Recent scandals at the Office of the Prime Minister and Public Service have put the ruling party in the spotlight, even with President Museveni advocating for zero-tolerance to corruption. Suspects are still under investigation, with a single convict yet to be sentenced.
However, the individuals under investigation are still innocent until proven guilty. But this does not erase the fact that billions of money were siphoned to private accounts.
But before we delve into the first cases of corruption investigate under the NRM government, it is import to note that the same vice in Uganda is as old as the country.
In 1900, the British Commissioner to Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston, bribed Apollo Kagwa with 100 cows to sign the famous March 10, 1900 Uganda agreement. In his book: Uganda Protectorate Vol I, Johnston said: “I had promised to give Regent Kagwa 100 cattle if he appended his signature on the agreement.”
It was partly this bribe that later led Kagwa to resign in 1926. The Musale newspaper of April 1932 also wrote of how Kagwa was bribed to append his signature on the agreement, though he was reluctant. The discussions which led to the signing of the agreement had stalled for three months.
Thus the moral decadency has been growing since 1900.
Enter the NRM
When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came into power, the situation was not any better. In fact, in 1986, NRM found corruption and abuse of office at its highest. About one month in power, the government faced the first saga involving a civil servant.
On February 24, 1986, the General Manager of the now defunct Uganda Airline, Dr Ben Ochola Latigo, ordered the recall of a plane which had been airborne more than 30 minutes back to the ground. The plane was destined for Dubai in the United Emirates when it was recalled back to Entebbe airport. The scandal was widely covered by local and international media.
Dr Latigo ordered the recall of flight No: QU 172 which had left him as he was on his way from Kampala to Karachi. Pakistan. He arrived at Entebbe airport more than 30 minutes after the plane had left. Some airport and Uganda airlines workers told the press.
His action attracted bitter criticism from the government as well as the public. In an attempt to do damage control, he issued a press release in which he defended his action. In the press release he said that he ordered the recall because he had the powers to do so, besides, him and other senior officials were destined to Pakistan for an official negotiation with the Pakistan International Airlines which were to lease two B707 engines to the Uganda Airlines.
The plane was said to have had more than 20 passengers, but the Airlines spokesperson said that there were only seven passengers, and five crew members.
Popular pressure to have Dr Latigo arrested flared and he was arrested on the Uganda-Kenya border as he attempted to enter Kenya. On March 7, 1986, he was produced before court in Kampala. He was represented by Advocate Henry Kayondo and was granted a court bail of Shs300,000 cash. Although he later won the case, the government instituted a commission of inquiry into the mismanagement of the Uganda Airlines which was the first ever by the NRM government to check corruption in Uganda.
The commission discovered that Latigo owned TEKDEL INTERNATIONAL LTD which hired two Mercedes-Benz Cars number UWW 555 and UWY 762 to Uganda Airlines at Shs95,000 per day. As such, the Airlines owed him millions of money the commission heard. Latigo was appointed manager in December 1985 by the military junta under Tito Okello Lutwa. He replaced Colonel Wilson Gadi Toko who was the vice chairman of the military council.
While Latigo’s scandal was the first recorded under the NRM, it was not the biggest corruption saga in which millions of public money was swindled in the earliest days of the regime. The biggest theft scandal was discovered in July 1987 when Nathan Bisamunyu, the General manager of the Uganda Industrial Machinery Ltd (UIM) connived with and his acting chief accountant, Joseph Watson Wasswa, and siphoned Shs760 million from the parastatal. The Criminal Investigations Department (CID now CIID) swung into action and the two were apprehended by police in Kampala, recorded a criminal case No: 1150/87 against the two.
The case was later politicised as it dragged on. The Inspector General of Government, Mr Augustine Ruzindana, instituted an investigation which discovered overwhelming evidence. Meanwhile, the two were out on court bail as the case dragged on. Because Bisamunyu was from a prominent family in Kabale, there were allegations that he was being protected by NRM stalwarts and minister from the region.
On September 11, 1989, police detective Okot Safarino who was in charge of investigations wrote to the minister of Justice and Attorney general, Prof. George Kanyeihamba, expressing dissatisfaction about irregularities in the case. The letter leaked to the press. In the same month, Peter Kabatsi, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) withdraw the case against the accused.
The Santana vehicle saga was perhaps the worst corruption case in the NRM government before 1990. In 1988, the Uganda government wanted to purchase transport vehicles for the President’s office and the ministry of Defence. Grace Ibingira former minister in the independence government who was now the Spanish Counsel to Uganda brokered the barter deal with Spain and Uganda; the former would exchange ‘Land-rover’ vehicles for the latter’s coffee.
