Iron sheets saga: MPs pin three ministers

Members of Parliament during plenary at Parliament recently. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

The Committee on Presidential Affairs recommends that Speaker Among should say sorry to the people of Karamoja and Uganda, and return the roofing materials.

House committee which carried out separate inquiries into the Karamoja iron sheets scandal yesterday presented its report to Parliament recommending the trial of only three out of 15 ministers, excusing other top officials named in the scam from prosecution.

 The Committee on Presidential Affairs was set up in February at the direction of Speaker Anita Among, who is herself alleged to have unlawfully received 500 iron sheets.

It was recommended that Ms Among, who replaced what she took in April following a presidential directive, should say sorry to the people of Karamoja and Uganda, and return the roofing materials intended for reformed warriors and vulnerable people in Karamoja. 

However, lawyers who spoke to Daily Monitor last evening said these recommendations do not shield implicated officials from criminal liability.

“If the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] has evidence against anybody, she is independent in her operations,” Mr Wandera Ogalo, a senior lawyer, said.

Mr Ogalo’s comments reflect the views of President Museveni who, months ago, indicated that Parliament had no business inquiring into a criminal matter already under police investigation. He also promised to take “political action” against his ministers named in the scandal.

The DPP and police are preparing to prosecute an as-yet-unknown number of ministers, MPs and officials for what President Museveni has denounced as political corruption, theft and the undermining of national security.

Former president of the Uganda Law Society, Ms Pheona Wall Nabbasa, also observed yesterday that “the report is not binding on the DPP”.

“The DPP cannot be interfered with; the three arms of government are supposed to check and balance each other and sometimes reinforce but they cannot interfere with each other”.

Other top leaders who got off lightly in the report include Vice President Jessica Alupo, Prime Minister Robinah Nabanja, 1st Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga and Finance Minister Matia Kasaija.

The others excused from prosecution are Government Chief Whip Hamson Dennis Obua and ministers; Fred Bwino (Agriculture); Rukia Nakaddama (3rd Deputy Prime Minister); Rose Akello Lily (Ethics and Integrity) and Joyce Kaducu (Education).

Ms Jenipher Namuyangu (Bunyoro), Jacob Oboth Oboth (Defence), Agnes Kirabo (Youth), Judith Nabakooba (Lands), Esther Anyakun (Disaster Preparedness) and Henry Musasizi (Finance) complete the list of those not recommended for trial.

“The committee recommends that the following recipients make good the loss of iron sheets received and diverted from the intended beneficiaries under the supplementary budget meant for the people of Karamoja under the Karamoja Community Empowerment Programme … and apologise,” the report tabled yesterday said.

Out of the Shs39 billion supplementary, Shs8.9 billion was allocated to the purchase of 105,658 iron sheets for Karamoja, 14,500 of which were irregularly diverted to ministers, MPs and others.

Committee chair Jessica Ababiku presented the report which says Minister for Karamoja Affairs Mary Goretti Kittutu, and her junior, Agnes Nandutu be tried for corruption, causing loss of public property and abuse of office.

Also recommended for trial is junior minister for Finance (planning), Amos Lugoloobi and Mr James Abaho, a senior assistant secretary and personal assistant to Ms Kittutu.

All of those named for prosecution were arrested, charged with conspiracy to commit a felony and dealing with suspect property last month. They spent days on remand in Luzira Prison and are currently out on bail.

The DPP has said more files are being completed with more ministers and officials expected to be dragged to court.

Citing Rule 73 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa, who chaired yesterday’s sitting, deferred debate on the report because of ongoing criminal proceedings.

“The components to do with iron sheets are sub judice. When we started, we did not have anything to do with sub judice but along the way, government took it up,” he said about the report, which also covers suspected graft in the distribution of goats and maize flour under the same programme.

Last evening, Ms Nabbasa warned said the perceived exoneration of individuals who were found to have unlawfully benefitted from the diversion of the iron sheets sets a bad precedent.

“I would caution against setting such a bad precedent because there is an offence in the law called being in possession of stolen property. If the ones who distributed are being prosecuted for stealing, then any proceeds from that would be stolen property, and anyone found with it should be answerable before the law,” she said

She added: “The public servants are accountable for public resources. It does not matter whether you asked for them. They showed up, they were with you. The courts will look at what a reasonable man would have done”.

Committee findings

The committee observed that this saga was a “premeditated plan hatched to divert iron sheets meant for the reformed warriors (karachunas)”.

“Hon Mary Gorretti Kitutu significantly contributed to the mismanagement of the iron sheets meant for the community empowerment programme. Her conduct depicted the character of a person who is not fit for the role,” the report noted.

Ms Nandutu is accused of indulging in pre-meditated abuse of office for personal gain.

“The Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs [departed] from the principles of stewardship, faithfulness, selflessness, honesty and the oath of allegiance,” the report notes.

It was observed that Prime Minister Nabbanja “did not effectively conduct adequate coordination and monitoring, which affected the community empowerment programme… which led to undetected mismanagement of the programme…” and should be held accountable.

Ms Nabbanja was directed to make good for the loss of 200 iron sheets procured under the supplementary budget meant for Karamoja.

Mr Abaho, who allocated to himself 250 iron sheets, was recommended for prosecution for corruption, abuse of office and general prohibited conduct under the Leadership Code Act, 2002.

Mr Lugoloobi, who used the iron sheets he received to roof a goat shed on his farm in Kayunga, should be tried for causing loss of public property.

How iron sheets were shared

VP Jessica Alupo (500 pieces); Speaker Among (500); Rose Lily Akello (800); Matia Kasaija (300); Kadaga (500); Nabakooba (300); Musasizi (200); Obua (300); Anyakun (5,300), Kirabo (200); Oboth Oboth (300); Namuyangu (300);  Kaducu, Nakadama (300 each).