Gender Minister Syda Bbumba and Prof. Khiddu Makubuya, a minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, were forced to resign yesterday as President Museveni tried to draw a line on the Hassan Basajjabalaba compensation scandal. Government sources told this newspaper that the ministers’ position became untenable after a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga recommended that it could not defend the duo without causing more damage to government.
It is the third ministerial resignation over corruption-related offences after former Information Minister Kabakumba Matsiko fell on her sword in December.
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has been investigating how companies controlled by Mr Basajjabalaba received Shs142.6 billion in compensation for city properties despite the Auditor General finding that the companies owed government over Shs900 million.
A PAC report tabled before Parliament for debate accused the two ministers of causing financial loss to the taxpayer and abuse of office for their role in approving the inflated compensation claims.
Gen. Moses Ali, the stand-in leader of government business, announced their resignation before Parliament yesterday afternoon before the two officials, who are also MPs, made personal explanations before the House.
“The cabinet sub-committee concurs with PAC that there was substantial financial loss to government and cabinet has directed the Attorney General to recover monies in excess of what is due to the compensated companies,” Gen. Ali said.
The former Ministers denied any wrong doing before the House, promising to cooperate with investigators until their names are cleared.
Prof. Makubuya wore a brave face as he read his statement, evoking biblical phrases about there being a time for everything but there was a pained sense of injustice in the voice of the law professor.
He quoted the biblical Ecclesiastes and said his time to exit Cabinet had come. He also said no body was born a Minister.
He added; “In view of the foregoing, I undertake to resign my current deployment as Minister for General Duties and as soon as am able to comply with the necessary Legal and Administrative procedures.”
Ms Syda Bbumba also pleaded innocence to the allegations against her.
“I handled the compensation in accordance with my mandate as Finance Minister and I plead innocent. I never at any one time broke any law, I followed the well known principle that the Attorney General’s opinion is binding. My role was that of an implementer and although I have taken responsibility, I am innocent,” Ms Bbumba said.
Neither Prof. Makubuya nor Ms Bbumba showed any signs of surprise, though.
There was an air of inevitability over the resignations after close to 200 MPs from the ruling NRM and the opposition signed a motion to censure the two ministers but the swiftness of the capitulation signalled an attempt by State House and Cabinet to swim with the tide of popular public opinion.
President Museveni has gone to great lengths to distance himself from the transaction whose beneficiary is a senior member of the NRM and a renowned financier and kingmaker in the party, telling MPs on Pac that he gave general directives for the businessman to be compensated without specifying amounts.
What others say
Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the Defence minister, sought to drive the point home last evening, telling Parliament that the resignation proved that the NRM is keen to fight corruption but opposition MPs sought to keep the spotlight on Mr Museveni.
Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, who is also shadow justice minister and attorney general, said: “The Presidency must reform; they must know there are laws in this country and must be respected.”