Uganda Wildlife Authority back in the headlines

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UGANDA (eTN) – More headlines emerged this weekend, when the Daily Monitor made further sweeping allegations about the state of affairs at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and blamed the tourism mi

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UGANDA (eTN) – More headlines emerged this weekend, when the Daily Monitor made further sweeping allegations about the state of affairs at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and blamed the tourism minister Kahinda Otafiire – aka Minister for Crocodiles by his own words – for usurping executive powers in contravention of the existing law. The newspaper reportedly obtained a copy of a letter from the minister, redeploying staff of UWA, a function to be handled by management of UWA or the Executive Director himself.

Following a decision by the High Court in Kampala, which dismissed his erstwhile and hugely controversial board appointments, including the chairperson, last year, no new board was appointed, and as the law says, in the absence of a substantive board the minister “is the board.” However, the board’s functions are also clearly limited and do not include executive functions, which the former chairperson, a Dr. Muballe forgot, to his own regret. Dismissed by court he had taken it upon himself to become “Executive Chairman,” which is not foreseen in the Wildlife Act and hence led to his dismissal, after first, however, generously multiplying his financial benefits during his short-lived term of office and that of his fellow board members.

It was, in particular, the minister’s recent appointments of staff into senior acting positions, which caught the eye of the media and promptly brought the organization back into the public spotlight, as other staff in regular contact with this correspondent immediately talked of favoritism and a hidden agenda by the minister in conjunction with staff at his ministry, who appear to try and exploit the vacuum at UWA to re-write the book on the cash-rich, semi-autonomous body.

According to the paper, the minister is now drawing funds for fuel from UWA, as do other senior ministry officials apparently, in contravention of the Wildlife Act, citing claims of not receiving funds from the Ministry of Finance. This development has also brought development partners back into the fray, who expressed their growing concern over “their” money given for specific projects and purposes and how it is being safeguarded. One particular source connected with the World Bank – the biggest financier of UWA’s activities in past years claimed under strict assurance of anonymity that “it seems after the first scheme with the short-lived board failed to get [its] hands on the UWA finances, a fresh attempt is now being made to realign oversight and control.”

To add to the melee at UWA it also now appears that a more recent Acting Executive Director, appointed by the former board, is himself now under suspension. First being relegated back into albeit senior management ranks, Mr. Kamazi now joins a host of other UWA management executives on suspension from where he, as the others before him successfully did, may well also go to court, citing the alleged illegalities of current actions taken by the minister.

Be that as it may, the sheen is now definitely off UWA, once a shining example of what committed management and an enlightened board can achieve – they turned it into a cash cow rarely seen in public institutions – but then became the envy of a few who seemingly also tried to “reap where they did not sow.”

Development partners and donors have already quietly said that unless the mess at UWA is resolved once and for all, best by bringing senior conservation stakeholders with impeccable credentials back on to a new board, they would most likely reconsider their financial commitments and options to avoid their funding being misused, misappropriated, and squandered.

In closing, the forthcoming appointment of a new cabinet, following President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s massive election win – which also returned the NRM as the party with the highest number of members of parliament – is now the focus of hope for conservationists who expressed their desire to see a new and more enlightened minister appointed to the tourism, trade, and industry portfolio, where two state ministers, those for tourism and for trade in any case lost their seats and will not likely make a return into government after failing to return to parliament in the first place.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.