The Ministry of Defence recently told a House committee that more than 1,000 soldiers, in effect, a battalion, desert the army every year, it emerged yesterday.
However, the ministry’s information, which, if true, raises serious concerns about the integrity of the military, was yesterday called into question by the army.
The Sessional Committee on Defence revealed in its submissions during a joint meeting of all committees under the wings of the Budget Committee that military authorities are not sure why the institution is suffering such a high rate of desertion.
Deputy chairperson Simon Mulongo revealed that when the Defence committee met ministry officials, it was revealed to them that the Force was losing a huge number of personnel. He suggested that salaries for soldiers be increased to address the problem of “rampant” desertions.
“Desertion is a huge security threat, it is a matter of serious concern and if we don’t deal with it, it is going to collapse the strength of the units. And, the people who are deserting the army are likely to become a supply side to crime pockets in the country,” Mr Mulongo said.
“Therefore, as a committee we are proposing that the wage bill for Ministry of Defence is increased by Shs20 billion.” But the army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, yesterday raised doubts about the ministry’s estimations. He said although UPDF has not yet ascertained the extent of the problem, the figure of 1,000 deserters each year appears to be “overstated”. “Desertion is indiscipline and criminal, it’s a punishable offence and we have notified the public that the manhunt [for deserters] is on,” Lt. Col. Ankunda said.
The army spokesperson dismissed suggestion that soldiers were deserting the army because of poor pay. Committee members led by Alex Ruhunda (Fort Portal) and Christine Acayo (Nebbi Woman) demanded that an investigation be carried by Ministry of Defence officials to establish why soldiers are increasingly deserting the army and where they go after they abandon the service.
The matter came up during scrutiny of the proposed Shs1.2 trillion budget for Defence for 2013/14. The hunt for soldiers who have deserted the army has so far left hundreds arrested in different parts of the country, according to official military sources.
Recently the Daily Monitor broke the story of 400 soldiers, among them 37 members of the Special Forces Command, responsible for protecting President Museveni, who are believed to have deserted the army. But the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, has since said there is no cause for alarm over deserters. He said troops who normally desert UPDF were indisciplined individuals who joined the army in the hope of becoming rich.