It is nine weeks since the spat between Ms Evelyne Anite, the State Minister for Investments, and a group of government officials, including Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, played out in the public domain.
Ms Anite claims powers to oversee the operations of Uganda Telecom Ltd (UTL), which is being administered by Mr Bemanya Twebaze. Ms Anite says she has reason to be dissatisfied with the way UTL is being administered and on June 26, she wrote to the Attorney General directing him to apply to Court for the removal of Mr Bemanya from the post.
Mr Bemanya entered into an Administration Deed and the shareholders ceded to him all their powers to run the company, but in her June letter, Minister Anite said the government had encountered difficulties in dealing with the administrator and no longer had confidence in his ability to continue serving in the position.
The Ministry of Finance holds the controlling stake in UTL on behalf of the government.
In response to Ms Anite’s request, Mr Rukutana wrote to the Minister of Finance and Ms Anite’s senior, Mr Matia Kasaija, on June 28, saying Ms Anite had no supervisory powers over the Administrator of UTL, Mr Bemanya.
“Whereas some Government entities may be listed creditors, they have separate legal status. Accordingly, a shareholder in this instance, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, has no locus to apply to the court to remove the administrator from office,” Mr Rukutana wrote.
A battle of wits then ensued. The President was petitioned, and he wrote to direct that an audit to ascertain the state of UTL be conducted.
Ms Anite proclaimed victory, but then Mr Rukutana had something up his sleeve. He said the President’s directive had to be implemented within the laws of Uganda, and that the audit could not go on because it would be prejudicial to cases that were already in court. Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, agreed with Mr Rukutana.
The ferocious Anite
When Ms Anite fights, she fights with ferocity. And, like before, she has shown it in this case. She has referred to the officials opposed to her efforts to have UTL audited and Mr Bemanya removed from the company using unflattering words. Mafia. Cabal. Cartel. Thugs. She says they want to kill her, claiming they have held meetings in different places, including at the offices of the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, which Mr Bemanya also heads.
Ms Anite’s claims were answered by Mr Rukutana, who never minces words. He referred to his equal in Cabinet hierarchy as a “girl”.
Before the spat with Ms Anite, the deputy Attorney General had in February irritated Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters in the country, appointed by the President. Summoned to answer queries on government compensations regarding land in Mutungo, Kampala, Justice Bamugemereire deemed Mr Rukutana’s approach unacceptable and dismissed him from the commission, saying she would then report the matter to the President.
When he got outside the building, Mr Rukutana told journalists that if she deemed it fit, Justice Bamugemereire could report him to the pope or God.
Regarding the same land in Mutungo, Justice Bamugemereire’s commission had their site visit blocked by soldiers guarding the area.
The five soldiers attached to External Security Organisation, were in June awarded the Rwenzori Star medal by the President. It is the third highest decoration awarded for distinguished or exemplary military service, including great responsibility in military service.
What is the message?
Col Shaban Bantariza, the deputy executive director of the government Media Centre, says of the incident: “The soldiers had been promoted much earlier and they had been lined up to receive the medals long before. It was an unfortunate coincidence that the medals were awarded following the altercation with Justice Bamugemereire.”
When Justice Bamugemereire visited Daily Monitor offices in April, two months after she had written to the President about Mr Rukutana’s conduct in the commission, she said she had not yet received a response.
Fights between government officials or between government officials and highly connected individuals are not new.
In 1988, Justice Minister Kahinda Otafiire was involved in a public spat with the late wife of Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, Jennifer.
There was also the March 1991 fallout between Mr John Kazoora and former Information minister Jim Muhwezi over allegations that the former had embezzled Shs12m at the Internal Security Organisation (ISO); and between Mr Muhwezi and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and clashes between former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya on one side and Mr Kutesa and Mr Mbabazi on the other.
However, back then, President Museveni seemed to intervene quickly. Mr Otafiire was, for example, forced to resign as minister for Internal Affairs early in November 1988 following the altercation with Ms Kuteesa.
In a statement broadcast on Radio Uganda, Mr Museveni accepted Mr Otafiire’s resignation because the National Resistance Movement government will not tolerate any indiscipline displayed by anybody regardless of his position, such as shown by Otafiire.
