Sacked Uganda Airline CEO demands reinstatement or Shs 3.5bn

Cornwell Muleya

Cornwell Muleya

Cornwell Muleya, the sacked former chief executive officer of Uganda Airlines wants the government to reinstate him or pay him over Shs 3.5 billion in terminal benefits.  

This comes almost a month after the interim chairperson of the board of directors of Uganda Airlines and Works ministry permanent secretary Waiswa Bageya confirmed that the board had terminated Muleya's contract. 

He said that the interim board took the decision to terminate Muleya's contract after concluding investigations and disciplinary proceedings against him and other suspended staff.

The others are the former finance director, Paul Turacayisenga, the director of commercial, Rogers Wamara, procurement manager,  Moses Wangalwa, sales and marketing officer Deo Nyanzi, Andrew Tumusiime (senior administration manager), Harvey Kalama (ground operational manager), Bruno Oringi (safety manager), Michael Kaliisa (quality manager), crew training manager Juliet Otage Odur and first officers Kenneth Kiyemba and Alex Kakooza.

The board also terminated Wamara's contract while the other managers and officers were reinstated or still on suspension pending the conclusion of investigations.

Bageya said the Inspectorate of Government had also picked interest in the allegations against the suspended staff. At the time, he said the interim board was still waiting for the decision of the Inspector General of Government (IGG) on the matter. 

“I cannot disclose the reasons for the CEO’s termination right now because the IGG is still conducting investigations. But the interim board of directors decided to terminate his contract because the allegations against him were substantial and he was found culpable.”

He, however, said that they would pay the terminal benefits of the affected staff but failed short of mentioning the figures. Bageya said Muleya had been earning close to Shs 120 million as his monthly gross salary.

Government hired Muleya in September 2019 as CEO of Uganda Airlines and renewed his contract three times before he was sent on forced leave and suspension last year. The ministry renewed Muleya's contract in 2021 and it was bound to expire in September 2022. 

However, Muleya claims that the interim board issued him a notice to terminate his contract on February 15, 2022, in disregard of the due process. Through his lawyers Muwema and CO. Advocates and Solicitors, Muleya accuses the government of unlawfully suspending and later terminating his employment contract.  

Mulema wrote to Bageya on March 28 as the interim board chairman and PS over the matter. In the letter, the law firm says  Bageya who authored the notice to terminate Muleya's contract, did not disclose the reasons for the decision.

"His contract of employment did not have a termination clause and Muleya was also "never heard in any disciplinary proceedings," reads the letter.

The firm concludes that the "purported suspension and termination of our client's services as the chief executive officer of UNACL was done contrary to all due process and the law. It presents a case of witch-hunt wrought with malice and it reeks of irregularities."

As a result, the law firm says Muleya is demanding immediate reinstatement as the CEO of the company and "an unconditional apology for the material inconvenience, reputational damage and loss suffered".

The law firm warns that should the government fail to comply with their demands, their client will take legal action and demand his terminal benefits amounting to Shs 3,545,186,318.  This includes salary arrears of Shs 126 million for the month of February 2022, Shs 1 billion as payment for general damages for reputation damages and Shs 1.2 billion as payment for damages for loss of expectation interest in employment among other claims.

The law firm says the board levelled five unsubstantiated accusations against Muleya, which include alleged failure to supervise and curb corruption of staff under his watch, delayed operation of the Airbus A330-800Neo and the self-handling project. He was also accused of gross procurement malpractice, financial mismanagement and unethical human resource practices in recruitment. 

Muleya asked the government to provide copies of the investigation report into the alleged mismanagement against him after he was sent on forced leave and on suspension and a copy of the proceedings and resolutions of the board of the airline upon, which a decision was made to terminate his services. 

The documents, he demands, be provided by April 1.

"Failure to avail the above-mentioned documents shall confirm the absence of any merit in the allegations levelled against our client," the law firm noted. 

The lawyer says the move to terminate Muleya's contract has "occasioned immeasurable loss and damage" to his "distinguished career in the aviation industry, which he has built over the last 20 years."

The letter is copied to President Yoweri Museveni, the Attorney General, and the ministries of Finance and Works. Now, Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka says Muleya should go ahead and sue the government. 

"You cannot be in the wrong and threaten to sue us. Let him sue and we shall argue in court," Kiwanuka noted.

The government revived the national carrier 2019 to lower transport costs, boost tourism and business opportunities for Ugandans.

Muleya was among the officials involved in the revival of the airline. He is a Zambian who ventured into aviation in 1995 as general manager and CEO of Air Botswana Corporation for eight years, moved on to Air Mauritius, and worked as CEO for Zambezi Airlines Ltd and ALS Limited in Kenya. 

Then, he was contracted as CEO of Air Uganda in 2013.  He has thereby worked in aviation for over 23 years. However, his woes started on April 21, 2021, after Works minister Edward Katumba Wamala sent him and 12 other top officials on forced leave and later put them on suspension.  

They were suspended on the orders of President Museveni to pave way for investigations into allegations of financial mismanagement, collusion, and nepotism in staff recruitment among other issues. 

After nine months of suspension, Muleya's contract was terminated. Meanwhile, Museveni also directed the disbandment of the Pereza Ahabwe-led board of directors. As a result, an interim board of directors chaired by Bageya was put in place to oversee the airline.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd