Makerere University has run back to local tailors in Wandegeya whom it forsook in 2017 for a sole contractor to secure at least 4,000 gowns for the 70th graduation ceremony for the over 13,000 graduands.
Starting tomorrow, Makerere is set to graduate 13,509 students in a 4-day ceremony. Previously, students used to procure their own gowns mostly from tailors in Wandegeya. But in 2017, Makerere contracted Team Uniform Ltd as a sole supplier to provide the patented graduation gowns to the graduands.
For this year's graduation ceremony, the contractor has only managed to import from China just 6,383 gowns, 900 caps & 6,792 hoods short of the over 13,000 needed.
The importation of the gowns from China drew a backlash from many Ugandans on social media. Last week on Friday, Makerere ordered Team Uniform to deliver the remaining gowns over the weekend but it seems the contractor fell short since the university management has now approached tailors in Wandegeya to make 4,000 emergency gowns.
Each student at Makerere is charged a mandatory Shs 98,000 for the gown. Wandegeya tailors are reportedly laughing their way to the bank after charging Makerere way above the Shs 98,000 that each student paid for the gown.
According to sources, Makerere vice chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe instructed that the gowns "be purchased at whatever price" so as to save the image of the university.
According to a tailor in Wandegeya, they have been instructed to produce at least 1500 gowns today and a further 2500 tomorrow. He said the tailors have the capacity to produce the gowns and wondered why the university had to import them in the first place. Students have threatened to disrupt the graduation ceremonies if the university doesn’t avail all students their gowns.
Makerere university students guild has given the university management an ultimatum of the close of business today to deliver the remaining gowns. Initial reports indicated that the contractor was holding on the gowns until an outstanding balance for the production of gowns delivered last year has been cleared.
Meanwhile, police foiled a press conference organised by the students guild to address journalists on the gowns matter. Nonetheless, Joshua Lawel Muhwezi, the Makerere guild information minister said the absence of gowns a day before the ceremonies, casts a dark shadow on what is supposed to be a moment for celebrating triumphs.
“The moments preceding graduations are always those of excitement, warmth and joy. Unfortunately, today we find ourselves in the opposite of this situation. With thousands of students yet to get their gowns, [college of Humanities and Social Sciences] alone which is the biggest college that has more than 2000 has not received a single gown or cap,” Muhwezi said.
Muhwezi argues that Makerere does not lack funds, but rather suffers from financial mismanagement and under-utilization of its assets. Muhwezi alludes to a syndicate in the production of gowns at the university - pointing out that such operations are the reason the university found itself in a crisis.
“We have information that this is just one of the syndicates, they usually play in the senate and the main building, the contractor has roots in the senate and now someone wants the contracts and hence the sabotage and now we are all in a crisis and this is what happens every other day, we have a mere group of hungry mafias leading the university, permanent members of the council,” he added.
According to Muhwezi, before the institution resurrects the debate of fees increment, financial management and issues of university management should be settled. He wondered why a university that had in 2009 emphasized that it was doing away with non-core business and only concentrate on teaching and training, research, knowledge transfer would now be directly involved in the production of gowns.
Nawangwe has insisted that the graduation will proceed as scheduled despite the inconveniences caused to the parents and graduands.
Nawangwe in a statement released on Sunday, January 12 apologized to the graduands saying that the university had put in place emergency measures to ensure that gowns are ready for the ceremonies to proceed.
“Management regrets the inconvenience and anxiety created by the contractor’s failure to honour the contract and assures all the graduands that everything necessary is being done to ensure a smooth graduation ceremony,” said Nawangwe.