Vice President Gilbert Bukenya and other ministers on the Chogm Cabinet sub-committee “deceived” President Museveni in the controversial decision to lease cars for the summit, MPs said yesterday.
Prof. Bukenya told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that he was “obsessed” with leasing, rather than buying, cars to transport delegates during the November 2007 Commonwealth Summit (Chogm).
Hiring Vs purchase
“I was obsessed with outright leasing of the Chogm vehicles,” Prof Bukenya said. “We stopped international bidding process because there was no money and I got a big warning that outright purchase would [have] taken us eight months to deliver the cars here yet time was running out.”
However, MPs, led by PAC chairman Nandala Mafabi, said the country had lost money by leasing cars at Euros 4.17 million (about Shs10.2 billion) for a couple of days instead of buying cars at Euros 6.19 million (about Shs15.2 billion).
The tender to buy 204 executive cars was initially awarded to Spear Motors Ltd but later reversed and a tender to lease 144 cars awarded to Europcar/Motorcare (U), a consortium in which Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa had previously held shares.
MPs accused Prof Bukenya, Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa and Works minister John Nasasira, of “hoodwinking” the President on the procurement of Chogm cars.
MPs say although the President, in a February 12, 2007 meeting, directed the committee to source the cars locally, they did not inform him that the Chogm Cabinet sub-committee had, in a December 4, 2006 meeting chaired by Prof Bukenya, already decided to single-source the cars and asked Mr Nasasira and Mr Kutesa to work out the modalities. The deal was then tailor-made for Europcar/Motorcare, MPs said.
“They deceived the President because there was a plan from the start to favour one company and Prof Bukenya and other ministers unfairly disqualified Spear Motors Ltd,” Mr Mafabi said. “Taxpayers paid 74 per cent of the cost for the BMWs for only four days instead of buying these vehicles and in the process there was no value for money and the country lost.”
The committee heard that Chogm transport evaluation committee had on May 8, 2007 selected Spear Motors Ltd, but later the decision was reversed after Prof. Bukenya insisted that the cars should be leased.
A subsequent audit found that one of the companies in the winning consortium did not have a valid trading license as required by the procurement law.
However, Prof Bukenya said the committee’s role was restricted to policy and that, “It was the business of the technical people [to] have eliminated Europcar/Motorcare (U) Ltd if it had no valid trading license.”
The Vice President added: “I may not have been informed that there was leasing in the international bidding. We halted because we thought there was only outright purchase.”
Asked about the cost of leasing compared to outright purchase, Prof Bukenya said: “I never negotiated and I don’t know the 74 per cent, the vehicles stayed here for about a month and not four days.”
According to the PPDA rules, it is irregular for ministers or government officials to interfere with any procurement process. Vice President Bukenya had earlier refused to appear before the PAC MPs, a position supported by the Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya in a legal opinion to Cabinet. Last week President Museveni met the MPs and asked them to meet the vice president in his office and not insist on him going to them. Yesterday’s meeting was held in the Parliament’s conference hall, where other witnesses initially appeared, and the Vice President said he was defying cabinet in meeting the MPs but wanted to do so to clear his name. During the three-hour appearance, the Vice President denied hiding behind the presidency, denied any wrongdoing and described journalists as “fools” for their coverage of the inquiry.
On the Shs13.9 billion the government invested in Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort without any documentation, Prof Bukenya denied any wrongdoing and blamed the Attorney General Prof Khiddu Makubuya and other officials.
“I was not part of the negotiations; mine was policy and those who drafted the joint venture agreement should be responsible.”
Prof Bukenya also denied influencing Works Minister John Nasasira to divert public money to work on Garuga Road leading to his private mansion in the area. Accusing the committee of being picky, Bukenya said: “My home is in Katoomi and is off Kitala-Gerenge road by 2km. Garuga road goes up to Ngamba Islands and is worked on every 2 years and I didn’t ask anybody to do this road.”
A draft report from PAC on the Chogm inquiry has recommended prosecution for several officials, including the Vice President. Prof Bukenya yesterday lost his cool after Aruu MP Odonga Otto reminded him that he could face up to two years in jail if found guilty of interfering with the procurement process.
“I am going there with you,” he told the MP. “We did a lot of consultations on all these issues and for insubordination you can forget. If I tell you jump into the lake, do you want to tell me that you can go ahead and jump?”