November 27, 2019

Only Water Can Be Served At UR Meetings, In New Cost-Cutting Measures

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Education Minister Dr Eugene Mutimura (L) and Prof Philip Cotton, exchange documents at a UR function in March 2018. The former supervises UR, but it is unclear at this point if he was involved in crafting the cost-cutting measures

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda (UR), Prof Philip Cotton, has introduced rare cost-cutting measures, at the facility which is the umbrella institution of all former government universities and institutes.

The measures, described privately by some lecturers as unnecessary, but then publicly supported by the same people, are not as far-reaching though they touch on what has for long been taken for granted by staff. None of the 7 lecturers The Chronicles interviewed was in favour of the changes.

The University of Rwanda was established in 2013, combining 7 government universities and higher institutions of learning. Headquartered in Kigali, it has colleges in different parts of the country.

Under a single management led by Prof Cotton, today, it has 1,329 teaching and 743 non-teaching staff. It also takes care of 28,600 students.

By virtue of being the country’s premiere academic institution, it means it has to hold many meetings, some of which last long hours.

In a circular sent out to all colleges on November 25, Prof Cotton issues new “cost-containment measures”, some of which will significantly affect the business of the biggest beverages maker Inyange Industries.

The circular was issued back on November 25, 2016, but it was not implemented. The staff we interviewed were not aware of it. And it was redistributed this November 25, 2019. The new move could be indication of renewed efforts to implement it.

Prof Cotton directs that for meetings, “hot food should no longer” be served. To prevent the need for food, Cotton has limited meeting time to less than 3 hours.

For any meeting to last longer, it will have to be sanctioned by the university management. Even then, the attendees will be served with “cold snacks……for refreshment”.

The only item sanctioned to be availed at meetings is water. But not any kind of water. Prof Cotton directs that Principals of the colleges should “look at savings by buying small bottles of proprietary water or of buying large flagons of water that can be decanted.”

Prof Cotton is referring to large water containers that can be refilled. These cater for many people and reduce expense significantly.

The other item struck off the list is “high sugar juices”, which will no longer be available at meetings. As this measure comes into force, Inyange Industries, which belongs to the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party may not take it lightly.

Over the past few years, Inyange Industries, producing water and many other beverages, has essentially taken over the supply of soft drinks across Rwanda. Watch carefully, even where Kagame is seated, there will be a bottle of Inyange water on his table. Such is the case for all gatherings.

There are other local companies, in addition to large quantities of imports. But they are sharing the remaining small market.

Prof Cotton has also stopped the provision of notebooks and pens at UR meetings. “It should be our expectation that staff and colleagues attending meetings bring their own writing materials,” reads the circular.

Newspapers and magazines that have for years been supplied to offices of Principals of the Colleges and college libraries, have also been stopped.

The UR Vice Chancellor, however, makes exceptions. Any college library or college Principal that needs any magazines or newspapers will seek permission directly from him.

And there is also this, as indicated in the circular: “The New Times and other newspapers that are given to us will continue to be made available”.

The New Times is provided free of charge to UR on a daily basis..

For university offices and projects that have been using donor money, often in rush to spend it before the financial year ends, Prof Cotton has put a new huddle. “No external funding should be used to purchase [the barred items] without consent from my office,” he ordered.

The University is also taking action against staff that leave computers and other electricity-consuming machines on. Lights are also under this. Campus managers have been directed to ensure machines in offices and lights are switched off whenever staff are out.

Another area Prof Cotton has targeted is field trips. He wants them cut to the minimum. He has asked the College Principals to submit to his office the systems used to determine how field trips are given. It is likely he wants to ensure there is a uniform system with no loopholes for administrative staff to dish out field trips at will.

The University of Rwanda’s current annual budget is Rwf 36billion, in addition to millions in other funding from donors such as the Swedish funded project. With an institution as large as UR, it struggles to survive on the budget allocation.

It is not allowed to increase tuition. According to its financial records, the University generates about Rwf 15billion, yet it spend nearly double this amount on the wage bill alone.

With this state of affairs, one would expect the University of Rwanda to be the most prudent when spending taxpayers money. The Auditor General, the national overseer of the country’s spending, has repeatedly accused UR of wasteful expenditures.

Government is still struggling to repay Rwf 14billion debt accumulated by UR. The state finances controller has indicated that UR, before 2018, had poor accounting standards which resulted in incomplete financial statements. The University also made payments declared as performance bonuses for the stuff, mission allowance, and payments to contractors who supplied goods and services but couldn’t be properly accounted for.

The University also overpaid more than of Rwf 700 million for what was recorded as lecturers transport fees and mission allowances.

It is perhaps these loopholes allowing for uncontrolled flow of university money, that Prof Cotton wants to close.

To gauge the impact of the new measures on the university, The Chronicles dispatched our reporter to two colleges in Kigali: the College of Science and Technology, and the College of Business and Economics.

There, we interviewed 7 different lecturers separately. None of them was willing to be identified.

A senior lecturer in the Engineering Department said: “How can you organise a meeting and not provide basic items like notebooks and refreshments? If such a decision has been adopted, I can assure you no one will come for those meetings.”

Lecturer in Electrical Engineering Department said: If indeed a decision of that nature has been adopted, it is very disappointing! The notebooks, pens and water and other incentives are provided as motivation for us to be there. I dont see how they expect us to attend meetings without availing such small incentives. I hope they won’t demand for records of what is discussed yet they didn’t provide notebooks.”

A senior lecturer of Economics said: “From a point of view of resources management, I think it is a wise move by our Management Team. However, if the University has no money, you don’t go about cutting small things as those. You go back to the board and look for ways to raise money. They should engage the entire university family on how best to raise our funding.”

A senior Lecturer teaching Business Administration said: “I have yet to see the full circular. However, I can understand the headache Prof Cotton is facing. There are so many things to do with so little resources. On the other hand though, food and juice, or the other items he will be removing, cost less. Reducing costs can be done effectively, say removing many of the courses that consume money. Removing pens surely will have no impact.”

A Lecturer in Computer Science noted: “That would be a scandal of unimaginable proportions to hear that UR has no money to buy notebooks or water when in actual sense small incentives as these encourage many to attend meetings. We feel recognized. Remember we have very many meetings which take far too long, which requires writing. If they cannot provide the meeting materials, then the meetings should be scrapped as well.”

An official working in the Administrative Office said: “It is possible the measures are as a result of insufficient cash resources. My opinion is that they should deeply review the importance of those meetings as a first step, and if they are really important, then what is spent on them shouldn’t be an issue. I can see attendance of those meetings going down if basic incentives that have been around for a long time are removed.”

An assistant Lecturer in Civil Engineering said: “The university is facing serious financial problems. They should find other ways to generate money so that the meetings are not disrupted. I don’t think I will waste my time to attend. Beside, they should also consider giving us a pay rise.”

By press time, The Chronicles was still awaiting the response to the email sent to the Office of the Vice Chancellor to understand the logic of the University’s new measures.

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