Cabinet discusses iron sheets scandal

President Museveni during a national address in 2021. The March 6 Cabinet meeting chaired by the President floated the possibility that those found culpable over the iron sheet scandal could face prosecution. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

The chairperson of Karamoja Parliamentary Group, Mr Achia Remigio, tables a motion before the House yesterday.

Ministers adversely named in the handling of relief items meant for Karamoja sub-region were reportedly tasked to explain theirrole during a terse Cabinet sitting on Monday.

The March 6 meeting chaired by President Museveni floated the possibility that those found culpable could face prosecution for abuse of office, two ministers present told this publication.

Under the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009, a person convicted of the offence can be handed up to seven years’ imprisonment or Shs3.3m fine, or both. In addition, the ministers could be censured under Article 118 of the Constitution.

Whereas a final decision was not taken, the President reportedly offered to interface with and hear the accounts of theaccused Cabinet members, among them, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja and Karamoja Affairs Minister Goretti Kitutu.

Neither individual was available by telephone when we tried to reach them.
Sources familiar with the arrangements intimated that the meetings between the President - who is the appointing authority - and the ministers are scheduled to take place on separate days this week.

Senior Presidential spokesperson Sandor Walusimbi said last evening that he was not in the know of what the Cabinet discussed on Monday.

Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the information minister and substantive government spokesperson, did not respond to our calls and his junior Godfrey Kabbyanga was unavailable.

Three other ministers reached for this story declined to discuss the fate of their colleagues.
Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the permanent secretary at OPM, yesterday said they are cooperating with all investigations, with a number of their staff being summoned and recording statements.

“It was the government that discovered the problem and [it] is taking action,” he said by telephone.

The accused were thrust into the eye of the storm after the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) unearthed information about sharing of government-procured relief for the Karimojong by senior officials, amongthem ministers.

The Karamoja ministry is domiciled under the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and was the lead sector to buy and distribute to beneficiaries the emergency package that included iron sheets, food and goats.
Parliament approved and the Treasury released Shs39b for the intervention which, among others, was to support armed youth giving up cattle rustling and violent crimes.

However, State House investigators found during inquiries last month that the branded iron sheets were handed out to various ministers some of whose relatives were selling them – leading to the arrest of minister Kitutu’s family members who have since been released. Sources who we cannot name because Cabinet deliberations are confidential said their Monday been was a “difficult one” for ministers accused of diverting iron sheets and other Karamoja relief items.

A senior minister who tried to explain the saga and deflect responsibility was reportedly ordered to shut up, or tender their account to police detectives.  

President Museveni has publicly not spoken out about the scandal unearthed three weeks ago.  
In a rejoinder of the Cabinet discussions, Ms Faith Nakut, the district woman representative for Napak in Karamoja, said:  “That is a very positive development and it is the right action from His Excellency (the President). For a fact we expect him to take a bold stand in fighting this level of corruption. The integrity of our country is a matter we shouldn’t take lightly.”

A trove of documents this publication has seen shows that minister Kitutu requested release of the iron sheets from the OPM stores and allegedly took 3,000 pieces as did her junior Agnes Nanduttu.

A senior OPM technocrat later allocated the pieces to other recipients in instructions sent to the senior inventory managementofficer either by telephone or on WhatsApp messaging platform, contrary to public service standing orders on government asset management.

These revelations, including ongoing inquiries, have prompted a parliamentary inquest headed by Adjumani District Woman Member of Parliament, Ms Jesca Ababiku. The Karamoja Parliamentary Group told the committee that the Karamoja line ministers (Kitutu and Nanduttu) should “step aside” because the relief distribution had been abused.

They reported that by last week only 650 iron sheets had been given out to recipients in Karamoja out of the thousands released, relief food irregularly taken by army and police while thousands of the goats bought in their words at inflated prices had arrived sick or unvaccinated and died.

In a motion tabled in Parliament yesterday, the group chairperson Remigio Achia demanded that ministers Kitutu and Nanduttu, both of who were were unable to reach for their side of the story, resign. 

