A fter three-and-a-half years of the same line-up, President Museveni wielded the axe in a Cabinet shakeup at the weekend, firing seven senior ministers.
In a bid to “streamline things” and “hook” electorates ahead of the 2021 General Election, coming up in 14 months, insiders say Mr Museveni decided to transfer some ministers, kept strong-willed fighters in their jobs and rewarded “fearless commanders” of the 2017 age limit operation.
The President dropped Ms Irene Muloni (Energy), Ms Ntege Azuba (Works), Janat Mukwaya (Gender), Idah Nantaba (ICT), Charles Bakkabulindi (Sports), Hajj Abdul Nadduli (Without Portfolio) and Mr Alex Onzima (Office of the Vice President).
The changes are Mr Museveni’s first major effort to refashion his Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo (meaning no games) line-up, serving the last months of his fifth elective term in office, following months of speculation about the reasons for delayed Cabinet shakeup.
In trying to reinforce a group of “NRM warriors” led by Investment minister Evelyn Anite (Koboko Municipality) and Ndorwa West MP David Bahati (Planning), the President brought in Usuk legislator Peter Ogwang (ICT), Kakumiro District Woman MP Robinah Nabbanja (Health General duties), Ajuri MP Dennis Obua (Sports) and rewarded Raphael Magyezi (Igara West), the lead mover of the age limit motion that crushed the constitutional huddle that paves the way for Mr Museveni to contest for presidency in 2021 elections.
Senior government officials close to State House have talked of “a deliberate plan” to piece together a “winning” Cabinet line-up ahead of the 2021 elections and at the same time “cut the hand of corruption and incompetence” in a government that is increasingly mocked by “disillusioned voters” on social media sites, mainly on account of theft of public funds.
As the President seeks to put the fight against corruption at the heart of his tenure, his critics have questioned his “seriousness” in the fight against corruption.
They say the pre-election reshuffle has little to do with the “political will” to fight corruption, and that the President is “desperately” looking up to “reliable mobilisers” to help him win a 6th elective term in office. Mr Museveni has been in power since 1986.
In the wider scheme of things, when the President wielded the axe, ministers without any political base/voters were the first culprits. Out of the seven dropped, four were ex-officios. Ms Mukwaya, Ms Muloni, Ms Azuba and Hajj Nadduli have been replaced ahead of the 2021 polls.
Mr Frank Tumwebaze (Kibaale East MP), a shrewd mobiliser, has replaced Ms Mukwaya at the Gender docket where the youth and women fall. Ms Mary Kitutu (Manafwa Woman MP), the outgoing Culture State minister known for her high-pitched mobilisation skills in Bugisu, will take over from Ms Muloni who is from the same sub-region but lost Bulambuli Woman MP seat in the 2016 elections.
Inside Muloni’s woes
At the time of her sacking, Ms Muloni was struggling to explain a Shs24b Isimba dam scandal. Last month, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga took evidence to President and explained how officials in the Energy ministry misappropriated billions of shillings meant for the construction of a bridge linking Kayunga and Kamuli districts. This project is part of Isimba Dam.
Earlier, Ms Kadaga had told Parliament that “at some stage, Shs24b had been chewed. I have been following up this matter and the money was eaten in the Ministry of Energy.”
Ms Muloni has since denied any wrongdoing and explained that the bridge could not be constructed because the contractor deviated from what had been agreed in the contract.
Ms Muloni’s first problem, however, came in 2016 when Parliament resolved to form a nine-member committee to investigate her and the then Permanent Secretary, Mr Kabagambe Kaliisa, over corruption accusations surrounding the construction of Isimba and Karuma hydro-electricity dams.
In justifying the motion, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) argued that the dams were being constructed on loose soils of river deposits and the contractors were using inferior material. The MPs believed the shoddy works were a result of corruption by ministry officials.
The President took interest in the saga but it is not clear whether this is the cause of Ms Muloni’s downfall.
Another Cabinet source told Daily Monitor how the President had on several occasions reprimanded Muloni on “endless scandals” in her docket and accused her of “sitting on the edge” of her ministry.
Some ministers, including Ms Mukwaya had, however, requested to retire, citing personal reasons. But another source said Ms Mukwaya, a former Bush War fighter, did not have a constituency and that the President had no choice but to let her leave.
