Compelled by a decision of the Constitutional Court and having received instructions from the Office of the Prime Minister, Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo yesterday stepped down from office, a post he has held since June 2006 when he replaced Miria Matembe.
But in the five years Dr Buturo has held the docket, he has been labelled “controversial” by a cross section of the public, often due to his scratchy fight over ethics in the country, but at times, because of the controversies in which his ministry, or Buturo the person, was allegedly caught in.
Yet even as he left office, Dr Buturo took a parting shot at the gays and lesbian community in Uganda, urging Ugandans to support government to ensure the anti-homsexuality Bill is passed.
“I urge you to put pressure on Parliament to debate, amend the anti- homosexual Bill and pass a law that will serve the interest of Ugandans and not our friends,” Dr Buturo said.
‘Advise from above’
Others say Dr Buturo took this decision after being advised by ‘higher authorities’ to do so to avoid a ‘public humiliation’ from the ‘appointing authority’. More resignations are expected, they add.
“He resigned from what?” a very senior government official asked this newspaper last evening, adding that Dr Buturo knew his fate well in advance. He, however, refused to further comment about him as a former colleague. “I do not want to be among the commentators on Buturo,” he added.
A few months after his appointment as Ethics minister, Parliament in October 2006 ordered Dr Buturo to pay back Shs20 million he received from Mega FM, a local radio station in Gulu. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told he had received the money while he was Information Minister. Dr Buturo, who put up a spirited defence against the allegations, eventually bowed to public pressure and paid the money in installments.
The outgoing MP for Bufumbira County East in Kisoro District, Dr Buturo recently lost his bid to return to Parliament as an independent candidate. He had lost the party ticket for his constituency in the NRM primaries.
Dr Buturo last year attributed his NRM primaries loss to ‘robbery from within’ his party, necessitating him to stand as an independent although others say he never delivered sufficiently to his electorate during his tenure. “My decision to run as an independent is not because I was disgruntled. I simply wanted to make a statement that immorality/wickedness should never be allowed to pay. I realised that if I had accepted the fraud, it would be allowing wickedness as a means to promotion and acquisition of whatever one may want in life in our nation,” Dr Buturo said in an interview with another daily newspaper, adding that his party president had shown what he called a “positive attitude to his candidature at the time”.
“His resignation means nothing,” former Ethics minister Miria Matembe told Daily Monitor. “He should have resigned immediately after being robbed by his corrupt colleagues in the NRM primaries,” she added.
Ms Matembe said although she thinks Dr Buturo may have genuinely wanted to fight corruption, he never clearly declared his stand on the vice.
“The Ethics ministry is no longer relevant to the NRM government,” Ms Matembe said. “While I was Ethics minister I did not hesitate to come out openly to condemn corrupt people and institutions. Yet I never clearly heard his stand on corruption.”
She added: “He never openly condemned his fellow ministers who were implicated in corruption scandals. He played it safe, taking political responsibility for collective corruption that thrives in that government. Corruption is the engine that drives the NRM. You only get persecuted when you fall out with government. Buturo facilitated it.”
Notwithstanding his alleged failure to deal with corruption within government, Dr Buturo will be remembered for his fire-fighting stance against what he chose to call a “perverted Ugandan society and an irresponsible media”. He often got in head-on battles with the Red Pepper, a tabloid, which to him published photographs of pornographic nature.
Dr Buturo had no kind words for the tabloid although, as fate would have it, his office shared the same floor and is directly opposite the tabloid’s sales and marketing office on Social Security House in Kampala.
The man who once wrote: “Uganda’s media and the entertainment industry should treat immorality as a subject that deserves our total rejection”, even advocated the publication of names and pictures of people who engage in prostitution as a way of deterring others from engaging in the vice. Fresh in the minds of many, however, is his contribution to the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Dr Buturo told the international community that Uganda would never give equal rights to gays and lesbians nor has plans to legalise homosexuality. The Bill brought Uganda on the spotlight since some of its provisions demanded the death penalty.
“At the United Nations there are attempts by some nations to impose homosexuality on the rest of us,” Dr Buturo told the media. “We have learned that they want to smuggle in provisions on homosexuality. Homosexuals can forget about human rights. Uganda will not be forced to legalise practices that are illegal, unnatural and abnormal.”
In December 2009, whistle blower website, WikiLeaks, in a publication of a US Diplomatic Cable, said US officials saw Dr Buturo as one of the “key players ushering in a new era of intolerance in the region”. He is also prominently remembered when he served as District Commissioner in the Local Government Ministry in the Milton Obote II regime in the 1980s.