What you need to know:
- Reports that top government officials diverted items meant for vulnerable groups have kicked up an uproar, with the public and some MPs demanding action.
The Office of Prime Minister (OPM) is again in the eye of the storm over allegations that senior government officials irregularly accessed iron sheets, procured as relief for Karamoja region and other programmes, and distributed thousands to their constituents.
Members of Parliament from Karamoja under their regional group on Wednesday wrote to the Clerk to Parliament, kicking off a formal process they said was to censure Ms Mary Gorreti Kitutu, the Karamoja Affairs minister.
In interviews with this newspaper and comments gleaned off their verified social media accounts, ministers named adversely in official correspondences either as recipients or initiators of the iron sheet dole out acknowledge taking the building materials, but insist the access was regular and justified.
Amos Lugoloobi, state minister of planning
“The Office of the Prime Minister handles affirmative action for all parts of Uganda and contains all the relief items. Now for me, when I present a request in the Office of the Prime Minister [where I am domiciled], I don’t know where the relief comes.
When the relief comes, they call my personal assistant to collect the iron sheets because I have schools that need roofing, churches and other community [projects] that need affirmative action.
Now when my personal assistant is called to collect those iron sheets, 300 of them, even less than what I need, what do I do? They are not iron sheets for sale. I have not sold iron sheets. They are for that purpose for which a community needs them.
I have gone to the level of buying iron sheets myself to roof some of the schools that need them, churches that need construction and roofing. So, when support comes from OPM, I take advantage of what has been [given] to me.
I cannot say no. But I do not know whether what I am getting is from Karamoja [Affairs ministry]. You see the point? I did not go deliberately to grab iron sheets from Karamoja. No, that is not how it happened.
The way it has been put [is as if] we stole iron sheets. I think [this] is very unfair [and] only intended to blackmail us. We did not go and stealiron sheets.
We were given and there is a need and we have people that we are representing and our work is to lobby for assistance; for iron sheets, water, posho and so many other things. The whole thing has totally been put out of context.”
Vice president Jessica Alupo
“Iron sheets from [the Office of the Prime Minister] are in many categories; for Disaster Preparedness, Northern Uganda, Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), Luweero-Rwenzori region, Teso region and Karamoja region.
The Permanent Secretary normally insists on requisition upon requisition [and the items are] delivered to the site quoted in the requisition.
I donated the iron sheets to the ongoing renovation project of Usuk Social Youth skills Development Centre in Usuk, Katakwi district. This youth skills centre got burnt and was out of use for more than five years.
A fundraiser was organised and you can see it’s now going to help the youth again acquire skills. I will be delivering sewing machines and welding machines and salon equipment to that centre next month.”
Esther Anyakun, State minister for disaster preparedness
“I was allocated iron sheets that were meant for Karamoja from the Office of the Prime Minister and I delivered the iron sheets which the chief administrative officer (Caosigned for, and that is the procedure.
When I was allocated the iron sheets, OPM received them and transported them to my district (Nakapiripirit), the Cao received them and the beneficiaries have been issued according to the list that we had identified. The accountability is available and everybody who received [the iron sheets] signed and put theirphone number there.
The 300 iron sheets that you see appearing in the [news]papers with my name, I took them to three schools that had issues and each school received 100 iron sheets and that accountability is available.”
Matia Kasaija, Finance minister
“I got the iron sheets and they have even just delivered another lot to me. There were some given to me by minister in-charge of Bunyoro Affairs sometime back, but now what has caused storm is [the] 600 [iron sheets].
I have even seen on my compound they have delivered another, I think, 200 or something because I have not counted them. Of those 600, I delivered 400 to a particular school and the 200 are still in my store in Kibaale, which, I think, I will donate to churches after which I will give a written accountability.
We were not told at the time they gave us these materials that we were supposed to account for them. Otherwise, I would have accounted for them long time ago. I didn’t request for them, but [the iron sheets] were just allocated to us.
I think they are sympathetic to people, especially us who have got constituencies. I am not criticising them that they offered them to us, but definitely I never placed any application.
We were told you go and pick your iron sheets to go and work in your constituencies.
The person who gave them was from the OPM, but I can’t remember who he was because sometimes they came through my personal assistant and sometimes they went through my political assistant based in the constituency.”
Hillary Onek, minister of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees
“I don’t know where the iron sheets originated from and how the ministers ended up receiving them.
The good thing is the prime minister is one of the alleged beneficiaries and let her and other ministers explain how they got the ironsheets. As for me, I have no information about that.”
Chris Obore, Parliament spokesperson and Director of communication, on behalf of Speaker Anita Among
“The Speaker has nothing to do with the procurement and distribution of iron sheets. That was an activity from and by the Office of the Prime Minister.
