NTUNGAMO-The State Water minister, Mr Ronald Kibuule, on Tuesday stirred residents of Ntungamo Town in southwestern Uganda when he swung by in a police helicopter to check on his father-in-law.
After the police Agusta AW109 Grandnew chopper landed at Ntungamo Sacred Heart Parish adjacent to the police station at about 4.30pm, curious onlookers crowded to catch a glimpse of the government official they mistook for the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura.
Some of the officers at the nearby police barracks, according to one of them who asked not to be named to speak freely about colleagues, dashed home to clean up and hurried back in the hope of interfacing with their overall commander they hoped had made an impromptu visit.
Town dwellers surged forward, according to one resident, ready to present a litany of security concerns in the constituency of First Lady Janet Museveni.
But a few minutes later, minister Kibuule sauntered out of the helicopter with another man and five police guards and headed to his father-in-law John Tumuhimbise’s residence, a short distance from the police station.
“We thought it was the IGP; some police officers even had to run [home] to dress up. But I think this is pure misuse of government resources; there is no police officer that can ask for this or even a motorcycle while going home, and it is given to him,” one police officer said on condition of anonymity to avoid possible reprimand.
A memorable visit
Mr Kibuule emerged from the visit after about an hour, escorted by Mr Tumuhimbise, the wife and their daughter. The minister waved to stunned onlookers as he grinned, before he and in-laws posed for photographs with the helicopter in the background.
The helicopter then lifted off, thrusting a cloud of dust that sent the crowd scampering.
Minister Kibuule, however, yesterday offered a different and less dramatic version in stark contrast to residents’ narratives of a celebrity-type visit.
He landed in Ntungamo while returning from an official duty in the neigbouring Rukungiri District, the minister said, so that the helicopter could refuel.
“I was coming from Rukungiri for a water project in Kebisoni. When I was coming back, I landed in Ntungamo for refueling. But I couldn’t find fuel there; so, I went to Mbarara. That is where I refuelled.”
The minister didn’t say if it was a decision of the pilot, who ordinarily would be expected to know where to refuel from, to land in Ntungamo that did not have aviation fuel.
We were unable to establish the cost of the minister’s return flight to Kampala whereas a private charter, according to one industry source, would cost Shs14.4m ($4,000) per hour and Shs43m or $12,000 for a day.
Police spokesperson Asan Kasingye told this newspaper last night that the police helicopters can only be used “in emergencies and official government duties”.
Mr Martin Mugabi, the Rukungiri Resident District Commissioner, confirmed the minister’s visit to his district for an on-site assessment of the construction works for the Shs44b gravity-water-flow project in Kahengye.
“He was here [Rukungiri]; I [hosted] him. He was checking on the progress of the water project. I flew with him from Mbarara,” he said.