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Inside the wars, crises at Uganda Airlines

Infighting and self-generated crises have made the first two years of Uganda Airlines turbulent, and now the national carrier looks poised to disintegrate after seven top executives were forcefully sent on leave for three months by General Katumba Wamala, the minister of Works and Transport.


The executives on leave since May, include Cornwell Muleya, the Zambian, who is the airline’s chief executive officer; Joseph Sebbowa, the head of human resource; Paul Turyacayisanga, the finance director; Harvey Kalema, the manager ground handling and operations; and Bruno Origi, the director safety and compliance. Others are Moses Wangalwa, head of procurement and assets disposal; and Alex Kakooza, the airlines’ first captain.

The minister, according to insiders, ousted the seven at the urging of President Yoweri Museveni. Insider sources also say, the Airlines’ board chairman Perez Ahabwe is rowing with the minister of State for Works; Joy Kabatsi who has asked for convincing explanations about the Airline’s operations, failure of which, will lead to his suspension.

The Uganda airlines management recently explained that the national carrier is in deep financial distress because in the first two years of its operations, it was still in systems preparation for ultimate operation.

ALLEGATIONS

The swirl of allegations of poor performance and ouster of its top executives come on the coattails of the airline being named recently winner of the “ch-aviation World’s Youngest Aircraft Fleet Award 2021.”

SKY Airline of South America, SalamAir of Asia, JetSMART of South America and Baltic Air of Europe came in at 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th.

Those who know the airline CEO, Cornwell Muleya, have spoken highly of his aviation expertise and there is growing fear at the airline that should he leave, Uganda Airlines will be torn to shreds by the people he has been shielding it from.

The same people who are baying for his blood and have tried so hard to turn the president against him. There is hope, however, that the president, may lean on his intelligence system to dig up the truth.

In a dramatic twist earlier this month, the airline top managers were forced out of office. The executive cited nonperformance, alleged massive corruption, governance problems and other issues seen to be a threat to the survival of the company.

Insider sources said that it was unfair to send the top management on forced leave based on the audit report without hearing their side of the story and putting the “operating environment in context”.

It has since been established that such reports had earlier been highlighted by Muleya, in several letters sent to President Museveni way back in late 2020 and early 2021, but the reports never got to the president. In one of the reports to the president, the airline CEO blew the whistle on the same allegations for which he has been put on forced leave.

He pointed out that the bad press the company has got for a sustained period was a machination by a syndicate from within and without.

However, in a surprise move, the sacked Uganda Airlines commercial director, Jennifer Bamuturaki, is now back in employment at the Airline as second-in-command to the Acting CEO, a former flight captain, Wegoye, who, apart from his flying expertise, has no history of airline management.

Bamuturaki was fired at the end of her six-months’ probation back in 2020 for, among other mismanagement issues, having hired Abbavator, the media and PR firm she was closely linked to. It was a big conflict of interest that cost the airline hundreds of thousands of dollars in backhand deals and was the last straw for Muleya.

Abbavator allegedly over-invoiced Uganda Airlines to the tune of $232,000 (Shs 851.4m), which shot to $404,000 (Shs 1.4bn) yet the actual costs were $172,000 (Shs 631.2m).

The commercial director was also accused of using her position to establish external air stations on routes of Nairobi, Mombasa, Mogadishu, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Kirimanjaro.

When the board got wind of her dealings, it terminated her services. She sued Uganda Airlines for illegal dismissal and sought Shs 5bn in damages. But her case, according to the source, was dismissed.

Abbavator Ltd is also accused of failure to eventually comply with contractual obligations by not paying several media houses and eventually engaging in negative publicity against Uganda Airlines, whose image it was meant to protect.

Insiders also claim that Abbavator was in possession of Muleya’s confidential letters that never got to the president, and was among the whistleblowers that communicated to various government agencies including the Solicitor General, the State minister Transport, Kabatsi, and finally the president, citing corruption and challenging the termination of their contract after media suppliers had dragged them to court.

During her first short tenure at Uganda Airlines, Bamuturaki committed the company to hefty charges with their handlers in Mogadishu and a company representative in Mogadishu was threatened for trying to correct the same until he had to exit Somalia.

So, while the airline top managers are on leave, Bamuturaki is back at the airline and working closely with the presidentially-appointed lady that is leading investigations against the same CEO who sacked her for incompetence. She lost the industrial case and filed another for unlawful dismissal, which she withdrew days before she was reinstated at the airline recently.

Bamuturaki is looking to bounce back as CEO at the end of the 90 days, having been one of the authors of the damning dossier that tainted the top airline managers.

However, should her allegations be found untrue, her mission might be impossible as the current CEO has a running contract for the next 18 months from February 2021 and aviation experts have praised him for steering Uganda Airlines to quick success.

It is now coming to three weeks since Muleya and some of his managers were sent on leave. Legal experts have warned that unless the matter is handled with fairness where all parties are heard fairly and facts presented, the airline could be sued for billions in damages and tarnish its global image hardly two years after its revival. Muleya couldn’t be reached for comment.

Minister’s backing

According to a highly placed source in the ministry of Works and Transport, Bamuturaki is propped up by one of the ministers of state.

The junior minister is not happy with the board because it blocked her efforts to appoint her people to fill different positions within the airline.

Secondly, the source intimated to us that the minister has rowed with Muleya before because the CEO refused to financially bankroll her re-election campaigns. Uganda Airlines was created as a corporate body, and not a government parastatal.

So, the ministry of Works and Transport doesn’t completely have absolute powers over Uganda Airlines. It plays an oversight role and it’s through the ministry of Works that Uganda Airlines was re-capitalized. According to our source, Uganda Airlines is supposed to run privately as a company.

This was done to protect the airline from the problems-especially “influence peddling by government officials, which the defunct Air Uganda faced.





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