Water sector in Uganda is on spotlight over severe allegations of corruption, and the state has moved in to investigate, clean up and remove all the bad apples in both National Water and Sewerage Corporation and Ministry of Water and Environment.
The Board of Directors of National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) is planning to give opportunity to the utility body Managing Director Dr Eng Silver Mugisha to respond to several charges of corruption detailed in a dossier that an unidentified whistleblower emailed to all board members.
Dr Mugisha, who has been at the helm of the water corporation since 2013, has been put on notice to respond to the allegations that include abuse of office, illicit sexual affairs, diversion of funds and manipulation of procurement processes for own benefits.
The whistleblower sent the dossier by email on September 23, 2020 to the board members that include; the chairman, Hajji. Eng. Badru Kiggundu, Col Steven Basaliza, Rt Hon Kidega Dan, Ms Onyiru Sarah, Ms Sarah Mpiima, Ms Racheal kiconco and Mr George Muzungyo Rungye, and copied in the President and the Minister of Water and Environment.
“Yes I received it (dossier). We have a board meeting tomorrow (Thursday October 1, 2020), and we are going to discuss it,” Sarah Onyiru, one of the board members confirmed on phone today Wednesday 30.
The board chairman Hajji Dr Eng Badru Kiggundu did not respond to this writer’s calls for three days.
The whistle blower accuses the NWSC Managing Director of compromising the head of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets to manipulate clearance of dubious procurement transactions.
“On 6th August 2018, Eng. Silver Mugisha recruited Ms. Ruth Kembabazi as Senior Internal Auditor at scale 3.1. This is the wife of Canon Turamye Benson who is the Executive Director of PPDA. At the same time, PPDA was investigating the 17 billion shillings scandal in the procurement of pre-paid meters. On 2nd September 2020, he promoted her to Senior Compliance Officer at scale 3.10 (almost scale of principal officers).This is less than a year when most of other staff have worked for over 5yrs without any promotions. Now we hear that PPDA has cleared management of any wrongdoing in the procurement of prepaid meters,” reads the dossier in part.
The whistle blower further alleges that the Managing Director compromised the Auditor General’s office by promoting NWSC internal auditors at the time when the utility was being audited.
According to the dossier, on 2nd September 2020, three internal audit officers were promoted to compromise an audit exercise that would have uncovered all the dirt in the Corporation. The said staff are; Natukunda Claire (Internal Auditor), who was promoted to scale 3.1; Malinga James (Principal Internal Auditor), who was promoted to scale 2.2.6 and Oryema David (Principal Internal Auditor) that was promoted to scale 2.2.10.
In the dossier, further corruption details (which were recently reported by this newspaper) were outlined for the Board to take action.
Some the allegations are; an irregular procurement of a hotel in Bushenyi, western Uganda to facilitate training of NWSC technical staff; irregular recruitment and employment of several individuals by NWSC, which persons the whistle blower alleges are campaign mobilizers for Dr Eng. Mugisha’s wife, Annet Katusiime, who recently successfully outcompeted Minister Mary Karooro Okurut in the NRM primaries to vie for the Bushenyi Woman Member of Parliament; improper management decisions relating to payment of annual gratuity to the Water body staff and the MD’s contentious acquisition of the NWSC land in Mutundwe where he built a residential house.
On the Bushenyi hotel, the whistle blower states; “NWSC procured a hotel in Bushenyi at a cost of 5.2bn. We hear that the hotel owner failed to pay the mortgage and the hotel was due for distress by the bank. It’s at this time that NWSC bailed them out of the amount which is not worth the value of the property.”
The whistle blower alleges that there are over 200 casual employees in Bushenyi who are paid monthly as field workers but who are campaigning for Dr Silver Mugisha”s wife.
