import into the country 7,000 graduation gowns from China ahead of the 70th graduation ceremony next week.
A big number of Ugandans on social media expressed 'shock' and disappointment at the move by the sole contractor, Team Uniform Limited to import the graduation gowns from a foreign country instead of procuring them from local suppliers so as to boost the already limping economy.
Students are charged a mandatory Shs 98,000 each for the graduation gown which would translate to Shs 1.3bn from the 13,509 graduands set to graduate next week in a four-day ceremony.
Earlier, the university's communications officials claimed the gowns were imported because they did not want to compromise on quality just for the sake of promoting local investors. Until 2017, each graduand would purchase or rent their own gowns from local suppliers.
Makerere vice chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe said he was equally disappointed just like so many others that no local suppliers could be contracted to supply the gowns to a public institution like Makerere. Nawangwe said the supplier was put to task by the university management to explain why he opted to import the gowns, a move which is taking foreign exchange out of the country. According to Nawangwe, the contractor justified his decision including delayed payment and lack of an advance payment.
“Of course this is going to be addressed by [university] council. Council is the overall governing body it is going to ask questions why did it happen like this? And once council address that we will inform you,” Nawangwe said.
“Where he [contractor] makes them, how he makes them provided he makes them to the desired standards and specifications that we have given him that is what is important,” Nawangwe added.
Upon the arrival of the first consignment of the gowns, Alfred Masikye Namoah Makerere academic registrar instructed all college and school registrars to report to the central stores to collect the gowns for the graduands in their respective colleges.
"Of course as a government institution, we’re disappointed that his [supplier] action is not supporting BUBU [Buy Uganda Build Uganda policy] because we know that there are enough people in this country that can make those gowns in a short time. We asked him why did you do this? He has explained, he claimed the money was released a little late, and we said but you quoted saying you had the capacity to supply and then be paid."
"But of course, he gave excuses [that] in the past the money has been paid late and so on. So it is not our wish that the gowns should come from abroad. They should be made here to support our economy but it is not Makerere responsible for that. It is the supplier and the relationship is between us and the supplier." Nawangwe added.
The distribution of the gowns kicked off this morning in various units of the institution. Our reporter visited the college of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and college of Education and External Studies (CEES) where the distribution was already taking place, amidst scuffles and congestion.
By 1:00 pm, there was no sign of distribution of gowns at the college of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS). Prospective graduands were seen walking from corner to corner of the faculty of Arts building. In 2018, Makerere imposed a mandatory fee of Shs 98,000 on each student for a patented gown. Unlike in previous years, students are expected to only use the exclusive graduation gown.
Nawangwe blames the late distribution of the gowns to the late supply by the contractor who he says demanded for advance payment, which wasn’t done in time.
"The contract that we have with the supplier is that we shall pay after the gowns have been delivered. That means that the supplier who has been appointed and we have a contract with him which still runs I think for another two years - the contract says you supply and we pay. The assumption which was made by the contracts committee, they must have checked because there were many people who applied that the supply has the capacity to make these gowns and wait for payments. So we’re ourselves asking questions why did you have to wait for an advance which is not even in the agreement before you can supply? But we’re going to handle that."