The Government was “extravagant” in spending Shs6 billion on two armoured limousines for the President, a chairperson of a parliamentary oversight committee has said.
Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire, the chair of the committee on presidential affairs, told Daily Monitor last week that his committee would “pick interest in this matter” even as the President’s press secretary, Mr Tamale Mirundi, leapt to his boss’ defence, noting that criticism of the purchase was steeped in ignorance.
The MP drew comparisons with the opulence that characterised the reign of 17th Century French King, Louis XVI, before warning President Museveni of the likelihood of a ‘French revolution’ taking place in Uganda.
“He [Museveni] should address himself to what happened in France,” said the Buyaga County MP. “The luxury of that kingdom when its people were in poverty led to its collapse. It will affect this country. This is consumerism for an individual and I don’t think that’s a worthwhile investment. The president already has vehicles.”
As official sources pointed at a total cost outlay of Shs6b, well-placed insiders in the security services suggest that the full figure spent on the cars could actually have been in the region of Shs10b.
However, officials at the President’s Office declined to comment on reports suggesting that the government may have forked out up to Shs10b in the process of procuring the two high-end vehicles.
One of the two limousines was first publicly seen last month at the Independence Grounds in Kololo during celebrations to mark 50 years of Uganda’s self-rule.
The custom-built Germany-made Mercedes Benz S500 Pullman Guard, in which Mr Museveni dazzled at Kololo, took the authorities more than a year to procure in a delicate top-secret process.
The latest acquisitions, which join a range of plush 4x4 vehicles used by the President, are understood to have been directly sourced through classified expenditure from Carat Security Group, the world’s largest commercial armoured vehicle provider, through its subsidiary Carat Duchatelet.
Carat Duchatelet, known as a premier coach building and armouring operation with headquarters in Belguim and offices serving the African region in West Riffa, the Kingdom of Bahrain, is one of only three companies on the government’s classified list of firms which supply it armoured vehicles.
The same firm is reported to have previously supplied the government with presidential vehicles. Plans to purchase the two vehicles were hatched as far back as January 2011, a month shy to the February 28 presidential elections in which Mr Museveni was seeking re-election.
According to information available to this newspaper, authorities acting on a reported presidential directive proceeded to request a waiver from the country’s procurement entity, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), for direct procurement of the vehicles.
Daily Monitor has seen a copy of a March 1, 2011 letter from then acting State House Comptroller, Ms Lucy Nakyobe Mbonye, to former PPDA executive director, Mr Edgar Agaba, making a case for the waiver.
“State House urgently requires to procure 2 units Saloon Armoured Principal vehicles for exclusive use by His Excellency the President. The estimated cost is approximately Shs6b,” wrote Ms Mbonye.
Security sources, however, suggested that the government may have later paid out as much as Shs10 billion for the two vehicles. The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the deal, suggested that the spike in the cost by Shs4b was a result of the “battering” which the Ugandan shilling suffered against the American dollar last year when procurement of the vehicles was being processed. At one point, “the exchange rate was Shs2,800 for $1.”
Daily Monitor could not independently verify the claim by press time. Last week, Mr Mirundi said: “The President isn’t buying drugs for his cows or buying a car for his daughters. He isn’t buying a personal vehicle, it’s a presidential vehicle and it’s state property,” said Mr Mirundi. “These people oppose because they are ignorant.”
He said the decision to purchase new vehicles is taken as a security measure and when the President’s old fleet of cars have rundown. “These vehicles are expensive because of the services they offer. There is no way our President can move in a ramshackle car when we are fighting the al-Shabaab, ” Mr Mirundi said.
In her letter to PPDA, Ms Mbonye said a meeting by the State House Contracts Committee on January 16, 2011 had “expressed their no objection to the use of Direct Procurement method as long as a waiver is obtained from PPDA.”