All is not well at Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences (CHS) following court’s recent nullification of the appointment of Prof Damalie Nakanjako as CHS principal.
In this analysis of the situation, SULAIMAN KAKAIRE lays bare how the top management’s underlying quest to control funding is driving it to impose its weight on the college with the ultimate view of supervising multimillion-dollar projects.
CHS rarely indulges in management politics. In spite of the well-documented staff intrigue at Makerere University, CHS is rarely cited in the fights over ‘juicy’ projects.’ As Dr David Kateete, the department head of Immunology at School of Biomedical Sciences, reasons, CHS provides so much for everyone to benefit.
“Why fight over projects when the existing ones cannot even be fully exhausted?” he wonders.
In the rarest of cases when disagreements emerge, the CHS institutional culture has been; ‘let’s live together as a family.’
However, the current situation at CHS has reached a point one would describe as ‘enough is enough.’ All this stems from the appointment of Prof Damalie Nakanjako as principal, a process that was quashed by court in September.
Court, in particular, faulted the search committee chaired by Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka and ordered a fresh appointment process to be undertaken by a different search committee. However, the University Council has since appealed the decision.
Genesis of standoff
On January 4, about 40 CHS staff dragged Makerere University to court challenging the processes adopted to appoint Prof Nakanjako as CHS principal. On the surface, it seemed a matter of breach of a technicality in recruitment but the underlying issue is the university council infringing on rights of CHS staff to participate in the affairs and governance of the college.
“It has become the culture of management to impose leadership on us and this is one of the times people said enough is enough,” said a senior professor at CHS who preferred anonymity to speak freely.
In 2014 when Prof Nelson Ssewankambo retired as CHS principal, the university search committee recommended three candidates to the Senate to take over. From the record, Dr Harriet Mayanja emerged the best. However, the University Council selected Dr Charles Ibingira, who was the second-best candidate, something that divided opinion within the college.
“There were those who didn’t agree with the decision but as a college we sat and said; colleagues, these are all our people; we should amicably solve the issue,” said a leading don at CHS.
Fast forward to today, Makerere’s university council is yet again being accused of manipulating the process leading to the recruitment of the new CHS principal.
“Enough is enough….we should respect rules once made. We cannot operate with impunity. From the process, it was Prof Moses Joloba who was the best and Dr Nakanjako second,” said Dr Kateete, one of the lead petitioners.
On September 26, 2019, Makerere University published a job advert for the position of Principal CHS under which the candidates for the said position were required to, among other things, have a PhD or other academic doctorate equivalent.
According to some CHS members, who keenly studied the said advert, it was not innocent.
“This requirement of the PhD was from the word go conceived to lead to a particular outcome of the recruitment process,” said Dr Moses Ocan, one of the petitioners.
In their suit, the complainants argued that given the peculiar circumstances of the CHS, where clinical scholars comprise nearly 70 per cent of the senior members of the staff and are non-PhD holders, the requirement of a PhD or a doctorate for the post of principal disproportionately diminishes the pool of talent that Makerere University can attract in its ranks.
“This is demonstrably why the [university] could not fulfil the requirements of the law through the impugned advert and decided to irregularly amend the rules in the course of the recruitment process,” reads Kateete’s affidavit.
Kateete further argued that in setting the impugned requirement of PhD, Makerere University arbitrarily put a ceiling on the career advancement of clinical scholars, which is demonstrably unjustifiable, unfair and unjust.
“The requirement of the PhD totally negates the traditional training as we have known it in the health sciences. Health sciences has two kinds of pathways; you can be clinical or biomedical, both which are recognized here in Uganda and worldwide. So, we have professors here, professors of medicine who have no PhDs, it doesn’t mean they are incompetent…they are well competent and they supervise PhD scholars,” Kateete told us.
Kateete explains that in a clinical scholarly track, clinicians can take a career path that has a master’s degree in medicine as a terminal degree but continue academic work or scholarship as a clinician.
ELIMINATION OF IBINGIRA AND KIGULI
In the instant case, the effect of the said requirement prevented Prof Ibingira from reappointment and eliminated senior leaders such Prof Sarah Kiguli. Ibingira complained to the university council about the said job advert and its discrimination.
In his affidavit in support of the CHS case, he said the position of CHS principal has never had a requirement for a PhD.
