Is Bribery why some winners of UCC’s ACIA awards haven’t received prizes yet?

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Last week [12/01/2018], James “Wire” Lunghabo tweeted that “apparently some winners of the UCC organised ACIA awards haven’t been paid.” He added that “Mbu (a Luganda word meaning apparently) they might need to forfeit a 30% cut to ‘you know who'”. Of course, “you know who” implied the unofficial brokers in some government MDAs that stand in the way of anything until they are assured of a cut before speeding up the process.

Responding to the allegations, through their official Twitter page, UCC said that “All ACIA winners are aware that prizes are awarded to profess innovations only. This requires the innovators to develop project plans with clearly measurable milestones to which their prize releases will be made.”

In subsequent tweets, they also added that they have “been engaging with the innovators to help them fine tune [sic] these work plans into MoUs which will guide their progress. Each of the innovators is at different stages of achieving their milestones and payments are made upon verification.”

“UCC has zero tolerance for such behavior [sic] and welcomes the said winners who claim they haven’t been paid and are being asked for a bribe to inform the relevant authorities”

However, Ronald Ssebuhinja the founder of School Masters and a member of the ICT Association of Uganda interjected and challenged UCC to publish a full list of all the 2017 ACIA Awards winners with their milestones. Which seemed to imply that perhaps UCC was using the milestones explanation as a paper cover for the issue at hand – bribery.

Three days later, James – who brought the issue to light, again tweeted that his efforts yielded some results as UCC “scheduled a meeting with the award winners tomorrow [today].”

“The rot has been exposed,” he added.

Which sparked a threaded reply from UCC’s head of PR, Pamela Ankunda, accusing James of “working so hard at trying to find non existing [sic] info about what you call ‘whistleblowing'”.

She also went ahead and repeated the same earlier communication by UCC’s official Twitter page insisting that all disbursements are milestones based. And dared James to produce any evidence to unearth the “rot” at UCC he was talking about.

Pamela informed James that they know who gave James the side of the story. Which she followed up with asking James to tell that individual to “to speed up his innovation, guide him, let’s engage him and yes, he’ll pick his funding.”

Though James maintained that he is working with over five innovators who haven’t received their prizes. Before concluding that instead of Pamela focusing her efforts on dispelling his allegations, she should “clean her house” instead.

Later in the day [yesterday], UCC issued a statement – still on their Twitter page. It was basically explaining the genesis of the ACIAs, their role and how they award prizes. However, it didn’t seem to point out specifically if there are any innovators they haven’t awarded yet and how they are handling it.

The statement read;

BRIEF ON ACIA WINNERS

This is to inform that UCC has run the ACIA Awards initiative a platform for showcasing, recognizing, and promoting outstanding ICT innovations in Uganda. This initiative, aimed at promoting the development of indigenous ICT solutions has run successfully for 8 years. Winners have received various forms of support, enabling them further develop their innovations.

Each year, a call is issued out, inviting innovators to responded [sic] to a predetermined challenge relating to a social economic issues [sic] faced by the public. The Call is structured under various categories to enable participation from as many groups as possible. Submitted applications are taken through a rigorous selection process before a shortlist of outstanding innovations is generated by a panel of distinguished judges comprising of eminent persons with knowledge and experience in innovation, ICTs, and business.

The shortlisted innovators/finalists are invited to pitch their innovations before the panel of judges, who identify the winning innovations. The winners receive various prizes ranging from seed funding; innovation support; capacity building; exposure visits; equipment, etc. These prizes are intended to support the innovators to progress their innovations.
Access to Prizes

Winners under the ACIA Awards Initiative access prizes following achievement of agreed milestones contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the winners and UCC. This is to ensure that resources are utiliced [sic] for purposes of developing the ICT innovations. Milestones are tagged to the implementation Plans provided by the innovators. Disbursement of prize money is made in phases, based on milestones achieved and progress reports provided by the innovators. Routine assessment of progress made by the innovator is made to verify the milestones achieved.

UCC also collaborates with leading ICT incubation services providers and incubation hubs like outbox, HiveColab for capacity building and incubation support services to selected winners. A tripartite MoU is signed between the Incubator, Innovator and UCC. The MoU also contains milestones that are tagged to the implementation plans. Achievement of the milestones forms the basis for disbursement of funds. The periodic follow up of winners is aimed to establish progress made and providing support where applicable. This includes making referrals to partners in the innovation ecosystem locally, regionally and globally.

Albert Mucunguzi, the Chairman of the ICT Association of Uganda first responded to the statement by citing the spelling mistakes in it. Before issuing his own.

In his statement, Albert pointed out that “the timing of the [UCC] statement seems deliberately intended to coincide with the ongoing debate about whether or not individuals within UCC solicited bribes from past winners in order to facilitate access to their prizes.”

However, he said that UCC’s attempt – through the statement – to explain the process of “access to prize looks like an attempt to dismiss James Wire’s [bribery] allegations”. Read Albert’s Statement here.

Earlier on, Vincent Bagiire, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance had interjected the back and forth between James and Pamela. He assured James that the ministry is “engaging with UCC to establish the cause of delays with a view of addressing the innovators concerns.” And promised to communicate the outcome as soon as possible.

If it turns out to be a case of bribery, it would have done a dent in the credibility of the awards as some people already had a belief that one can’t win and if they won can’t get their prize.

UCC shouldn’t take such accusations lightly as they have come to haunt MTN Uganda. Especially in the quality of applicants to its Innovation Awards following accusations from different people that the company ‘steals ideas’. (See also: Does MTN Organize Innovation Awards and Competitions to Steal Ideas?)

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