Dr Eng Silver Mugisha, a distinguished and very powerful chief executive of National Water and Sewerage Corporation has run into more trouble after his wife trounced a Cabinet Minister in the just concluded ruling party primaries.
Mugisha’s sacking is part of a wider organization overhaul, following corruption within NWSC and the chief executive’s persistence to publicly get involved in politics.
The water corporation chief executive has been accused of using his office to finance and raise support for his wife’s political campaigns to secure a parliamentary seat.
Mrs Annet Katusiime Mugisha beat Mary Karooro Okurut, Minister for General Duties in Prime Minister’s Office, hands down in the ruling NRM party primaries for Bushenyi woman Member of Parliament.
Karooro, is one of the very few trusted cadres that President Yoweri Museveni relies on for sensitive work. She was his press secretary from 1999 to 2004 and later amongst other portfolios she was Minister for Security from 2015 to 2016. Hon Karooro was recently entrusted with all monies and assets collected from the public in a fundraising drive spearheaded by President Museveni, to help in the fight against COVID 19.
From reliable sources, after Mugisha’s wife won the flag to represent NRM, some senior members of cabinet met President Museveni and accused Dr Mugisha of having allegedly used state resources to finance his wife’s campaigns.
Now, Mugisha is likely to be shown the exit ending decades of his career at the water corporation to pave way for a bigger restructuring exercise that could leave several employees jobless.
An intelligence team that has been working covertly to verify all allegations against Mugisha and his financial relationship with the wife’s campaigns has established that NWSC is suffering from accountability issues.
President Museveni has therefore decided to overhaul the entire institution on grounds that the staff fabric has been compromised. In the recent past the president has embarked on a thorough cleaning exercise of parastatals that are enveloped in webs of corruption scandals including Kampala Capital City Authority, Civil Aviation Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority.
When the President received the intelligence report he asked his younger brother Salim Saleh to also look into the leakage of resources at NWSC. Saleh has reportedly concurred that there is misappropriation of state resources at the water corporation, giving greenlight to the cleanup exercise, according to an intelligence source.
The president intends to appoint one of the senior managers to take over the ruins of NWSC. This newspaper however can’t disclose details of the appointee for obvious reasons.
But intelligence sources have indicated that the senior manager, who is also a close confidant of the president, has already been vetted by security and cleared. And his appointment is being processed by public service.
Since replacing his mentor Dr. William Muhairwe as NWSC Managing Director in 2013, Mugisha has overtime become untouchable. But for the last two years he has been accused of mismanagement, abuse of office and misuse of public resources. Mugisha has also confirmed that NWSC has been investigated six times and he himself has been subject of some of the investigations.
In April last year a whistle blower wrote to the State House Anti- Corruption unit alleging that the NWSC boss had compromised the company’s board, Inspectorate of Government (IGG) and other oversight agencies, which made it easy for him to manipulate influence.
The whistle-blower petitioned the unit headed by Lt. Col Edith Nakalema, asking it to re-investigate Eng. Mugisha’s financial discipline and management.
“There is extortion of kickbacks from service providers and this is done by Dr. Silver Mugisha through his wife’s shadowy organization known as Ba Mugisha Community Development Foundation (BCWL). A thorough investigation should be carried out on his procurement dealings with among others VAMBECO, SOGEA SATOM and others,” the whistler-blower wrote.
“…there is extortion of money from National Water and Sewerage Corporation staff to support activities of Ba Mugisha Community Development Foundation, a vehicle used for promoting Annet Katusiime Mugisha’s candidature in Bushenyi,” the letter further reads.
BCWL is a non-profit company, limited by guarantee that implements incentives aimed at improving the welfare of, especially rural communities. The private company is run by Dr. Mugisha’s wife, Katusiime, who beat Karooro in the NRM primaries.
The whistle-blower also alleged that Dr. Mugisha through the BCWL has been misusing resources of the corporation to fund positive community initiatives that favoured wife to advance her political ambitions.
The letter is copied to the Parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises, the Inspector General of Government, World Bank country representative, CIID Director and the Minister for Water and Environment.
But Mugisha dismissed the allegations as unfounded and “intended to achieve political blackmail”.
The Water boss was also accused of harassing co-workers. For instance, he conflicted with Richard Muhangi, one of the senior managers, and the mater had to be settled by the then Board chairman Dr. Christopher Ebal.
In another incident, Philip Murwani, a resident of Bushenyi, via social media accused Dr Mugisha of using NWSC resources to finance political activities. NWSC dragged Philip Murwani to Court over defamation. Murwani is also accused of suggesting that the head of state needed to recruit another managing director as the entity had been infiltrated by the opposition loosely referred to as Kawukuumi.
In the latest intelligence report, NWSC management is accused of diverting funds meant for COVID 19 operations. According to the report, NWSC requested approximately ush40bn to facilitate their operations during COVID 19 however 11bn that was released by Ministry of Water was diverted for purported payments of staff gratuity. Intelligence sources claim gratuity hasn’t been paid from September 2019 yet the payments had reportedly been budgeted for from internally generated income of the corporation.
