Mak Top Boss in Shs2.2bn Students’ Money Scandal
As each student was asked to pay Shs11m in botched Austria Deal
By Venenscias Kiiza
Issa Mugabo, Makerere University’s brand and marketing manager who also doubles as the Regional Coordinator for Agro-Studies internship program to Israel, is on spot following accusations that he collected over Shs2.2bn from about 200 students last year April, promising to take them to Austria for advanced agriculture training, but in vain.
This follows the success of the Isreal program where about 200 students are flagged off every year from various universities to do modern agricultural apprenticeship in Israel, which started in 2013.On reaching there, students are posted in various farms (poultry, piggery, fruits, Horticulture, livestock, among others), where farmers pay the students for their work during the training and the least amount they get is $60 (Shs150, 000) per day.
This came about in 2011, after government had instituted a committee headed by Prof Francis Omaswa to look into job-grading structures, among other issues, at Makerere University. In their consultations, they visited Israel where they learnt that several countries were sending their students to learn agriculture. They proposed to government to join, which has since become a trend. According to some students that we talked to, for one to qualify, he/she has to pay at least Shs6m, which they were told are to cover their return ticket, medical, visa processing, coordination among others.
The program attracts students from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The best students according to the Regional Coordinator are retained for some more time to manage Agro-Studies farms. The Agro-Studies opened farms where students can do experiments.
THE 11M AUSTRIA DEAL
Following this Israel program, the students who talked to our reporter revealed that after they had returned from Israel last year, Issa Mugabo approached them in March and told them that there was another program ,which he wanted them to be the pioneer students.
They say, he convinced them, that whereas the one for Israel was one year, this one of Austria was to take two years and they were to come back with qualifications equivalent to a master’s degree, on top of a good pay.
“We were all excited about this new offer, we rushed to pay and each was asked Shs11m.We knew he was serious since he had already taken us to Israel at first, he also told us that he has the backing of the first lady (Janet Museveni) and therefore there was no need to worry, “revealed one of the students.
Just like the Israel program, the students were told this Shs11m was meant to cover their return ticket, medical, visa processing, coordination among others. With 200 students each paying Shs11m, Mugabo is estimated to have pocketed about Shs2.2bn.
They say, Mugabo, went ahead to take them through financial training workshops and even told them to learn how to drive, since in these new Austria farms, it would be an added advantage.
“He promised us that we were to go within 2 months’ time, but now it’s a year, can you imagine it was April last year and now it is April again?”
The students have revealed that Mugabo keeps on telling them to wait, something which has since turned into a song. They allege that, worst of it all, whenever they go there to pick their money since some of them had gotten it as a loan, he keeps playing them around.
“Some of us got this money as loans. We thought we could go, work, and service our loans. But now it’s a full year, interests have accumulated, we don’t know what to do for sure, and he is not freely willing to give us back our money, because some of us are now fed up, ”another student added.
They are now demanding that Mugabo refunds their money back since the deal looks to have flopped in case it was real, on top of paying them interests for a full year, hoping that he must have been using it for his own businesses, hence a need to pay interests for it, or else they take the next course of action.
MUGABO SPEAKS OUT
When this reporter interviewed Issa Mugabo in his office at Makerere University main building, he confirmed to have collected the said money (shs 11m) from students, before accusing them of being impatient, dishonest and ungrateful. He also said, his critics who envy his project are the ones behind the students’ rebellion against him.
He revealed that, he is acting for the benefit of students by taking them to Austria where they will acquire advanced farming techniques, hence they ought to be patient.
He said, they are in process of signing an Agriculture protocol between Uganda and Austria to facilitate the exchange and as well preparing everything, to ensure students set off when everything is clear.
“You know very well that Austria has no embassy in Uganda, so we have to go to Kenya, it’s a process at a stage that is beyond my control. What I can tell you is that everything is on course and soon these students will go, they will thank me later,” Mugabo said.
He defended the Shs11m he collected from students saying that it’s even not enough, but they can’t squeeze students, before rubbishing students’ allegations, which he has refused to refund those who have lost interest in the program.
“I cannot withhold their money, and I have always told them that, whoever feels disinterested in the program, can pick his or her money. Some of them have since picked because I am aware some got it as a loan. I call upon those who want their money back to come and pick, and they can pay later when everything is sorted out,” Mugabo assured.
WATCH THIS SPACE!