Ibingira had convinced the government that the Spanish-made ‘Land-rovers’ were as good as the British-made Land-rover. Alas! Once here, it was realised that the vehicles were not Land-rovers but Santana. Though they looked like Land-rover, they were smaller, weaker, and unstable on the road and its fuel consumption was twice as much as that of the Land-rover.
However, in mid-1988 when Balaki Kirya, minister of state in office of the President in charge of security went to Spain to sign an agreement, he found 260 Santana ‘Land-rovers’ valued at $6.1 million had already been shipped while the agents/lobbyists were negotiating for the importation of another 260 ‘Land-rovers’ now valued at $8 million.
The saga leaked to the press. The Weekly Topic of May 3, 1989 had a lead story: ‘Old schemers at their game again, STOP MISUSING PRESIDENT OFFICE’. When contacted, officials from the National Treasury said the purchase was done without the knowledge of the Bank of Uganda (BoU).
However, from the BoU archives, on April 8, 1988, a memorandum on the foreign exchange position, by the governor indicated among other payments to be made in the year was for the 260 Land-rovers from Spain for the President’s office and 600 Land-rovers for the ministry of Defence as well as the army uniform from Spain.
Dr. Kizza Besigye once said: “You cannot accuse the NRM government of corruption because, when we came, we found a corrupt society and we are dealing with the same people.” The Monitor newspaper of December 9-12, 1994 quoted him during an exclusive interview.
From the critics of the government today, especially those who were a party before departure claim that then in NRM, corruption was abomination. Incidentally, facts detest that claim. In fact, the war against corruption seems to be eliminating heavier and more victims than ever before.
Currently the First Deputy Prime Minister
Danze tax evasion scandal. It emerged in 1996 that Danze, a company that belonged to the National Resistance Movement with President Museveni as its chairman, had been evading taxes for over a decade. Investigations by the Anti-Smuggling Unit found, for example, that over Shs6b (about $3.4m) had been smuggled over a one-year period. The company, which had been managed by some of the key NRM leaders, including First Deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya, was accordingly disbanded.
Ghost soldier scandal (2003). Complaints of money meant for soldiers who did not exist had been popping up often in earlier years, but in 2003, what came to be known as the ghost soldier scandal clearly unfolded. It emerged that units, especially in northern Uganda where the war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army was raging, had their numbers exaggerated so that commanders would make a difference off the salaries. The same problem also afflicted military units that operated in the Congo and western Uganda against the Allied Democratic Forces rebels. Some estimates show that Uganda lost about $324 million in 20 years through ghost soldiers.
He was once Education, and Health minister
Muhwezi, Kutesa censured (1998). Then Brig. Jim Muhwezi, the minister of education, was forced to resign by the Sixth Parliament due to alleged mismanagement of the then newly-established Universal Primary Education. The Sixth Parliament, reputed as probably the most independent and vibrant during Mr Museveni’s presidency, also forced Mr Sam Kuteesa to resign, accusing him of benefitting from the sale of the former Uganda Airlines. The two, who were forced to resign over alleged abuse of office, were never prosecuted and bounced back into Cabinet in 2001, when Mr Museveni was re-elected. The government took the view that their censure was “unfair”. Muhwezi, particularly argued further that by having stayed off Cabinet for years, he had been punished enough. Later, he was again dropped from Cabinet over the Global Fund scandal.
Valley Dam Scandal (2003). Shs3.5 billion meant to build valley dams to trap water in the semi-arid areas of eastern Uganda disappeared with no visible valley dams to show for it. It became the talk of town that Dr Specioza Kazibwe, whose Agriculture ministry was supposed to supervise the dam construction, said the valley dams had been built but those who did not want to see them did not see them.
Brother to President Museveni, now presidential adviser
UCB sale scandal (1998). Parliament stopped the sale of 49 per cent shares of the Uganda Commercial Bank, then the biggest bank in the country and entirely government-owned, to a Malaysian company. Then Maj. Gen. Salim Saleh resigned as defence adviser, after admitting a role in brokering the deal with Westmont Land Asia, the successful bidder, which had been found to be a “briefcase company” with no banking experience. Gen. Saleh was later alleged to be the majority shareholder in Westmont and soon after the purchase, he sold its shares to Green Land Investments, another company in which he was also a shareholder. In his defence before Chief Magistrate Catherine Bamugemereire over the mismanagement of the now defunct Greenland Bank, Sulaiman Kiggundu, who was the bank’s managing director, named President Museveni as the “key person” behind the irregular purchase of the UCB shares by Greenland Bank.
