What you need to know:
- President Museveni tasked Cabinet to submit a detailed report on the abuse of iron sheets, goats and maize meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja by Friday this week.
During the Monday Cabinet meeting in State House Entebbe, President Museveni asked: “What are these things that I am hearing about the abuse of iron sheets for the people of Karamoja Sub-region? Where is [Karamoja minister Goretti] Kitutu? I need answers…?”
Silence filled the Cabinet meeting room as ministers turned eyes on Karamoja minister’s empty seat.
Ms Kitutu had come in the morning to attend Cabinet, but left shortly after 12pm. It is unclear why the minister at the centre of a raging scandal, decided to leave at the time the President came for the meeting.
Impatient about Ms Kitutu’s absence, the President glanced at the Cabinet room, and asked, "where is [State Minister] Agnes Nandutu?" Fortunately, Ms Nandutu, a former journalist, representing Bududa District in the 11th Parliament, was present.
In the absence of Ms Kitutu, all eyes were on Ms Nandutu. She composed herself and confirmed her presence to the appointing authority and chairman of the meeting. The President then threw a question at her. This time, the question was framed in the minister’s Lumasaba dialect.
“Muli baabefii?” the President asked in Lumasaba, one of the familiar dialects or languages spoken in eastern Uganda. The question is loosely translated as “Are you thieves?” He wanted Ms Nandutu to explain the meaning of the phrase. He again rephrased the question, but this time he was just confirming the meaning of “baabefii”. “Is this how you call them [the thieves]? He asked. The minister responded in affirmative and was tasked to explain “What happened to the iron sheets’’.
Ms Nandutu, who is one of the beneficiaries, tried to explain what happened in the absence of the senior minister, but the President interrupted her with more questions, demanding to know what happened in the papers and what investigators found in her district.
The President who was very furious, according to our sources, asked again where was Kitutu before the Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, offered to explain what happened to the Karamoja iron sheets.
Ms Nabbanja explained the genesis of a scandal that has grabbed headlines for weeks. The premier talked of iron sheets bought through the donation budget for the vulnerable people in all regions, but the President demanded to know the formula she used to distribute the iron sheets to selected ministers and other beneficiaries.
The premier had come with a written statement, explaining the iron sheets, goats and maize scandals which she wanted to present, but the President kept interjecting her with numerous questions.
The President rejected the explanation and reminded her that the distribution of iron sheets, goats and maize to the Karacunas (jobless youths) in Karamoja, was his idea.
He explained that through the Supplementary Budget, he sought to encourage the Karacunas to surrender illegal guns to the authorities, and received iron sheets, goats and maize as part of the government reintegration process.
At this point, the President stopped listening to the Prime Minister and turned to Ms Davinia Esther Anyakun, the State minister for Relief, Disaster and Refugees. The President asked her to explain how she got the iron sheets and give an update on the situation since she represents one of the vulnerable Karamoja districts.
Ms Anyakun, however, rubbed salt into the wound when she told the President that some of the iron sheets, goats and unspecified kilogrammes of maize went to wrong recipients.
The minister implicated Ms Kitutu on the mismanagement of Shs39b Supplementary Budget meant for goats and iron sheets for the Karacunas.
She, however, admitted receiving 300 iron sheets from OPM, which she took to her constituents in Nakapiripirit District during Christmas. When the President demanded to know whether she actually gave the iron sheets to the right people, the minister said yes.
Questions parallel investigations
In the meeting, the President asked: “What is Parliament and the Inspector General of Government investigating in a police case? Why is Parliament wasting time? This is criminal… whoever is involved in [Karamoja iron sheets scandal] should be arrested for theft.”
The President then asked Deputy Attorney General Jackson Karugaba Kafuuzi to prescribe the ideal charge against Ms Kitutu and other individuals in the iron sheets scandal.
Mr Kafuuzi had suggested “abuse of office” but Security Minister Jim Muhwezi, who is also a lawyer, argued that the people involved in the scandal could still be charged with both theft and abuse of office.
The discussion in Cabinet now went into the legal definition of abuse of office and theft before the President asked: “Which of the two offences is heavier?”
Before the Deputy AG picked “abuse of office” as a heavier offence, he defined abuse of office as official abuse of power or abuse of authority, an offence committed where a public officer willfully neglects to perform their duty or willfully misconducts himself or herself.
Mr Kafuuzi also told Cabinet that in criminal law, the existence of “an arbitrary act” is one of the essential ingredients for the offence of abuse of office.
This offence is created under Section 11(1) of the ACA, 2009. It reads: “A person who being employed in a public body or a company in which government has shares, does or directs to be done an arbitrary act prejudicial to the interest of his or her employer or of any other person, in abuse of the authority of his or her office, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven (7) years or nine (9) fine not exceeding one hundred and sixty eight currency points or both.”
As for theft, Kafuuzi told the President that this is sometimes known as “larceny” and defined the offence as “the taking of something that doesn’t belong to you, without the consent of the owner and with no intention of bringing it back”.
When the President demanded a detailed report on the abuse of iron sheets, goats and maize meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja by Friday this week, Ms Nabbanja, according to three ministers, undertook to submit the report. There were murmurs in the Cabinet meeting as ministers protested what sources called “conflict of interest” since the premier is one of the beneficiaries of iron sheets.
The ministers expected the President to use the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) that unearthed information about the sharing of government-procured relief for Karamoja.
While the IGG had not responded by press time, the Parliament director for communication and public affairs, Mr Chris Obore, yesterday said: “I am constrained to say much because it’s still hearsay that the President said so. The President is the head of government and can directly engage with the heads of government arms when he deems necessary. So I cannot be privy to Cabinet discussions and its contexts.”
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 Shs39 billion for the intervention which, among others, was to support armed youth (Karacunas) giving up cattle rustling and violent crimes in the north-eastern part of the country.
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.
Ms Kitutu who has since admitted diverting iron sheets that were meant for the vulnerable people in the sub-region, is expected to meet the President on Thursday to explain what exactly happened. Ms Nabbanja will also meet the President on Friday and present a detailed report on the iron sheets saga.
Lawmakers from Karamoja, have since asked Ms Kitutu and her colleague Ms Nandutu to resign as Parliament and IGG examine the latest OPM scandal.