Iron sheets scandal: Karamoja MPs move to censure minister

The minister-in-charge of Karamoja Affairs, Ms Mary Goretti Kitutu. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Ms Kitutu is accused of failure to deliver iron sheets and other supplies meant for Karamoja and the diversion of some items to non-intended beneficiaries. 

Members of Parliament (MPs) from Karamoja Sub-region have started the process to censure the minister-in-charge of Karamoja Affairs, Ms Mary Goretti Kitutu, over allegations of diversion of relief items meant for the vulnerable communities in northeastern Uganda.
The MPs yesterday submitted to the offices of the Speaker and the Clerk to Parliament a notice of motion to censure, the first step in the process of censuring a minister, as provided for under rule 109 of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure. 
According to the notice, Ms Kitutu is accused of failure to deliver iron sheets and other supplies meant for Karamoja to support the ongoing disarmament exercise and the diversion of some items to non-intended beneficiaries. 

These, the MPs say, amount to mismanagement and abuse of office or willful violation of oath of allegiance or oath of office. These are some of the grounds provided in Article 118 of the Constitution under which a minister may be removed from office.  
Parliament in 2021 passed a Shs39 billion supplementary budget to procure 100,000 iron sheets for disarmed youth and the vulnerable in the sub-region, but these have not been delivered to date.

Ms Faith Nakut, the Woman MP of Napak, said they opted for a censure after a request to the President to have the minister transferred to another docket was not granted. 
“Given that, we have been forced to do what is required of us as leaders from the region, and so we have given a notice for a censure motion so that the minister will be forced to leave the office she has abused. We want to commit to the people of Karamoja that we will continue to do everything within our means to see they get the justice they deserve,” she said.

 “As Parliament, we do the oversight role. Our role is to ensure that whatever is given to Karamoja is taken to Karamoja. There is evidence that iron sheets for Karamoja were found in Namisindwa. The best is to get her out of the office,” Mr Ben Baatom, the Dodoth West MP, one of the signatories, said.
While other ministers and senior government officials have been named to have benefited from the diversion, Ms Kitutu, being the head of the afflicted docket, is now at the centre of the latest storm to rock the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). 
Details from OPM show that Ms Kitutu walked away with 3,000 pieces of iron sheets. 
We were unable to reach Minister Kitutu for her side of the story as her known phone numbers were unavailable by presstime, and she has not issued a public statement since news of the alleged diversion of iron sheets meant for Karamoja surfaced a fortnight ago.
Earlier this month, the State House Anti-Corruption Unit allegedly arrested relatives of the minister who were found with the iron sheets. Sources indicate that these were released on bail, as investigations into the scandal, with cooperation of OPM continued. 

In an earlier statement that called for the minister to step aside, the MPs further accuse the minister of misusing Shs25b meant for the procurement of goats that were to be distributed across the sub-region, as well as picking 500 bags of maize seeds from Namalu Prison stores, under the Feed Karamoja Project, 200 bags of which were allegedly found in her house
Ms Nakut explained they opted to censure only Ms Kitutu as the senior custodian of the ministry, and on whom they say they have evidence. 
“She is in charge of the ministry. She is the custodian of the resources that Parliament appropriates to the ministry [of Karamoja Affairs].  It is not possible to hold everyone else that she chose to give in the bonanza. We hold the one with the duty to take care of the resources of Karamoja. She will explain how she gave her friends,” she said.

Several government officials have been accused of benefiting from the bonanza. About Junior Minister Agnes Nanduttu, they say they will await the investigations since they have no supporting evidence to censure her.
The MPs have also punched holes into PM Robinah Nabbanja’s defence of her docket. Ms Nabbanja in a letter said not all the iron sheets in question were meant for Karamoja.  She said various ministries procure items, including iron sheets for specific intervention to address gaps in livelihood and infrastructure.
“The minister for Disaster has put a disclaimer that his minister did not procure any iron sheets. The ministry of Teso has not received any money for procurement of iron sheets. The OPM permanent secretary issued a release for iron sheets for Karamoja, not any other ministry, so it is a contradiction,” Ms Nakut said. 

Last month, the 11th Parliament voted to censure Lands State Minister Persis Namuganza over the controversial involvement and handling of the Nakawa-Naguru land feud. President Museveni is yet to say anything about the matter. 
A censure is at most an expression of disapproval by Parliament to an appointing authority in an appointee, and does not oblige any particular action although the President may fire such a member of the Executive. In addition, censure has potential to strain working relations between the House and censured officials.