“Most of those who have been brought in and are quickly absorbed in as favors to bigwigs for the MD’s protection. Other staff were recruited illegally and some have no qualifications. They include Kahiji Paul, the Principle PRO and Chairman Forum Democratic Change-Bushenyi, John Turibamwe, the regional Security officer-Mbarara, Zam Musoke, the branch Manager-Bwaise, Sarah Murani- Kabale, Boaz Atuhaire, Byabagambi Security Officer-Bushenyi, Elineo MwineYeremiya-Bushenyi, Maha Murumba-Katerera, Gerrald Musafiri-Buhweju, Lillian Kabazeyo-Kabushaho Water Office, Mbabazi Brigdet, Edrine Bashasha, Ninsim-Ima-Sparia, Sandre Kabirisi, Simon Kerukiika Katuguume, Musafiri Gerald, Matia Murumba, Ninsima Speria, Jafari Basajabalabas Son and Daughter,” the whistle blower elaborates.
The whistle also alleges that the Dr Eng Mugisha has built a house at Mutundwe Hill on NWSC land which is supposed to be for the reservoir tank, using the utility body’s resources. “He (MD) disguised and tarmacked the road to his housing insinuating that the road goes to the reservoir. Roads to many existing reservoirs in Naguru, Muyenga and in others areas are not tarmacked but this new one is the only one tarmacked. It’s believed to have cost about 500million. This is abuse of office and causing financial loss to the corporation,” the whistle blower claims in the dossier.
In the dossier, at least half a dozen female are listed and named whom the Managing Director has allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior in return for privileged favors within NWSC. The whistleblower also accuses the former board chairman Christopher Ebal of having a similar relationship with one of the board members.
The MD is also accused of disregarding staff welfare. “Gratuity is paid after like 6 months in arrears. Lunch allowance for some staff that help them buy soap to clean their field uniforms and overalls has been scrapped. Full comprehensive insurance has been scrapped and drivers are forced to foot the bills in case of accidents yet they earn the least salary in all of public service pay roll structure. Also, NWSC employees are not pleased about management’s reluctance to pay risk allowances meant to motivate employees who continue working and interacting with customers during this COVID19 lockdown period and thereby opening themselves up to exposure risks,” reads the dossier.
In another much more serious allegation, the whistle blower details how hundreds of employees of NWSC between January 2017 and June 2020 deposit over 870 million shillings on an account in Centenary Bank belonging to Bamugisha Community Welfare Limited (BCWL) whose beneficiaries are the Dr Eng Silver Mugisha and his wife. The purpose of the money is unknown. And apparently, BCWL is not in an official working relationship with NWSC.
The MD has in the past denied all these allegations “cheap propaganda”. “There is no nexus between the resources of NWSC and the financing arrangements of this community organization” Dr. Mugisha was recently quoted by PML Daily, an online publication.
When called to find out details of the board meeting Samuel Apedel, the NWSC publicist, did not pick this writer’s calls.
Meanwhile, for more than a week agents from Internal Security Organization have been interrogating Ministry of Water and Environment officials on the directive of President Museveni.
The operatives particularly wanted to find out why the position of an official supposed to oversee NWSC in the Ministry is vacant, which has led to allegations of corruption, importation of fake water meters, mismanagement of wetlands and water resources and the gaps in expansion of safe water to rural areas.
The intelligence investigation started on Monday September 21, 2020 after the President reportedly summoned and met a senior accounting officer.
When contacted the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Alfred Okot Okidi denied meeting the president neither being aware of investigations by security agents.
“I deny meeting the President. You can check records. I am also not aware of the intelligence investigations,” said the PS in a phone interview.
However, highly placed sources say that the official that met the President admitted there was a lot of rot in the water sector resulting into endemic corruption. The said official also admitted that NWSC needed cleaning up.
This publication is also aware that at least senior officials in the Ministry of Water and Environment and the deputy MD of NWSC were interviewed by the security operatives.
“This was a fact-finding investigation. Intelligence has all the information regarding to the corruption in this sector. So the directive was that these operatives just cross-check and verify certain issues,” a source close to this investigation confided.
The intelligence investigation will also advise on whether the law that establishes semi-autonomous corporations and agencies should be reviewed to reduce corruption in most of them.
Intelligence is also reviewing the Ministry’s budgets for the previous three years to determine why some projects are behind schedule.
It is after intelligence submits their findings to the President that a position will be formed on how to deal with errant and corrupt officials.
Uganda is the 137 least corrupt nation out of 180 countries, according to the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.(Skynews)