Karamoja inquiry unearths key claims against ministers 

Karamoja Parliamentary Group chairperson and Pian County MP Remigio Achia appears before the House Presidential and Foreign Affairs Committee on February 27, 2023. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The lawmakers demand that heads of those culpable must roll for mismanaging procurement and distribution of emergency relief.
  • The committee also heard that Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers and Uganda Police Force personnel benefitted from the Karamoja relief bonanza, particularly food meant for feedings pupils.

Karamoja leaders yesterday renewed their demand for ministers implicated in sharing relief items, including iron sheets, meant for vulnerable Karimojong to step aside as Parliament kicked off official investigations into the alleged mismanagement. 
The litany of complaints presented by Karamoja Parliamentary Group chairperson Remigio Achia include 25,000 missing iron sheets, 39,000 goats undelivered to the region, and 290 metric tonnes of maize worth Shs19b picked from government stores but never delivered to the hunger-battered region.

 He blamed Ms Mary Goretti Kitutu, the Minister of Karamoja Affairs. 
“How can someone get annoyed up to the point of even refusing to deliver a single iron sheet to Karamoja? What kind of anger and hatred is that?” Mr Achia said. 
This publication in a splash yesterday detailed that each goat supplied to Karamoja was priced four-fold or more times higher, each beneficiary received fewer than the 16 goats promised and many of the animals began dying because they arrived sick and were unvaccinated. 

The boer and galla breeds could not cross-mate and some hunger-stricken families sold the goats to stock food. 
In his presentation before the Presidential and Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Adjumani District Woman Member of Parliament Jesca Ababiku, the Karamoja Parliamentary Group said only 68,297 goats were delivered and animals worth an estimated Shs19b remain unsupplied. 
The lawmakers demanded that heads of those culpable must roll for mismanaging procurement and distribution of emergency relief bankrolled through a supplementary budget for Karamoja. 

In December 2021, Parliament approved Shs39b to be used as follows: Shs22b for buying goats, Shs8b to procure 100,000 iron sheets, and Shs9b for mobilisation and sensitisation of communities and regional councils, among others.
In the report presented yesterday, Mr Achia said Shs500m was used to facilitate regional council meetings, Shs300m was spent on a peace caravan while Shs8.2b remains unaccounted for. 
He told the committee that the infected goats taken to Karamoja had been procured from Kassanda and Gomba districts, which, he argued, had been placed under quarantine by the Ministry of Agriculture. 
The government relief was supposed to benefit 534 parishes, but only 477 were for unexplained reasons selected, targeting vulnerable youth and women, disarmed youth, and Karachunas who abandoned rustling. 

Mr Achia said they had warned the Ministry for Karamoja Affairs against the timing of the procurements, citing the onset of the dry season and then raging insecurity and theft of animals, but were ignored. 

Mr Felix Lochale, the chairperson of Karenga District in Karamoja region, alleged that suppliers, who claimed to have purchased each goat at Shs400,000-Shs700,000, stealthily bought back the goats from first recipients at Shs30,000-Shs50,000 and took them to others.   
“These people would go and give very little money to the communities. They were just recycling the same set of goats across the region. We cannot allow this to go on like this because our region has been exploited enough,” he said. 

The committee also heard that Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers and Uganda Police Force personnel benefitted from the Karamoja relief bonanza, particularly food meant for feedings pupils. 
Education minister Janet Kataha Museveni introduced the feeding programme when she superintended the Karamoja docket. However, when schools closed in 2020 due to the Covid-induced lockdown, a lot of food remained in stores. As such, when famine struck in Karamoja, leaders agreed to release 50 and 10 metric tonnes of food to the hardest-hit Kaabong and Napak districts, respectively. 
About 290 metric tonnes of food remained in stock. 
Mr Achia said Ms Kitutu allegedly authorised personnel of the UPDF and police’s Anti-Theft Stock Unit (ASTU) to take the food. 

We were unable to reach either security force to corroborate this account offered to MPs investigating the matter by press time. 
According to the Karamoja team, the army under unclear circumstances took 100 metric tonnes of maize, a sizeable amount went to police and remaining consignment trucked by vehicles hired or belonging to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to Kampala and nearby Wakiso District, leaving the people back in Karamoja starving. 
“To our shock, 290 metric tonnes of maize is missing from the stores and we have learnt that this stock was removed on the instruction of the minister for Karamoja Affairs, Mary Gorreti Kitutu, and taken out of the region. What is currently in stores is 200 metric tonnes from last year’s harvest,” Mr Achia submitted. 
Ms Goretti has been unreachable by telephone since news about the scandal broke, and it has not been possible to get her side of the story. 

“While the rest of the country was mobilising food to help Karamoja,” Mr Achia told the parliamentary committee, “the ministry responsible for Karamoja was busy transporting food away from the area. What kind of bad heart is this?” 
Turing to the issue of iron sheets, some alleged to have been shared among ministers, Mr Achia said only 1,000 of the expected 100,000 iron sheets for the region were supplied out of which 650 were given out to beneficiaries with 350 stuck in OPM stores. 
“The minister (Kitutu) has been [requisitioning] iron sheets, but we don’t know where they ended [up]. We have been informed by the OPM that as of now, 25,000 iron sheets have been released from the stores, but we don’t know where they are because no one in Karamoja has got those iron sheets…,” he added. 
Napak District chairperson John Paul Kodet said the diversion of relief items has left the Karimojong helpless. 

“… the most dangerous people are the raiders from Kampala who have been raiding the area (Karamoja) of every resource,” he said.
The committee is expected to interface with more leaders from Karamoja today morning before engaging officials from Finance ministry. The committee has also lined to speak to officials of Karamoja Affairs ministry domiciled under OPM, OPM bureaucrats, UPDF and Police officers as well as contractors. 
The committee has been given two weeks to conclude investigations and present a report to Parliament.