“Dr Muhairwe’s contract was a fixed contract and did not have a renewal clause. This meant that once it expired, his legal relationship with National Water and Sewerage Corporation would automatically be severed with no obligation imposed on the employer to renew”
This is an extract of the solicitor general’s opinion on whether Dr. Muhairwe William the former Managing Director of NWSC should be re-contracted after his stay at the corporation had run out. It appears as a strange starter but it cracked the first whip in the search for a new substantive Managing director at the corporation.
The opinion was written on 18th October 2011, a month later the board decided not to renew Muhairwe’s contract but rather search for a new MD. However this did not come to pass until August 2013, two years later.
Did the board need two years to appoint a managing director? Was influence peddled? Who played the cards in the two years NWSC searched for a Managing Director? This blog post investigates the rubble that halted the NWSC appointment for two years.
How It Played Out
National water and Sewerage Corporation commenced the search of a new MD as early as November 2011 when an advert was placed to have a person fill the top slot. Documents obtained from a special board meeting on 31st January 2012 show that the board fearing the sensitivity of the appointment contracted an independent consultant to handle the process. Following the meetings on 22nd March, the board resolved that KPMG, a leading consultancy firm takes the contract for the appointment of a new MD.
KPMG promised to develop screening criteria to include the requirements of the position and then present a short-list of 4-6 successful candidates for the Job. 22 days later, the consultancy firm presented a list of four members to the board for appointment however the board declined to appoint and ordered the firm to review the experience of the candidates at senior management level from 8 to 5 years and produce a new short-list.
It is after this that the first list of six was produced as Patrick Byabakama, Alex Gisagara, Keith Kalyegira, Silver Mugisha, John Genda Walala and Harrison Mutikanga.
However when reading the list to the board, the chairman Christine Nandyose added the applicants that had been apparently passed by the Public service commission. The board approved John Peter Mujuni and Dan Kibuuka Kyobe who were not on the KPMG list and dropped John Genda Walala who had been approved on the KPMG list. The list was then given to KPMG as the choice of the board for shortlisting.
In a shocking turn of events, KPMG wrote to the Board in a 21st June 2012 Letter terminating their services from the process citing the inclusion of new names as a breach of their professional standards.
The letter is quoted as saying, “The inclusion of additional names is not consistent with our professional standards and could put in question the integrity of the whole process, as a result we are unable to continue with the process”.
After KPMG pulled out of the process board members were divided as to whether the added candidate qualified for the job.
The IGG in her report stings the board saying it was indeed irregular and illegal for the board to smuggle a seventh candidate into the shortlist. The report says, the additional names had gained ‘unfair advantage over the others’.
Public Service Enters the Mess
The board chairman then deferred the process to the Public service commission to continue the appointment process. In a letter dated 28th June 2012,a copy of which I have seen , the chairperson requests the Public service commission to continue the recruitment process. Attached to the letter were the shortlisted candidates and their CV’s, however no criteria was given to the body.
PSC gave three tests to the candidates (written competence test, in-tray exercise and oral interviews) and from a shortlist of three candidates (Gisagara,Mugisha and Byabakama) chose Engineer Silver Mugisha as the potential candidate for the job. However after the results emerged, the different candidates raised queries concerning the fairness of the exercise. The board then subjected them to further questioning before they could be approved as the short-listed candidates for the job. Part of the questions, it is understood, were personal and aimed at tarnishing the names of some of the candidates.
The IGG delivers a blow to the board in her report saying, the board members were prejudiced and asked very subjective and personalised questions. She adds “this subjective process, of course, could not be perceived to be fair to either candidate” the report concludes that the PSC and board interviews of the candidates were manifestly unfair to the candidates as they lacked the required objectivity in any ordinary recruitment process.
Albeit the recommendations of the IGG, the new board that was to be appointed a month later proceeded to appoint Silver Mugisha with no mention whatsoever of the IGG’s recommendations.
The Letter Spring
At the height of the confusion over NWSC leadership, the board sat one more time and synonymously agreed to appoint Alex Gisagara who had been the acting MD at the time, the minutes were written and sent to the Minister, then Maria Mutagamba, for approval. Instead of approving, Mutagamba authored a letter to the president dated 4th August 2012 requesting him to carry out ‘security vetting’ of the top two candidates.
The following weeks were stormy as the decision to appoint Gisagara, initially unrevealed, surfaced in Parliament. Many board members fearing to conflict while appearing before parliament disowned the board resolutions saying there was no consent to those minutes and that the process of appointment was still on-going.
The reply from the president was a cabinet re-shuffle which saw Mutagamba leave the ministry for Ephraim Kamuntu. Immediately he took over office, Kamuntu authored another letter to the president on 7th September 2012 saying the president had been misinformed as to the facts of the appointment.
Kamuntu argued that Silver Mugisha and not Gisagara was the recommended candidate for the job. The basis of his argument was that the PSC had put Mugisha ahead in the appointment process as he had scored more marks from the tests.
Museveni wrote back six months later in a letter dated 24th February, he is quoted as having said, “The correct thing should be to appoint Eng. Silver Mugisha who scored high from the PSC interviews and besides he is the new broom which may be necessary”.
What however had not been told to the President was that the PSC had carried out a sham interview of the candidates based on no criteria known to the appointing authority (board) whatsoever. The process had also been discredited after KPMG pulled out due to undue influence from the board.
Kamuntu then forwarded the letter and its contents to a new Board chairman William Oketcho on 4th March this year.
What will never be known to the public though is, what transpired in the board meeting that resolved Gisagara be appointed to the top job?
What is clear though is that the IGG says not all facts were put to the President, and not even Kamuntu himself new all the facts as regards the appointment process. He made a biased argument and tagged in the power of the president to push the water body to appoint Mugisha.
After forcing the board to appoint Mugisha from both the President and the Water Minister Ephraim Kamuntu, a new board chairman William Oketcho refused to adhere to the opinion of the president and the minister saying the two do not have the legal mandate to handle the appointment process as the NWSC act only provides for the board as the appointing authority. Oketcho preferred that the board listen to the IGG’s report and refresh the whole process.
After the IGG released her report on the mess surrounding the appointment process where she condemned the board and the minister for exerting undue political interference on the appointment, William Oketcho was suspended as the chairman of the board by Ephraim Kamuntu.
His reason being, Oketcho had deliberately delayed the appointment process.
In the face of NWSC was a stinging IGG report that recommended the process be refreshed if it is to be deemed fair, critics had also weighed in that the withdrawal of KPMG, a respected consultancy firm had already tainted the process, a split board one faction in favour of the suspended Oketcho and another faction for the Minister Kamuntu.
Oketcho was replaced by Engineer Chris Ebalu and in unprecedented fashion, the IGG’s report was sidelined and Mugisha appointed as MD. The decision remained guarded and was only communicated to the media after repeated attempts to get the information.
The Daily Monitor was first to break the story of the appointment without quoting any official source on the matter but rather the appointment letter given to Mugisha.
After almost two years of bickering, the process was still shabbily done and irregularities cited everywhere.
Why did the minister suspend Oketcho at such a crucial point in the appointment process?
Why was Oketcho’s decision to follow the IGG’s recommendations regarded as ‘deliberately delaying the appointment process’ by the Minister?
Why was an earlier board decision to appoint Alex Gisagara, who had been acting MD for the two years shelved?
Why was the minister having peculiar interest in one of the candidates?
Why would the President be involved in the appointment of a corporate head?
These entire questions remain unanswered for the daily Ugandan water consumer.