But two Cabinet ministers told this newspaper that she asked to leave on health grounds and that she couldn’t put up with corruption in some government departments. In one of the Cabinet meetings at State House, one of the ministers quoted Ms Mukwaya reminding the President that “this is not the government we brought”.
Ms Mukwaya was a magistrate before joining the NRA with her husband, Capt Abbey Mukwaya. She represented Mukono South (1996-2011) and held various key positions in government before she quit elective politics in 2011. After the 2016 general elections, Mr Museveni posted her to Gender.
Other ministers (named withheld) were either sacked or moved to what sources called “arid dockets’ over persistent accusations of corruption, incompetence, absenteeism and lack of “political fuel” that is needed to help the President in his sixth term bid.
According to one of the State House insiders, Mr Museveni had on several occasions admonished suspected ministers in Cabinet, but decided to take time and study the extent of the accusations. When he found evidence, he dismissed them.
But Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) and other anti-corruption crusaders in Parliament cited double stands in the fight against corruption and asked the President to explain why Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, who was accused of receiving a bribe kept his job.
Last year, a US court convicted Patrick Ho Chi Ping, the man that the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigations accused of compromising Mr Kutesa with $500,000 (Shs1.8b). Mr Museveni has since promised the country that his government would look into the claims to establish whether a crime was committed or not.
Anite Vs Rukutana
Outgoing Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana will go back to Gender as a junior Labour minister.
The Security minister, Gen Elly Tumwine, in 2013 called Gender docket a “stool” while trying to hit back at the then ministry Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana whom he accused of impropriety against him over Nommo Gallery saga.
The former Justice minister, Gen Kahinda Otafiire, has also been moved to East African Affairs docket in a move State House sources said was largely informed by the UTL saga and other accusations.
Ms Anite told the President that a cartel in government circles wanted to take over assets of UTL is frustrating her efforts to sack Mr Bemanya Twebaze, the former administrator of the telecom. Gen Otafiire and Mr Rukutana were defending Mr Bebanya.
Ms Anite had informed the President that a cartel in government circles with links in Attorney General’s chambers and Finance ministry that wanted to take over assets of the struggling UTL and sell to themselves the strategic assets of the Company to the disadvantage of people of Uganda. She accused Mr Rukutana of frustrating her efforts to sack Mr Bemanya. In response, however, Mr Rukutana on June 28 wrote to Ms Anite saying the minister had no supervisory powers over the UTL administrator.
The President has since ruled in favour of Ms Anite and ordered the Office of Auditor General to audit UTL. The audit is ongoing.
Nantaba and age limits ghost
Ms Nantaba, who at some point put the President on a loud speaker during a meeting in her Kayunga District, was fired from Cabinet over what State House insiders called “perpetual absenteeism” and “betrayal”.
According to insiders, Ms Nantaba, accused of refusing to vote in favour of scrapping the age limit from the Constitution.
Before she missed the final vote in the House on October 18, 2017, Ms Nantaba, who was in the company of her brother, Mr Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North MP), was shocked during a consultative meeting they held in Busaana Town Council in Kayunga when residents overwhelmingly voted against what was then a proposal to have Article 102 of the Constitution amended.
Ms Nantaba would later tell Sunday Monitor in January 2018 that she was not afraid of being fired from government over her disappearance in the run up to the age limit vote.
Others called her “a liability” but refused to delve into further details of what exactly happened to a woman who had fought land grabbers.
Ministers speak out
Raphael Magyezi, Local Government minister: “It is a call to service and all leadership comes from God. I feel good and happy to be given a docket which I know very well. What is wrong with the President appreciating a performance? I don’t think that matters in this particular assignment.
Jackson Kafuuzi, Deputy Attorney General: “I feel honoured to have been appointed. It shows that the President has confidence me, and the onus and obligation is upon me to prove him right.
Judith Nabakooba, Information minister: “I would like to take this opportunity and thank the President for trusting and appointing me minister. As I embark on this journey, I pledge to uphold the Constitution and serve my country. Your prayers are highly recommended.”
Denis Obua, Sports. “I come to the sport docket with natural passion and as a team, we will galvanise the support. I am