In May 2005, Prof Bukenya called a press conference at which he alluded to a group of people he referred to as mafias in government, who he claimed were feeding Mr Museveni with wrong information against him. Prof Bukenya did not name the so called mafias.
Again at that point, it was thought to be on the prompting of Mr Museveni that his Vice President called a press conference at which he retracted his earlier comments.
However, something has obviously changed. There have been many more fights recently.
Since the President was sworn in for this term, there have been more than 10 public fights between high ranking officials in government.
First was the fight between the State Minister for Investment, Ms Evelyn Anite, and her Senior, Mr Matia Kasaija, over the appointment of a new board for the Uganda Electricity Generation Company.
It was followed by the fights between former police chief, Gen Kale Kayihura and then Security minister, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde. There was another public fight between Gen Kayihura and ISO director, Col Frank Bagyenda Kaka over collection of intelligence, among other things.
Then there was the fight between the Minister for Kampala Beti Kamya and former Kampala Capital City Authority executive director Jennifer Musisi. Another public fight involved State Minister for Lands Persis Namuganza and State Minister for ICT Aidah Nantaba, and then between Lands minister Betty Amongi and Ms Namuganza.
Elsewhere, we have seen a fight between Ms Namuganza and Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga; between the Governor of Bank of Uganda Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile and Inspector General of Government Justice Irene Mulyagonja; and between Justice Bamugemereire and Chief Justice Bart Katureebe.
Enforcing ethics in government
We turned to the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, the Rev Fr Simon Lokodo for his take.
Fr Lokodo said: “It is within my mandate to ensure ethical conduct and integrity, but I cannot pretend to have the powers to call the ministers to order. The ones that have the powers are the President and the Prime Minister. All I can do is to give them some advice.”
He, however, revealed that he had engaged Mr Rukutana and was also trying to meet Ms Anite with a view of reconciling them and helping them hammer out modalities for disagreeing outside the public domain.
While swearing in his 81-member Cabinet on June 21, 2016, Mr Museveni said he had constituted the team with the aim of “maximizing unity”, adding that it was for that reason that some members of the Opposition had been included. However, the fights point to a lack of cohesion.
Most of the bickering has been between MPs of the ruling NRM who have a Government Chief Whip, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa. But what has she done to whip them back into line?
“No. I haven’t made any effort to reconcile or whip them. The matter between Ms Anite and Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana is being handled at a much higher level,” she told Saturday Monitor on Thursday.
It should be remembered that in June 2017, when MPs petitioned the Speaker of Parliament to institute disciplinary proceedings against ministers Namuganza and Nantaba, Ms Nankabirwa told Parliament that the move was unnecessary as a substantive subcommittee chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen Moses Ali, had been instituted to handle such cases of indiscipline.
“No report was presented before Parliament, but have you heard of any problems in the Ministry of Lands? And I guess there is peace between the individuals. As a conflict manager, I am happy,” Ms Nankabirwa said.
The biggest problem, though, is that Mr Museveni has largely been missing in action. Save for the time when he intervened in the fight between BoU governor Tumusiime-Mutebile and Justice Mulyagonja, Mr Museveni seems, for some reason, to have opted to let the fights rage on. Is he losing his grip? Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, says asking questions of the President’s seeming inaction is premature.
“For the many years President Museveni has been in charge, we have seen that he is a gradualist; he doesn’t rush actions,” Mr Ofwono said. He believes that when Mr Museveni finally acts on the infighting, he will act “decisively’.
Is the President looking to address this in the highly anticipated Cabinet reshuffle, which has taken uncharacteristically long? Whatever his calculations, his is a government in disarray at the moment.
What some of the key players say...
The Rev Fr Simon Lokodo, Ethics minister. “... I cannot pretend to have the powers to call the ministers to order. The ones that have the powers are the President and the Prime Minister. All I can do is to give them some advice.”
Ruth Nankabirwa, Government Chief Whip. “I haven’t made any effort to reconcile or whip them [government officials]. The matter between Ms Anite and Mr Rukutana is being handled at a much higher level.”
Ofwono Opondo, government spokesperson. “Asking questions of the President’s seeming inaction is premature. For the many years President Museveni has been in charge, we have seen that he is a gradualist; he doesn’t rush actions.”