Unless he reconsiders his view on the proposed posting of ex-Transport Minister Joy Kafura Kabatsi as the new Chairperson for Uganda Railways Corporation (URC), Works and Transport Minister Gen Edward Katumba Wamala reportedly risks going to war with three of the most powerful Generals in contemporary Uganda.
These are Gen Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni, the President of Uganda and Commander-in-Chief (CiC) of armed forces; Gen Salim Saleh, the powerful brother to Museveni, and also Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) boss; as well as Maj Gen Jim Katuguugu Muhwezi, the Minister in charge of Security.
The trio considers the revamping of Uganda’s railway network to be an urgent matter to enable Uganda effectively transport petroleum and gas-related logistics to facilitate the commercialization of the country’s nascent oil and gas industry.
The other reason making the revamp of the railway network urgent is the desire by the President to mitigate the economic misery the skyrocketing fuel prices have caused to the people of Uganda.
Last week, the President told the BBC that he was ready to invest trillions to accelerate the revamp of railway network to mitigate against high fuel prices as opposed to subsidizing pump prices. The President explained that using railway transport would also reduce the cost of doing business in Uganda besides forcing other commodity prices down.
Generals Museveni and Salim Saleh are convinced that there are corporate governance problems at URC and their fears are corroborated by the contents of a Parliament of Uganda report by Joel Ssenyonyi’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (Cosase) which exposed the extent of rot at Uganda Railways Corporation.
It’s against this background Generals Museveni, Saleh and Muhwezi are convinced that an incorruptible and results-oriented Chairperson like Kabatsi (who previously supervised URC) can do something to ensure the necessary transformation is effected in the country’s railway system.
Whereas the two brothers are said to have recently rung Gen Katumba Wamala imploring him to ensure Kabatsi becomes the new Chairperson for URC, Gen Muhwezi put his wish in writing. Muhwezi’s letter was consistent with the Cabinet practice where all Ministers are required to get input of their colleagues when constituting new governing boards for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) or parastatals they supervise whenever the same expires and a new one has to be constituted.
Gen Katumba is said to have been lukewarm on both occasions. Sources say the dominant opinion at the Port Bell Road-based Ministry favors the retention of veteran businessman Hannington Karuhanga under whom a lot of things have gone wrong at URC in the past six years.
Insiders at the Works and Transport Ministry say that Gen Katumba Wamala resents Mrs Kabatsi because of her alleged belligerent approach. That he considers her rigid and complicated.
Inside the Ministry, some officials are said to have tried to ask Katumba Wamala to explain more as to why he doesn’t like the former State House Legal Affairs Director but all he keeps saying is: “I have my own reasons.”
This has created some polarization and paralysis at the Ministry where State Minister for Works Musa Ecweru remains one of the few members of top management who are comfortable with and are supportive of Katumba’s apprehension towards the proposed Kabatsi new job.
Yet this isn’t the first time the veteran General from Kalangala has exhibited apprehension towards the President’s proposed appointments.
As recently as June this very year, the government was embarrassed and portrayed as confused when the Uganda Airlines Governing Board, which Gen Katumba supervises, advertised the CEO job oblivious of the fact that the President had two months earlier written to Mr Katumba Wamala directing him to have Jennifer Bamuturaki confirmed as the substantive CEO. This confusion played out because the Minister had reportedly been dragging his feet on the President’s directive since April.
And years earlier, the same Gen Katumba Wamala was said to have dragged his feet on the reappointment of Allen Kagina as the Executive Director for UNRA even after her retention had long been recommended by both the Governing Board and State House.
It should be remembered that a number of high profile tycoons such as Hassan Basajjabalaba, Patrick Bitature and Mestil Hotel owner were dragged into the saga at the Uganda Railways Corporation as Parliament investigated land wrangles and mismanagement. (Read Stories Here, There and Even Here).