The senior minister last week apologised for judgment error in handling the relief, something she attributed for initial lack of “proper guidance”, but said she had an unwavering commitment to serve Karamoja.

Among the named beneficiaries are the Vice President Jesca Alupo, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, her deputies Rebecca Kadaga and Rukia Nakadama, and Finance Minister Matia Kasaija
Other beneficiaries include the Government Chief Whip Hamson Obua and Bwino Kyagulaga, the junior Agriculture minister. Ministers Kasaija and Kadaga have separately acknowledged receiving some iron sheets, but said these were unsolicited. 
Finance State minister Amos Lugoloobi, who had used part of iron sheets for roofing a shed on his farm, has since plucked them off, calling the roofing materials “evil”.


(Moved under Rule 56 of the Rules of Procedure)

.... AWARE THAT in a bid to ameliorate the situation in Karamoja, Parliament passed a supplementary budget of Shs39 billion to the Office of the Prime Minister to support the disarmament process and coordination of peace building operations, support to livelihoods of Karamoja youth through provision of agriculture inputs as an emergency intervention to improve peace and eliminate cattle rustling in the region;
FURTHER AWARE THAT following numerous engagements with the District Local Government Leadership, Central Government, Members of Parliament in the sub region and the President, it was agreed that goats at the cost of Shs22 billion and 100,000 iron sheets at Shs8 billion be procured while Shs800m be directed to support the Regional Council, Karamoja Parliamentary Group retreat and the peace caravan;

NOTING THAT owing to the food insecurity situation in Karamoja Sub-region, Shs35.198b was released from the Contingencies Fund in the FY 2022/23 following a Cabinet Directive in Minute 227(CT 2022) dated July 11, 2022, to support households at the risk of food insecurity in Karamoja and other parts of the country.

 FURTHER NOTING THAT the Shs135.198b was earmarked for the purchase of relief items of maize flour and beans for a period of three months for an estimated population of 518,000 persons in Karamoja and other parts of the country;

COGNISANT THAT the First Lady Hon. Janet Kataha initiated the KARAMOJA FEED KARAMOJA Project in partnership with Namalu Prison Farm in 2014 to feed school children in order to minimise school dropout rates;
FURTHER COGNISANT THAT Namalu Prison Farm harvested 3500 bags of maize in FY 2020/2021 from which the Minister for Karamoja Affairs recently picked 500 bags to feed UPDF soldiers contrary to the original purpose of feeding children in primary schools across Karamoja region;

CONCERNED THAT Shs8.2 billion, being the balance of the 39 billion supplementary budget stands unaccounted for, and of the 100,000 iron sheets, only 650 iron sheets were distributed in the entire sub region on the 7th of June 2022 when the President officially launched the distribution of iron sheets and goats in Nadunget sub county, Moroto District.

FURTHER CONCERNED THAT less than 35% of the goats have been distributed to the intended beneficiaries and in districts such as Napak, 70% of the goats died within the first two weeks and in Kotido district, 80% of the goats died owing to ill health and failure of the goats to adapt to the new environment;

CONSIDERING THAT the  Minister for Karamoja  Affairs  has  mismanaged  the distribution of goats, iron sheets and maize in the sub region and her actions amount to abuse of office, misconduct, misbehavior, corruption, diversion of public resources and breach of the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Minister;
NOW THEREFORE be it resolved that:-
(i)   Parliament through its relevant Committee, inquiries into the alleged Mismanagement of relief items in the Office of the Prime Minister; and

(ii)   The Minister of Karamoja Affairs, Hon. Dr. Mary Goretti Kitutu and the Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs, Hon. Agnes Nandutu step aside  to allow proper investigations into the matter [ Remigio, however in his submission before Members of Parliament amended the statement to The Minister of Karamoja Affairs, Hon. Dr. Mary Goreti Kitutu and the Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs, Hon. Agnes Nandutu do resign]