But in a phone interview someone claiming to be called John Fisher from the public relations department said that the funds requested were not part of the COVID 19 budget but rather outstanding government arrears. “We were demanding from government about 21 billion shillings and only 11bn was released. We wanted to pay gratuity and some suppliers. Actually, we have paid gratuity up to May 2020,” Fisher said.
However, NWSC staff are aggrieved about the improper management decisions relating to payment of annual gratuity. Since the days of Mugisha’s predecessor, the practice is for employees to annually get gratuity payment equaling 25 percent of one’s gross pay. For each employee, this obligation falls in the month when they first joined the organization. But for lower rank staffers, this gratuity payment has been omitted since last July and there are no satisfactory answers. Gratuity payment has, on average, been costing NWSC one billion shillings per month which brings the total figure now in arrears to over Shs10bn.
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.
Another area of interest to the intelligence community is a project called Service Coverage Acceleration Program (SCAP100), which has been operation since 2018 that is facilitating extension of water to 12,000 villages, effecting 140,000 new connections, installing 20,000 public stand posts and laying over 8000kms of water mains. The SCAP100 intervention is enabled by funding from government through the Ministry of Water and Environment and NWSC internally raised income.
John Fisher told this news outlet that NWSC contributes 60 percent and the Water Ministry 40 percent. NWSC income is supposed to meet labour costs and central government funds used to buy pipes for the project implementation activities.
First, intelligence people are concerned that NWSC is expecting shs40.9bn for SCAP100 but has budgeted 110bn for the same projects. State house is concerned that the funding from the Ministry of Water is not justifiable expenditure since SCAP100 also benefits from donor funding.
Second, there is concern that Bushenyi and Mbarara districts have curiously taken a lion’s share of SCAP100 implementation to the extreme detriment of the rest of the country and other Western Uganda districts whose parliamentary representatives and other elected leaders have since vowed to raise a red flag using whatever platform that is available to them.
Intelligence people have also discovered discrepancy in the budget figures of Ministry of Water, Ministry of Finance and NWSC in regard to expenditure on urban water supply and sanitation programme.
The Ministry of Water’s total capital investment for that programme in financial year 2020/2021 is 621 billion shillings, however what is captured in Ministry of Finance for the same item is 702.577bn creating a difference of 81.577bn. Yet NWSC, whose mandate is to handle urban water supply and sanitation, also has budget lines for the same projects and areas.
Investigations by intelligence also indicate that NWSC leadership irregularly procured two hotels in eastern and western Uganda after compromising the Board. It is alleged that towards the end of the tenure of the last Board, management organized a meeting in Mbale where Board members were allegedly paid 20 million shillings before approval of the procurement of the said hotels was approved.
But the NWSC Public Relations Officer Samuel Apedel denied that his organization has ever procured hotels. “I am not aware that NWSC has bought any hotels. Maybe it is individuals. But what I know is that we intend to establish training centers in Lira (eastern Uganda) and either Mbarara or Bushenyi (western Uganda) to equip our plumbers,” said the spokesman.
NWSC has had plans by to set up three training facilities across the country, to boost staff skills.
Dr Mugisha has distanced himself from misappropriation of any public resources. “I am an engineer and I don’t touch NWSC money. You can’t catch me on accountability,” Mugisha told this news outlet in a phone interview on Thursday September 10.
He also said funds mobilized for his wife’s NGO are raised through fundraising and not siphoned from NWSC. “I usually appeal to anybody to help so that we can also help the communities,” he said.
It is also unclear how Rachael Mbabazi Kiconco, who initially had been appointed a Board Chairman, ended up being a mere board member.
Racheal Mbabazi, a daughter of former Premier, Amama Mbabazi was appointed in 2019 to replace Dr Christopher Ebal, whose contract had neither ended nor been terminated and was running up to July 2020. Technically she couldn’t replace Ebal. Instead when Ebal’s second term of office expired, former Electoral Commission chairman, Dr. Eng. Badru Kiggundu, was appointed to replace him.
Insider sources indicate that ever since Mbabazi joined the Board, Mugisha has been uneasy. Intelligence sources have also indicated that Mbabazi became a problem to Mugisha and the Board after she started questioning the alleged procurement of the said hotels since it was not part of organization’s plans.
Dr Mugisha has over 20 years’ experience in water utility management, international policy, research and advisory services. He specializes in institutional development, policy analysis and utility transformation and change management processes. He started working as an engineer in 1994, joining top management more than a decade ago and taking over as managing director in 2013. His current contract runs up to to 2024.
He holds several positions in a number of international institutions. Currently he is the Vice President (East Africa) of the Executive Board of African Water Association; and also a Board member of the International Water Association (IWA). He is a fellow of IWA; a fellow of Netherlands SENSE Research School; and a Senior Research Associate at PURC, University of Florida, USA.
UJA House, Bombo Rd,
Keti Falawo Zone, Kawempe Division
Kampala – Uganda