The Uganda Airlines Saga and the dreaded mafia.

The Uganda Airlines Saga and the dreaded mafia.

Uganda Airlines CEO, Jennifer Bamuturaki (Photo Courtesy - TheIndependent)

Uganda Airline’s Chief Executive Officer-CEO, Jennifer Bamuturaki has over the past week been in the spotlight over corruption and financial loss of billions of shillings at the airlines under her management.

The Parliamentary Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises – COSASE that is probing this case also uncovered lop-sided staff recruitment following Bamuturaki’s failure to present her university academic certificates with claims to have lost her O level certificate. Findings by COSASE so far point out that the Uganda Airlines CEO with other senior officers do not have the required academic qualifications to oversee and manage the national airlines.

It was also discovered by COSASE after hours of grilling the Airlines bosses, that the Board illegitimately authorized the appointment of Bamuturaki by President Yoweri Museveni in 2022, discounting the required procedure for the selection of the CEO position through Price Water House Coopers, a consultancy firm whose contract was questionably terminated.

During the Committee sessions, it was also revealed that before Bamuturaki’s presidential appointment as CEO, she as the then Commercial Director and Contracts Manager and former CEO Ephraim Kalyebara Bagenda conspired to exclusively award Abbavater Group Limited to take on the Airlines public relations work without the required competitive bidding process.

The COSASE MPs probing the Airlines case have so far reported that they have received life-threatening calls because of their role in unearthing the rot in the airlines. Could these death threats be from the dreaded Ugandan mafia?

A report by ACFIM on Commercialized Politics and Capture of State Institutions defines mafia as a group of well-connected men and women that are hell-bent on infiltrating government systems and state institutions with the aim of controlling the levers of power, using money obtained often illicitly from the same government through corruption.

This same report established that there is a rich cabal of corrupt technocrats and political leaders that are perceived to be well connected to corridors of power, which has created growing phobia within the public and private sector, not least the citizenry.

These individuals have the ability to evade taxes and tariffs on imports, they grab land, own commercial buildings, powerful hotels, and apartments, and enjoy a degree of impunity that had fermented a public perception that these individuals are above the law.

The mafia is alleged to be a ruthless unknown gang said to be close to the president and they have a strong handle on the levers of power that they determine who gets to be appointed to political office, who gets to be promoted and/or who gets to be dropped/sacked.

It is further alleged that the mafia have seized and captured state institutions including the police. They have a penchant for rent-seeking to serve interests of political survival and personal enrichment, and to achieve this they engage in looting on an “industrial scale”.

It is difficult to discuss the governance challenges facing Uganda with particular reference to underlying corruption and the debate on corruption always gets drawn
to the phenomena, ‘Mafia’. The Ugandan Mafia are dreaded by those who claim to have fallen prey to their ruthless actions.

The Mafia are believed to be so powerful that they control the judiciary, parliament, and security institutions including police, they engage in massive corruption within government ministries, departments, agencies and other public institutions and presumably also have the power to block audits.

How the Mafia Works

The mafias can erode any form of state controls and impediments by weakening the institutional framework through circumvention of the laws, policies, rules and regulations.

They capture and use state institutions because they work within government and hence operate within state institutions. It is not uncommon for one to find two parallel lines of authority in the same institution where one is formal and the other informal. Sometimes the informal lines of authority are stronger than the formal ones to the extent that one is at pains to tell whether or not a statement or initiative is official government policy. There are reports where a junior staff has more power than the senior one. This situation is keeping state institutions in captivity.

The mafia are perceived to operate in a way and manner that is diverse in the sense that it combines both crude and sophisticated approaches including; harassment, displacement, destruction, and in extreme cases assassination. This can come in the form of character assassination where the public image of the targeted person is shattered, it could be in form of killing one’s business empire or political relations.

There is a school of thought that posits that Uganda’s mafia has evolved to embrace activities like racketeering, brokering, and enforcing illegal agreements and/or transactions. Others act as loan sharks, engage in drug trafficking, human trafficking and fraud among others. Some key informants of ACFIM’s report associated mafia with the growing wave of murders and at times revenge killings that have taken claimed the lives of important personalities such as the late Joan Kagezi, former AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesa and former Arua Municipality Legislator Hon. Moses Abiriga.

For more of this report, Click here.

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