All is not well at the ministry of Works and Transport following a recent order by President Museveni to have Joy Kabatsi appointed as the new Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) board chairperson.
At the centre of the controversy is a standoff between the ministers as well as top-level officials within the ministry regarding Kabatsi’s credentials.
According to our sources, President Museveni recently rang minister Gen Katumba Wamala imploring him to work out modalities to ensure that Kabatsi, who previously supervised URC as their line minister, gets deployed to fill the vacuum that has existed at the parastatal since Hannington Karuhanga’s contract expired a few months ago.
The president’s phone call was preceded by similar efforts by Gen Salim Saleh, who equally engaged Katumba, imploring him to have Kabatsi, a former state minister for Transport, replace Karuhanga.
The duo assert that Kabatsi can do a good job because she is results-oriented, incorruptible and has the relevant experience having supervised the same entity before. The president considers the revamp of the railway system, which is the mandate of URC, urgent in order to make the transportation of goods or cargo into the country less costly amidst skyrocketing fuel and commodity prices.
Last week, he told the BBC that revamping the railway was his plan to alleviate Ugandans’ suffering which high commodity prices have caused as opposed to government coming in to directly subsidize fuel and other commodities prices.
Consequently, a lot of money will be going into the railway revamp project which Museveni and Saleh believe will be put to good use once the corporate governance problems at URC are addressed by making Kabatsi the board chairperson.
The rot at URC was exposed in a recent report by parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase). The report implicated several URC officials for selling URC land while some locomotives were purchased outside procurement regulations.
The report further recommended prosecution and stern action against those involved but little effort has been done on the implicated officials. It is these officials, our sources said, that don’t want to maintain the status quo and don’t want an ‘outsider’ like Kabatsi to take over.
“Gen Katumba worked with Kabatsi for some time and considers her to be quarrelsome and complicated and may overhaul the URC management,” said the source. “That’s why he hasn’t been enthusiastic towards the President’s directive.”
Incidentally, Katumba previously dragged his feet on the reappointment of Allen Kagina as the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) executive director and, most recently, the confirmation of Jenifer Bamuturaki as the CEO of Uganda Airlines.
In the Kabatsi case, according to sources, the reluctant Katumba has got the active backing and support of the state minister for Works, Musa Ecweru. On the other hand, sources say Fred Byamukama, the state minister for Transport (who directly supervises URC) and the permanent secretary Waiswa Bageya are in support of the president’s directive to give the job to Kabatsi.
“They have majority support in the ministry’s top management where Katumba and a few others have been making their case as to dent Kabatsi,” said a source at a level of the commissioner.
It remains to be seen how Katumba will handle the situation but efforts to reach out to him were futile as he did not pick our repeated calls.