Government moves to end leadership vacuum at countries top public publishing entity

The recent decision by the Cabinet to approve the new Board of Directors for the Uganda Publishing and Publications Corporation (UPPC) will go a long way to solve the issues that have been cropping up at the government’s printing entity, it has been claimed.

In a written statement to the Parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE), Milly Babalanda, the Minister for Presidency said that the new board will solve the management crisis at UPPC.

The new board members who after taking office are expected to elect a chairperson among themselves are veteran Journalist Joachim Buwembo, Sadat Kisuyi, Jolly Kamugira Kaguhangire, Alice N.K. Muhoozi, Andrew Kibaya, Hellen Icumar Judith, Jimmy Karugaba and Nooh Bukenya.

“The process of identifying these individuals has lasted for three months because we needed to be very careful about the composition of the board to avoid previous mistakes” said Babalanda.

For close to 10 months, UPPC has been operating without a board of directors leaving top decisions to be made by the supervising Minister contrary to provisions of the UPPC Act, 1992.

Before Babalanda announced the appointment of the new board members, legislators sitting on COSASE had raised a red flag over the illegality in the appointment of the top managers at UPPC.  The entity has been on the spot after the Auditor General John Muwanga’s reports carried qualified opinions on the books of accounts for financial years 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Kenneth Oluka, the Acting Managing Director informed the Committee that he was appointed by Minister Babalanda after most of the top managers were interdicted over alleged misappropriation of funds. At least five of the former top bosses are facing trial in the Anti-Corruption Court.

Instead of being appointed by the Board of Directors as provided for in Section 9 of the UPPC Act, 1992, Oluka revealed that he was appointed to the acting position by the Minister, something that did not sit well with the Members of Parliament.

“Our major problem is with you as an Accounting Officer (Oluka) who is occupying office illegally. There is no Board and you were appointed by the Minister (Babalanda). It is the same story with the Corporation Secretary who was appointed by you as the Acting MD instead of the Board of Directors” said Ssenyonyi at the start of the probe last week.

Connie Aryada, the Corporation Secretary, was appointed by the Acting MD which MPs found was contrary to Section 10 of the UPPC Act, 1992 which gives those powers to the board of directors.

The Minister fired the board of directors in August 2022 and left most of the decision-making processes in her hands. The Minister has been making top management appointments and also signing off the financial statements, a role that is by law supposed to be done by the Chairperson of the Board.

Without the board and a substantive MD, there have been a lot of challenges faced by the UPPC and the COSASE has discovered that the government may be about to make losses.

UPPC is supposed to be supervising the Uganda Security Printing Company Ltd (USPC) which is the entity formed by the Joint Venture (JV) entered with Germany company, Veridos.

Through USPC, the JV of UPCC and Veridos that came into force in 2018 is constructing a state-of-the-art plant where the government securities will be printed. When the plant is up and running, Bank of Uganda would not go abroad to print money while the Ministry of Internal Affairs would tap into the opportunity to print Passports and National Identity Cards, and then the Ministry of Works and Transport would see Driving Licenses printed at Entebbe.

Currently, the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) which is run under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prints national IDs from Kololo and the Ministry itself prints Passports from its headquarters.

But, UPPC Acting MD, Oluka together with Corporation Secretary, Aryada informed the Committee during a meeting late last month that they were not privy to information about the composition of the board of USPC.

Oluka told the legislators that the MD of the UPPC is supposed to sit on the board of the USPC but the situation had changed by the time he was appointed.

“If as the Accounting Officer together with the Board Secretary you do not know who is supposed to be on the board of the Joint Venture, then what should we say as a committee?” wondered COSASE Chairperson, Joel Ssenyonyi.

According to the JV agreement, Oluka revealed, the Government of Uganda is supposed to appoint three officials all from UPPC to sit on the board of USPC to oversee the activities of the JV. However, in another form of illegality, the current board has a representative from the Ministry Finance, the Ministry of Presidency and UPPC are supposed to nominate another.

Whereas Ministry of Finance appointed Prof Hajji Muhammed Ngoma and Ministry of Presidency seconded Hajjati Aisha Kalule to the USPC board, UPPC that supervises the company expected to be printing government’s sensitive documents has not had a representative since the demise of Jessica Ario.

“UPPC is supposed to nominate the members to the board but in the interim, the Minister (Babalanda) guided that these three should come from three entities but subsequently, all the three are supposed to come from UPPC. This is an illegality” said Richard Gafabusa, the MP of Bwamba county.

Oluka and Aryada who are now running UPPC said the entity has scant information about what is happening at USPC apart from seeing the progress on the construction of the factory and the administration block.

Back to queries.

Without a substantive board and MD in place, UPPC officials have been interfacing with the COSASE to answer queries raised in the Auditor General’s report.

The Auditor General queried the failure to use the equity method required by the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) when the government signed the Joint Venture agreement between Uganda Security Printing Company Limited (USPC) and Veridos, a foreign firm at Shs9b.

The Auditor General queried the whereabouts of Shs461m that could not be accounted for out of the Shs1.6b found on the books of accounts as a tax liability figure as per Uganda Revenue Authority documents.

Also queried is the failure to collect debts totaling to Shs3.7b that have been outstanding for a period of 4 years contrary to best practice thus limiting the availability of funds for UPPC activities.

Other queries are lack of a functional Board of Directors during the year under review; under staffing; shortcomings in regard to procurement and utilization of IT equipment; undervalued disposal of a piece of land measuring 1.778 Hectares as a contribution to the joint venture with USPC at Shs9b, and lack of an approved outsourcing policy/framework for received work orders

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