Members of the Uganda Airlines (UR, Entebbe/Kampala) management team, including Chief Executive Officer Cornwell Muleya, have been placed “on leave” over performance issues and delays in the start of the airline’s international operations.

Reacting to a report in the Saturday Monitor on May 1 that Muleya and top managers had been suspended, Uganda’s Works and Transport Minister, Edward Katumba Wamala, announced on his official Twitter feed: “I would like to clarify speculations about top @UG_Airlines bosses being suspended. Because of the low tempo operations caused by COVID-19 and the fact that we have not yet started the long-haul operations, top management at @UG_Airlines were asked to take leave”. He added: “This was done to train and test deputies for quality assurance, let top management rest as we prepare for the long-haul operations. Accumulated leave would cost the airline at some point”.

The Ugandan Army general also shared a statement by Board Chairman Pereza Godfrey Ahabwe on May 2, 2021, in which the airline confirmed that “some members of our management team have taken leave. During their absence, the roles will continue to be performed by the organisation in line with our human resource policies. All our operations continue normally.”

Muleya did not respond to requests for comment. The government was recently reported to have extended his contract. Meanwhile, according to The Independent, a new acting chief executive, Steven Wegoye, has been appointed.

This appears to follow a meeting between Wamala and the Uganda Airlines senior management team at the ministry’s headquarters in Kampala last week. Unnamed sources claimed between five to 10 senior managers and all board members were affected, including Muleya, Finance Director Paul Turacayisenga, Marketing Director Rogers Wamala, Human Resource Manager Joseph Sebbowa, and the Safety Director Bruno Oringi.

Minister for Works Joy Kafura Kabatsi, under whose supervision the airline falls, also confirmed the development but declined to disclose the reasons. However, she confirmed the government believed that management was not doing enough to help Uganda Airlines recover from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Unnamed sources told the Saturday Monitor that the government was unimpressed with the airline’s performance amid reports of abuse of office and financial mismanagement.

Matters appear to have been brought to a head by a recent Auditor-General’s report showing the airline had lost UGX15 billion shillings (USD4.1 million) in the Financial Year 2018/2019 and UGX102 billion (USD28.5 million) in FY2019/20, with UGX168 million (USD45,815.42) in interest financing costs. It slammed the airline for incurring expenses that were way beyond the planned costs and its actual revenue. It further underlined that the airline’s business plan was not implemented in accordance with anticipated timelines.

In response, Uganda Airlines said the UGX102.4 billion loss during FY2019/20 had been due to a lack of activity due to the grounding of its aircraft because of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. The UGX15 billion loss in FY2018/19 had been incurred during the pre-operation period from January 30, 2018, to June 30, 2019, when the airline had just been incorporated and was investing in its set up activities and was not flying. This had included the deposits for purchase orders for both aircraft types (four CRJ900LRs and two A330-800Ns), the airline said.

Uganda Airlines began commercial flights on August 28, 2019. It uses the four CRJ900s on eight regional routes in East and Central Africa including Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta, Juba, Mogadishu, Bujumbura, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, and Zanzibar.

The airline's inter-continental plans have been hamstrung by a delay in certification of its two A330-800s by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority. The airline was hoping to commence Entebbe/Kampala-London Heathrow services in May 2021, pending the removal of UK travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, it will commence 4x weekly flights to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo on May 31, 2021, the airline announced on social media.