Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The chairperson of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), Mr Usher Wilson Owere has given Umeme a 14-day ultimatum to confirm Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana as workers’ representative on the power distributor’s Board of Directors.
“We have used all peaceful means to resolve this issue but all our efforts have been frustrated despite President Museveni’s directive to the Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija to investigate the matter and ensure Mr Bigirimana joins the Umeme board without any further delay,” said Mr Owere, insisting that that Bigirimana’s representation will protect workers’ interests in Umeme.
“Now we shall have no any other option but to declare an industrial action, based on the fact that well positioned elites are defying executive orders from the President to have Mr Bigirimana installed in the board. We are giving Umeme two weeks to put Bigirimana back on the board,” he declares.
“We have pumped a lot of money in Umeme through the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), but we do not know how much interest we get from there because of bureaucratic individuals who are benefiting and they do not want power tariffs to come down. Workers’ interests in Umeme are at stake,” Mr Owere added.
The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) nominated Mr Bigirimana as its representative on the Umeme Board on April 15, 2018, his name was however rejected by majority of the shareholders, who accused him among others of “being a spoiler” and his alleged involvement in different scandals in the different ministries he has worked in.
Mr Bigirimana was among the five nominated people on the board but trouble arose when shareholders were asked to endorse his appointment through vote.
During voting, by a simple majority, members enormously rejected Bigirimana’s appointment and he was the only one out of the five, who was kicked off the board under unclear reasons. Other nominees included Anthony March, Andrew Buglass, Stephen Emasu and Riccardo Ridolfi.
The rejection came as a shock to many, being that he was nominated by the NSSF, who holds 23.3% shares, the biggest institutional shareholders with the right to two positions on the Board of Directors in the power distributor company, Umeme.
On September 7 2018, in a letter addressed to Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, President Yoweri Museveni ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the rejection of Mr Bigirimana as workers’ representative on Umeme board, ensuring he is appointed to safeguard workers’ interests.
“As you are aware, NSSF is the majority shareholder in Umeme. Since the fund handles workers savings, their interests must be dully protected by a government representative who is the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development,” noted President Museveni.
“I am therefore, directing you to urgently investigate their complainant and ensure that Mr Pius Bigirimana is appointed to the board of Umeme to safeguard workers interests,” the President ordered.
However, a highly placed source that preferred anonymity for fear of reprisals, has disclosed to this website that top Board members at Umeme, National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and Uganda Retirements Benefits Regulatory Authority (URBRA), together with a powerful Minister, have all connived to allegedly frustrate Pius Bigirimana’s appointment to Umeme Board for fear that Bigirimana may stand in their way, triggering a manifestation of vested interests (personal) in the Umeme Board.
The source has therefore called for a thorough investigation into this matter.
Mr Bigirimana himself terms his rejection as the “work of the mafia” who are hell bent to fight his nomination.
Following the tussle, the Deputy Attorney General (AG), Mwesigwa Rukutana, has directed the Finance Ministry to review the grounds for the rejection of Pius Bigirimana’s nomination as a board member of Umeme Ltd, saying that whereas Umeme’s board had an obligation to act in the company’s best interests, a decision to reject the Permanent Secretary outright breached the law and principles of natural justice.
He cites Article 83 of the Amended Articles of Association which provide for disqualification of Directors such as unsound mind, bankruptcy, resignation and absence from meetings.
“None of the above grounds were given as reason for rejection of Mr Bigirimana’s nomination…” said Rukutana in his letter to Gender Minister, Janat Mukwaya.
Rukutana further quotes Article 99 of the 1995 Constitution, which vests all executive authority in the hands of the President. The AG has directed that the President’s directives be implemented.