Left to right: Karamoja Parliamentary Group Members of Parliament Lochap Peter Ken (Bokora East), Ben Baatom Koryang (Dodoth West), Faith Nakut (Napak Woman MP) and John Bosco Ngoya (Bokora County) address the media at Parliament on February 22, 2023. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

Mr John Bosco Ngoya, the Karamoja Parliamentary Group Secretary, also MP for Bokora County, said the censure should serve as deterrent to government officials from abusing the offices they hold. 

“We are witnessing people who have lost conscience, morals, because if you sell items that are meant for the poor, something has gone amiss. It is the reason we are going to ensure that the minister, and the rest that have got a similar thought of surviving on the dead realise that what they are doing is not right,” he said.
 “We have the support of our colleagues because we have done consultations and they will append their signatures to ensure the minister is censured,” Mr Baatom said.
Mr Peter Ken Lochap, the Bokora East MP, said: “We don’t know which other relief items could have disappeared in her hands. We want her to leave the Ministry of Karamoja. She will not work with us.”

The process of censure
Article 118 (1) (b) of the Constitution states that Parliament may, by resolution, pass a vote of censure against a minister on [given] grounds, including abuse of office or willful violation of the oath of allegiance or oath of office.
According to the rules of procedure, the clerk to parliament within three days upon receipt of the notice of censure notify Parliament by pinning the notice on the notice board, and  draft a censure motion for legislators in support to sign. The process of collecting signatures takes 10 working days.  At least one third of the MPs must sign the motion for it to proceed to the House. 
If after the prescribed period the required signatures have not been collected, the notice of censure shall lapse.

The collected signatures shall be delivered to the clerk, and to the Speaker within 24 hours, and the Speaker is required to place the item on the order paper for the next working day. The motions will then be forwarded to the President. 
Fourteen days from the date of transmission of the motion to the President, the Speaker shall cause to be appointed a Select Committee to look into the issue, with different witnesses, including the minister in question shall appear. 
The committee has 15 days to conduct its investigations and report back to the House for debate and the minister is given an opportunity to present their defence. 
After debate, the House shall vote on the motion and if carried, the Speaker shall inform the President of this fact within 24 hours from the time the motion was voted upon.

According to the Constitution, upon a vote of censure being passed against a minister, the President shall, unless the minister resigns from his or her office, take appropriate action in the matter. The President shall, upon receipt of the petition, cause a copy of it to be given to the minister in question. 
The motion for the resolution of censure shall not be debated until the expiry of 30 days after the petition was sent to the President. 

About minister Kitutu

Education and values. 
Mary Goretti Kitutu was born in Manafwa District on September 17,  1962. 
She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Geology from Makerere University, where she graduated in 1987.
The now Woman MP for Manafwa District since 2016 has previously served as State minister for Energy and Mineral Development from December 2019 to 2021. She also served as minister for Environment from June 2016 to December 2019. 
 On LinkedIn, a virtual professional network, where she oddly still identifies as Minister for Energy, Ms Kitutu describes herself as a hard worker, because she has served in different government dockets for 35 years. 
“I have served under different government capacities and in different government entities since 1988 during my days as a teacher at Busoga College Mwiri, I have been an administrator, an employee, an employer and a hard working person,” she says.
 In the same bio, she pledges to serve “diligently with the faithfulness, patience, accountability, transparency and then repay the faith and powers vested in me to head this government office.”

Background to storm

In March 2022, the minister-in charge of the Ministry for Karamoja Affairs told this publication that the government was not allocating enough resources to address the issues dogging the Karamoja Sub-region. 
At the time, the region was grappling with a resurgence in insecurity, and people were starving to death. This in addition to years of falling behind in general national development. 
The ministry was thus established to guide the implementation of Special Programmes and Projects in the sub-region. In that Monitor report, the minister also said she had lost weight because of the pressure from her colleagues in other ministries, some of whom seem to think her ministry is not performing.

‘‘We are getting too much pressure. Our colleagues are firing at us [ministers in charge of the sub-region] all the time because the current situation in Karamoja is making us to be seen as not performing,’’ Ms Kitutu said. She had been at helm of the affirmative action docket for about 9 months, following her appointment in June 2021. 
But nearly a year since her declaration, the minister is now in the eye of the storm, battling allegations of mismanagement and diversion of relief items acquired from the meager resources meant to help the people of Karamoja. 
The legislators protested her appointment on the grounds that she did not understand the problems of Karamoja, because she is from another region.