Ministers face court over iron sheets scandal

Karamoja Affairs minister Mary Goretti Kitutu and her Junior minister Agnes Nandutu (right) appear before the Presidential Affairs Committee at Parliament on March 1. PHOTOS/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The government ombudsman says they have written to the accused, including Cabinet ministers, seeking their written explanations.

Top government officials implicated in the irregular acquisition of iron sheets meant for Karamoja Sub-region will be prosecuted, the Inspectorate of Government (IG) has disclosed.

Dr Patricia Achan Okiria, the deputy Inspector General of Government (D/IGG), told this publication that they have written to the accused, including Cabinet ministers, seeking their written explanations.

“We shall prosecute those who are in breach of laws and policies,” she said.

The deputy government Ombudsman said citizens have been complaining that the institution only targets mukene (silver fish), a moniker for lower-cadre public servants, but “now the big fish have presented themselves”.

“We are not going to be shy because when we took oath [of office], we pledged to support this country and do our things without fear or favour,” Dr Okiria added on March 14.

The Inspectorate doubled down on the inquiries originally initiated by State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) after President Museveni ordered police and the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) to combine efforts and conduct criminal investigations

Section 15(5) of the Inspectorate of Government Act, 2002, gives the anti-graft body “power to investigate, cause investigation, arrest, cause arrest, prosecute or cause prosecution in respect of cases involving corruption, abuse of authority or of public office”.

Among officials the Ombudsman tasked to explain their roles in the iron sheet saga are senior ministers and Ms Munira Ali, the IG spokesperson, said they were given seven days to act and “some are already responding”. 

SHACU last month uncovered irregularities where thousands of pre-painted G28 iron sheets procured with emergency government funds for the vulnerable in Karamoja Sub-region ended in possession of ministers.

During the course of inquiries, State House detectives arrested members of the family of Karamoja Affairs Minister Goretti Kitutu after they were allegedly caught selling the branded roofing materials.

Documents this publication has seen from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), where the Karamoja ministry is domiciled, show that Ms Kitutu requested for the iron sheets whose distribution has been called into question.

For instance, in a January 12 memo to the Under-Secretary for Finance and Administration/Accounting Officer (US/F&A/AO), the minister, while referencing an earlier November 4, 2022 memo, noted she was due in the third-quarter of the current financial year (January-March) to conduct mobilisation and peace-building missions to Karamoja.

“During community mobilisation and peace building missions, I usually meet vulnerable groups and Karachunas (youth), who are willing to dissociate themselves from rustling. As part of my intervention, I will be distributing iron sheets to such special vulnerable groups,” she wrote.

Those iron sheets, upon approval of the requisition by the accounting officer, were distributed to recipients through verbal and WhatsApp message instructions, contrary to public standing service orders on government property management. At least 5,000 pieces had already been given out by the time the exercise was red-flagged.

An undisclosed number of political executives and top technocrats have already recorded statements with State House investigators.

The anomalies prompted Parliament to institute an inquest by its Presidential and Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Adjumani District Woman MP Jesca Ababiku, whose planned fact-finding visit to Karamoja is behind initial schedule. 

Ms Ababiku was unavailable yesterday to explain reasons for the delay, but Busia District Woman MP Hellen Wandera, who is a member of the committee, said their travel will be preceded by a planning meeting today. She declined to divulge any details.

Members of Karamoja Parliamentary Group led by MP Remigio Achia told the committee a fortnight ago that Minister Kitutu and her junior Agnes Nandutu, a journalist-turned-politician, should resign.  

Ms Nandutu previously denied any wrongdoing when the scandal began unfolding, and afterwards said nothing about emerging revelations. On the other hand, Ms Kitutu, after weeks of silence, issued a written public apology to Ugandans and President Museveni, her appointing authority, acknowledging missteps she attributed to lack of proper guidance.

She, however, underlined her commitment to serve Karamoja where area legislators and local government leaders said the minister in unwelcome. 

A week earlier, on February 28, Speaker of Parliament Anita Among, who, through Parliament spokesperson Chris Obore, earlier acknowledged receiving hundreds of the iron sheets, said other government leaders should not needlessly be dragged into the saga and that those responsible should carry their “own cross”. 

Some of the notable beneficiaries, according to an internal memo in the OPM, included First Deputy Prime Minister/East African Community Affairs minister Rebecca Kadaga, Third Deputy premier Rukia Nakadama, Finance ministers Matia Kasaija and his junior Amos Lugoloobi.

Mr Jacob Oboth-Oboth, State Minister for Defence. 

The others are State Defence minister Jacob Oboth-Oboth, State Primary Education minister Moriku Kaducu, Government Chief Whip Hamson Obua and junior Agriculture minister Bwiino Kyakulaga.

In the February 28 statement to the House, Ms Among confirmed receipt of iron sheets in her constituency, but said she never asked for it.

“I saw iron sheets in Bukedea, I did not ask for them. I ordered that they should be given to schools, innocently. I did not open a shop to sell them, but they were given to schools,” she said.
Despite other ministers featuring in the scandal, Ms Among, like the legislators from the Karamoja Sub-region, said Ms Kitutu should offer answers.

The minister is facing accusations of overseeing the diversion of more than 5,000 iron sheets meant for Karamoja and the alleged under-supply at inflated costs of goats. Hundreds of the animals, according to legislators from Karamoja, arrived sick and unvaccinated and have since died.

As the investigations deepened, minister Lugoloobi plucked the iron sheets off a shed on his farm and has since repeatedly said, including in an address to his constituents, that he is no thief because he never breached the stores to take out the iron sheets.

Kitutu memo
Minister Kitutu’s request for the iron sheets 
Internal Memo

To:     US/F&A/AO
C.C:     US/P&D
From:     MKA
DT: 12/01/2023
Reference is made to my internal memo dated November 04, 2022 on iron sheets for vulnerable groups in Karamoja sub-region.

I will be conducting mobilisation and convening peace building meetings in the third quarter in the sub-region. During community mobilisation and peace building missions, I usually meet vulnerable groups and Karachunas who are willing to dissociate themselves from rustling.

As part of my intervention, I will be distributing iron sheets to such special vulnerable groups.

This is, therefore, to direct you to release 12,200 pieces of iron sheets to my office to enable me handle my mobilisation exercise smoothly.

Kitutu Goretti Kimono (PhD/MP)