Formerly rally-car driver
UPDF procurement scandals of the 1990s. During the 1990s, the army was involved in a number of procurement scandals. Undersize uniforms from China, not-up-to-standard food rations from South Africa and 90 second-hand tanks, several unserviceable, from Belarus, were procured. But probably the most famous of the scandals was what came to be known as the junk helicopter scandal, in which two out of four unserviceable Mi-24 helicopters were procured. Four of the MiGs were modified in Israel and delivered in the country but two of them could not fly. The deal to supply the helicopters, which was brokered by Emma Katto, then a race-car driver, was aided by Gen. Salim Saleh, who convinced President Museveni to okay the deal. Gen. Saleh was as a result to bag a commission of $200,000 off each of the four helicopters. He would later tell a commission of inquiry into the matter in 2001 that he had informed the President of the “commission” he had been promised and Mr Museveni had allowed him to use it in the war against Joseph Kony’s rebels in northern Uganda.
Currently Justice Minister
Congo plunder. The International Court of Justice sitting in The Hague in 2005, found Uganda guilty of violating the sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of Congo, plundering its natural resources and orchestrating human rights abuses when it sent its troops between 1997 and 2003. The court accordingly slapped a whopping $10b fine on Uganda. The government said it had sent soldiers over to Congo to pursue Allied Democratic Forces rebels who were terrorising parts of western Uganda, but some of the top commanders, including Gen. Salim Saleh and Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, were accused of plundering Congo’s resources.
Capt. Byakutaaga runs off with millions. In 2000, UPDF paymaster Capt. Dan Byakutaga allegedly disappeared with Shs1.9b meant for soldier’s salaries. Ministry of Defence officials at some point told Parliament that they had asked Interpol to help with the search for Capt. Byakutaga but he has never been found. President Museveni, himself once hinted that he knew where Capt. Byakutaga was and Major General James Kazini, who has since died but was army commander then, kept remarking optimistically about Capt. Byakutaga showing up one day to “spill the beans”. Suspicion that top military officials could have stolen the money and used Capt. Byakutaga as cover still lingers.
Former junior Health minister
Global Fund Scandal (2005). Billions meant to aid the anti-HIV/Aids effort went to organisations that did not exist, some into the personal bank accounts of top officials and some allegedly to finance the campaign to lift presidential term limits and other dubious activities, a commission of inquiry chaired by Justice James Ogoola found out. The scandal unfolded in a newly founded entity within the Ministry of Health known as the Project Management Unit (PMU) which was in charge of disbursing $47m to about 400 NGOs. At the end, some $37m remained unaccounted for. The money came from the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The organisation had suspended a $200m grant to Uganda citing misuse, prompting Mr Museveni to set up the commission of inquiry. Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi was as a result sacked as minister of health, together with his two state ministers, Dr Alex Kamugisha and Capt. Mike Mukula. The commission ordered for the refund of the money and some of it was recovered from the individuals implicated.
Mike Mukula, Alice Kaboyo
Former junior health minister and former aide to President Museveni respectively
Gavi Funds scandal (2007). Some Shs1.89b meant for immunising children against killer diseases from the Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) was lost through fraudulent procurement and other means. Capt. Mike Mukula, one of the former state ministers of health, is currently serving a four-year jail term over the misuse of Shs240m from the project. In his defence, Mukula said part of the money was requested for and sent to the office of First Lady, Janet Museveni. Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, the former minister of health, and his other former deputy Dr Alex Kamugisha, were acquitted by the Anti-Corruption Court, which also found Alice Kaboyo, a former aide in the president’s office, guilty of misusing part of the funds. Ms Kaboyo paid a fine. On the donors’ insistence, some of the money was refunded by the implicated officials.
Current Prime Minister
NSSF-Temangalo land scandal (2008).
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, then security minister, was in the eye of the storm when the National Social Security Fund bought land he jointly owned with businessman Amos Nzei in Temangalo. The duo, together with Dr Ezra Suruma who was minister of finance which supervised NSSF, owned the now defunct National Bank of Commerce in which the money from the land deal was supposedly invested. A parliamentary probe report recommended action against Mr Mbabazi and Mr Suruma over conflict of interest but a committee of the whole house later quashed the report. The land, said to total 411.44 acres, was bought at Shs 11.2 billion (Shs24 million per acre). Much of the query was on the criteria used by NSSF to procure the land and whether savers got value for money.
Chogm scandal (2007). Much of the money meant for organising the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) was allegedly stolen. The luxurious BMW vehicles and outrider motorcycles used by visiting dignitaries were said to have been fraudulently procured. Former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, who chaired the Cabinet select committee that organised the meeting, was unsuccessfully prosecuted over the procurement of the motorcycles. Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa and then Works Minister John Nasasira were also among the officials accused of mismanaging the process. It is estimated that over Shs200b was lost.
Compiled by Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi