Friday June 6 2008

Museveni warns media, ‘chiefs’

By Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi, Mercy Nalugo & Yasiin Mugerwa


President Yoweri Museveni yesterday addressed the nation at the opening of the third session of the 8th Parliament, drawing battle lines with monarchs, the media and the political opposition.

Mr Museveni also made his strongest defence so far of the land give-away scheme, (popularly known in some circles as land bonanza), saying he was “proud� of giving away the land and declared, for the first time, unequivocally that he had personally decided to give away some government land.

“I am so proud that I have given Tata (an Indian company) 50 acres of land so that they can add value to my coffee,� he said.

Mr Museveni, who has been involved in battles with the traditional kingdom of Buganda over a proposed new land law, said he will not allow “traditional chiefs� who failed to protect the sovereignty of Africa from colonial invasion to stand in the way of development.

The President conspicuously avoided use of the respectful titles of King, Kabaka or Omukama. “I supported the restoration of these traditional chiefs but they must know that they had failed to protect the sovereignty of African societies,� he said adding, “While I support the traditional institutions, I cannot accept that they stand in the way of development. It will not happen, it will not happen.�

His attack on the media and particularly Daily Monitor was possibly the strongest of his about three-hour speech. “[A] newspaper has no right to damage our future.

You publish one false story, immediately it is on the Internet and all over the world, you have no right,� he emphasised as he waved a photocopy of an article Daily Monitor published in April 2005 in which the government wanted to give the Dairy Corporation to a Thai investor for a nominal fee of one dollar.

The attack on Daily Monitor newspaper was part of the President’s prepared address. Waving the article, Mr Museveni snapped, “How could I sell Dairy Corporation for one dollar? Am I an imbecile?� He claimed that as a result of the story in Daily Monitor the first investor, a Thai Company Malee Sampran was scared off the project.

“What right do such saboteurs have to sabotage our investment? What right do you have to damage our future?� he asked.

Daily Monitor investigation at the time found that the investor, Malee Sampran Inc had no money to make the investment, a discovery that helped the government to look elsewhere for the current investors, Sameer Agriculture and Livestock..

Mr Museveni, in his address also indicated that the controversial plan to donate a large section of Mabira central forest reserve, which in April last year caused the death of at least five people including one man of Asian origin and five Ugandans in a public demonstration, is still on the cards.

“Mehta (part owners of the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited) wanted some land to increase sugar production and employment, some confused groups tried to frustrate these programmes (but) with patience these will be solved,� the President said.

Scoul applied to the President seeking to be given some 7,300 hectares of the central forest reserve to expand its sugar plantation, an action that sparked a public demonstration in Kampala on April 12, 2007.

Mr Museveni also talked about the most pressing infrastructural challenges to date – power and road infrastructure. On power he described as criminals the politicians in the 6th Parliament who failed the construction of a power dam at Bujagali.

He said the failure of Bujagali power dam had retarded the rural electrification programme as funds were diverted to subsidise high- cost thermal power production.

On roads Mr Museveni said he had “learnt for the first time two and a half years ago� from his Works Minister John Nasasira that while the roads in Europe are built to last 50 years, the roads in poor countries like Uganda are built to last only 15 years. He took a characteristic swipe at the donors who provide money late and fail to release money for reconstruction in time before the roads collapse.

But he revealed that he was investigating whether the unit cost of constructing a kilometre of the third world roads was comparable in Uganda to other countries with similar conditions.

He also announced the formation of three audit committees in his office to carry on further investigation on roads.