“My predecessor, Prof Nelson Sewankambo, was also appointed as a clinical scholar without the requirement of a PhD and there were no negative appraisal reports about his or my performance due to lack of a PhD,” Ibingira argued.
In its response to the application, acting university secretary Yusuf Kiranda argued that the requirement of a PhD was made due to the changing demands of the job.”
Ironically, the staff were not consulted about these new demands and the introduction of the requirement was done before amending the Human Resource Manual which provides for the clinical scholars.
After the first advert, there was only one applicant for the job, something that the search committee deemed would lead to the discrediting of the process. Besides, it was not in compliance with Section 29(2)(a) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act which had provided that the search committee was mandatorily expected to identify five candidates for recommendation to the senate.
According to a source on the search committee, they agreed to run a second advert through which they would attract more candidates that would legitimise the process. Accordingly, council also relaxed the mandatory requirement on the search committee to identify five candidates for recommendation to senate.
So, almost when the process was towards conclusion after candidates had been interviewed and made presentations, Makerere University purported to amend the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Statute to give the search committee powers to identify up to five suitable candidates for the post of CHS principal, thereby circumventing the provisions of Section 29(2)(a) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act which had provided that the search committee was mandatorily expected to identify five candidates for recommendation to senate.
On the side of management, it is claimed that the said requirements “were notified to all potential applicants at the beginning of the recruitment process, and not during the middle of the process as alleged,” reads Kiranda’s affidavit.
In court’s view, the said amendment intended to give the search committee discretionary powers to identify up to five suitable candidates instead of the five candidates for recommendation to the senate.
“This means that the search committee may identify less than the initially required five candidates to the senate. The senate now selects up to three names for submissions to the council, and not the mandatory three names, which relaxes the system. The council then recommends one candidate to the chancellor for appointment,” observed Justice Esta Nambayo in her ruling.
ENTER PROF JOLOBA
After understanding that the council was bent on imposing leadership on CHS, a section within CHS convinced Prof Joloba, who is the dean, school of the Biomedical Sciences, to tender in his application for the job.
Having served as a head of department, dean and with a PhD, Joloba didn’t have a match in the competition for the job.
From the records, the search committee scored Prof Joloba as the best candidate. However, in a surprising turn of events, the search committee eliminated Prof Joloba from the race on grounds that he had questionable attributes of integrity and honesty.
This was included in its report to senate on February 12, 2020. In all these processes, Prof Joloba was not given a fair hearing. According to the minutes of the senate meeting, some members queried why the search committee had eliminated Prof Joloba on the basis of merely being investigated by the Inspectorate of Government.
“The conclusion of the search committee could have been justified if he had been indicted by the IGG, but here we were being informed that a colleague cannot be appointed because he is being investigated. An investigation on an individual is not a conclusion on their integrity or honesty. Anyway, since we had the full report of the search committee, we considered the matter altogether,” said a senate member, who conditioned to remain anonymous since they are not authorised to speak on behalf of the senate.
During the senate meeting, the debate was divided, thereby leading to a vote on whether they should forward Nakanjako or Joloba to the university council. However, before members voted, there was a disagreement over the procedure for voting.
“Most of us wanted a secret ballot but the chairperson of the senate [Vice Chancellor Prof Barnarbas Nawangwe] insisted on an open vote,” said the source.
Eventually, 50 members abstained from the vote, while 10 voted in favour of Nakanjako and only seven in favour of Joloba. Both Nawangwe and his then deputy vice chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, Prof William Bazeyo, openly voted for Nakanjako. Nakanjako’s name thereafter was forwarded to the university council.
Reached out, Prof Nawangwe declined to comment on the issue. “The matter is in court and I am constrained to talk about it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prof Nakanjako did not respond to our repeated queries.
On February 14, 2020, two days after the senate decision, 67 members of staff from CHS appealed to council to stay the appointment process and for council to undertake an independent investigation into the complaints raised against one of the candidates.
In their petition, the CHS petitioners complained about the preclusion of CHS senior members from the process of recruiting the college principal, the requirement of the PhD, the removal of Prof Joloba and the amendment of the rules to favor one candidate.
On March 18, 2020, the senate reconsidered the matter and, according to the minutes, it was observed that; “it was the responsibility of senate to decide, not the search committee; ii) the guidelines senate recommended needed to be looked at; iii) legal advice was given that Senate had in its wisdom to make an evaluation on what was presented by the search committee; iv) Get the IGG letter to the search committee and the committee reconsiders its recommendation since senate considers the recommendation of the search committee; v) according to the report of the search committee, Prof Joloba was number one, but was not considered because of the investigation by the IGG. Now the IGG cleared him.”
