Censure: Ssenyonyi next after Namuganza?

The Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises – COSASE Joel Ssenyonyi is in trouble. Following the swift, almost effortless censure of Housing minister Persis Namuganza for alleged contempt of parliament, the axe now appears to be swinging in Ssenyonyi’s direction.

Trouble for Ssenyonyi, who is MP for Nakawa West, stems from the leakage of the probe report by his Committee on the operations of Uganda Airlines, which the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among decided will not be tabled unless the source of the leakage is established.

During the plenary sitting that she chaired on Thursday 19 January 2023, Among reiterated her earlier directive to legislators that Parliament will not entertain the leaked report unless the Leader of Opposition – LoP investigates and ascertains how the leakage occurred.

COSASE is one of the four Public Accounts Committees of Parliament led by the representatives of the opposition political parties. In August 2022, the Committee probed mismanagement, illegal recruitment and embezzlement, among others in Uganda Airlines following the Auditor General’s report for the Financial Year that ended on 30 June 2021.

The Committee concluded the probe on Uganda Airlines in September 2022 and forwarded the report to the Speaker for consideration.  Joel Ssenyonyi, the Committee Chairperson accused the Speaker of setting a bad future precedent by dismissing the report without concrete grounds.

But Chris Obore, the Director of Communications, and Public Affairs in Parliament said the Speaker has already sealed the fate of the report after she made a formal pronouncement on the floor of the House.

During the probe, the Committee unearthed irregularities in the operations and management of the entity which included; mismanagement of 25 procurements to defraud the Government, unlawful appointment of CEO Jenifer Bamuturaki, and her lack of the requisite qualification for the coveted job.

In twists and turns of events, a copy of a letter dated 22 August 2022 written by Speaker Among has leaked. The Speaker’s letter had directed Ssenyonyi to conduct the probe of the revived Uganda Airlines ‘closed-door’ to avoid negative media publicity so as to protect the airline’s business continuity.

“While the audit process is integral in streamlining the operations of the public entities, there is a need for a careful balance between accountability and business continuity… I, therefore, guide that the Committee adopts closed-door proceedings in the inquiry into the operations of the Uganda Airlines Company Ltd,” Among concluded in the letter copied to the Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition.

According to Obore, there was nothing unusual in the Speaker guiding Ssenyonyi because Uganda Airlines is a new business that has a lot of international recognition and stakeholders, therefore, negative publicity affects its progress.

On the same day after the Speaker’s letter, the Committee also received a separate letter from Priscilla Mirembe Serukka, the Board Chairperson of Uganda Airlines asking Parliament to lock out the media from covering the probe against the entity to safeguard against ‘bad press’ that may endanger the company’s future prospects.  

Now Ssenyonyi has raised a fresh concern that Among has called some of the COSASE committee members to her office and asked them to start a censure motion against him for “indiscipline” and “disobeying” the Speaker’s orders.

Notably, last week, Speaker Among ordered a value-for-money audit on the Committee accusing its leadership of underperformance. She pointed out that out of 107 entities referred to the Committee by the Auditor General, they only scrutinized four including Uganda Airlines.

Reports of the Auditor General for the FY 2019/2020 revealed that the entity made a loss of 104 billion Shillings. It recorded another loss of 164 billion Shillings in FY 2020/2021 and again in FY 2021/2022 which ended on 30 June, it recorded a loss of 234 billion Shillings.

Uganda Airlines, with six planes, began flying in August 2019 with 12 destinations.

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