The senate further observed that since the reason the search committee deviated from the ranking was integrity which has been cleared; “there was no reason why the senate should not follow the ranking of applicants as presented by the search committee.”
After deliberations, the senate agreed to vote on the candidate who was ranked highest in the report and whether his name should be recommended for consideration by the university council or not. From the vote count, 40 members voted in favor of Prof Joloba and recommended his name be forwarded to the council.
This time round, Prof Nawangwe and Prof Bazeyo voted in favour of Prof Joloba. Four members voted Nakanjako while nine abstained.
However, when Joloba’s name was forwarded, the university council faulted the senate for not complying with Section 13 of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Statute, which required that the recommended candidate had to come from the search committee.
Eventually, when the university council requested the search committee to review its recommendation of the candidate for the position of principal, the committee upheld its earlier decision not to recommend Prof Joloba to senate.
What is baffling is that the search committee never brought these matters to the attention of Joloba despite his request for a fair hearing which was not honoured. Procedurally, it was also strange that instead of the search committee reporting back to senate about its decision, it reported to the council.
The central administration’s intentions have been engendered by the 1970 Makerere University Act, which made Makerere ‘a state institute’ that was administered like any other government department.
Since its establishment, Makerere maintained financial autonomy from the state through a medium buffer body, the grants committee, through which various financiers funnelled funds.
According to Prof Kasozi, the university became subjected to government red tape and had to abide by government ‘standing orders.’ “The universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act increased but did not give Makerere all the freedom it needs to freely operate…This was what happened in the administration of its finance where sections of the 1970 Act were not changed in the 2001 UOTI Act,” he says.
Prof Kasozi explains that the governance of Makerere and other public universities was complicated by the legal framework, which stipulated how the university should constitute its top administrators.
“The method of constituting the leadership in public universities tends to be politicized. Residues of the 1970 Makerere University Act, which regarded public universities as mere government departments, are insensitive to university culture which must respond to both international and local needs. Although top administrators are elected, their roles are not only contradictory to one another but also tie the university to public administrative behaviour,” Prof Kasozi observes.
Weighing in on the ongoing management malaise at CHS, analysts argue that among what is happening at CHS is a symptom to the bigger problem occasioned by the structural adjustment programs, which changed the planning and management models for higher education.
“We need to retrace this to the bigger issue of neoliberalisation of the education sector,” Dr Ocan said.
Since the 1980s, when Makerere University started to operate within the neoliberal constraints, CHS seemed not to be affected by the new financing model. In fact, CHS continued to exhibit stellar performance over the years—even when other academic units struggled to cope with the World Bank-imposed funding model to the extent that it continues to be ranked among the best ten medical training and research institutions on the continent.
CHS has been the host for collaborative research projects, including the successful research into prevention of mother-to-child HIV/Aids transmission, which was later adopted by the World Health Organisation. Other researches were treatment for meningococcal meningitis and some research in cancer management, malaria, tuberculosis and maternal health, among others.
Currently, CHS is the host to almost 54 per cent of the Makerere University research grants, which makes it the hub of funding and grants.
“With this kind of money, it is extremely hard for management, which has been stopped from collecting tuition, to keep away its eyes,” said an observer of the situation who preferred anonymity.
In his book entitled The National Council for Higher Education and the Growth of the University sub-sector in Uganda, 2002-2012, Prof ABK Kasozi argues that the long-lasting legacy of the imposed structural adjustment programmes have damaged the university’s incomes and influenced the embrace of a “corporatized” new public management model (NPM).
The new public management model–which is inextricably linked to the dominant politics of regime survival and control of the academic space as a centre of critique, has involved the role of the academic staff in management of academic units being reduced to the generation of funds and harnessing of the university management’s financial control interests thereby threatening research and knowledge production at CHS.
To engender this move, the university council amended the 2008 Research and Innovations Policy with the Grants Administration and Management Policy of 2020, with a view of bringing all grants and projects funds under the overall administration and supervision of the University council.
So, one of the analysts who is a member of CHS argues that the management is interested in Dr Nakanjako because Dr Ibingira and other predecessors were not cooperative with it in management and supervision of grants and funds. “Her role is to monitor the resources at the college on behalf of management,” the member said.