The Speaker did not request for any iron sheets to the best of my knowledge. She has usually donated things from her own Anita Foundation which she started way back before she became Speaker.
I understand the desire by some of her detractors to sling mud at her all thetime, but such actions do not erase or change facts. They only serve temporary political satisfaction before facts roar back.”
Faith Nakut, Napak Woman MP
In our last press briefing, we demanded the Minister of Karamoja Affairs to step aside, to resign. No resignation has come as of today.
Instead what we saw was an explanation by the Prime Minister in a publication saying the government buys iron sheets through many ministries for affirmative action by ministries.
It was just an explanation. Given that background, we have been forced to do what is required of us as elected leaders from that region. And, so, we have given the Parliament of Uganda a notice for censure motion so that the minister will be forced to leave her office … she has abused. We want to commit to our people of Karamoja whose resources have been misused that we will continue to do everything within our means to see that they get the justice they deserve on this matter of iron sheets.”
Baatom Ben Koryang, Dodoth West MP
“As Members of Parliament hailing from Karamoja, we have taken this noble decision to ensure that the Minister for Karamoja is censured based on the fact that she abused her office.
She diverted resources that were meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja, the resources that were meant for the disarmed youths because these iron sheets were targeting youths that would voluntarily give up their guns as a way of motivating them to give up cattle rustling.
The minister diverted these iron sheets and in the process of diverting them, she is actually making it very difficult for these youths to get motivated and come out.
We have demanded for her resignation and she has not taken to that. This was the noble thing for her to do, but unfortunately, she has left us with no option, but to ensure that we move a motion to censure her.
It will be the president to make the decision [on the minister’s fate] after the House has censured her.”
Fred Bwino, state minister for Agriculture
“I received 300 iron sheets from Office of the Prime Minister on February 3 on behalf of my electorates affected by a disastrous storm that de-roofed Nasuuti Primary School and neighbouring homesteads. One hundred and eighty iron sheets were given to the school and eight iron sheets each to 15 victims.”
Jenipher Namuyangu, state minister for Bunyoro Affairs
“Can you call the Prime Minister? Yesterday she was on radio and other media explaining the same things and now you want to make it news.
Call her to explain to you because you are wasting our time.”
Rebecca Kadaga, First Deputy Prime Minister
“This is to confirm that I requested for and received 250 iron sheets from the Office of the Prime Minster to facilitate repair of the facilities at Buzaaya Health Centre II, located at Buwooya, Bugulumbya Sub-county in Kamuli District.
I also received 250 iron sheets from Office of the Prime Minister to repair Buwooya Primary School which, together with the Health Centre II, had equally been devastated by hailstorm.”
February 22, 2023 tweet
Grace Kwiyucwiny, State minister for Northern Uganda
“It was me who pledged [iron sheets]; it’s not him (Arua City Central Member of Parliament Jackson Atima). I have not even delivered it (the iron sheet consignment) yet and he (Atima) is not the only one.
I normally give these materials through the MPs, but for specific groups of people, not forthem to go and distribute to the people of their wish.”
Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja
“As you are already aware of the ongoing investigations in regard to the alleged diversion and sale of iron sheets for Karamoja sub-region procured by the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs, the Office of the Prime Minister is cooperating with all agencies involved in these investigations. Please note that, PrimeMinister’s office is the home of many affirmative action ministries, including [for] Karamoja Affairs, Bunyoro Affairs, Teso Affairs, Northern Uganda Rehabilitation, Luweero-Rwenzori and DisasterPreparedness and Refugees.
All these ministries procure various items including iron sheets for specific intervention to address gaps in livelihood and infrastructure in their respective portfolios which items are kept in the same store.
Therefore, it is not true that the iron sheets which were given to other areas of Uganda from the Office of the Prime Minister were diverted from those of the Ministry of Karamoja affairs rather were iron sheets procured by respective ministries for specific responses including disaster.
I wish to inform the general public that when I joined the Office of the Prime Minister, I introduced the idea of branding all relief items including ironsheets with a specific colour and wording, “Office of the Prime Minister, not for sale” for ease of identification and to avoid commercialisation which idea was supported by members of senior top management.
… [It is even alleged that] I am even on that list of people who received iron sheets from the Karamoja donations and I don’t know why people are dragging me into that. I know they just want to drag my name in for their own political reason and want to use that to fight me. I have been donating iron sheets long before I became a prime minister; so, where was I getting those irons sheets from?
We have been handling this issue for a long time until when it reached this level when some people were arrested. By the way people would not have known this issue if I did not introduce the labelling of the iron sheets donated by government. Other previous prime ministers have been donating these things long time ago, but they were not labelled; so, even if they were being sold, no one would know.
When I brought this idea of labeling, if faced challenges and resistance from certain quarters within OPM, but eventually I prevailed; that’s why people are able to now differentiate government donated iron sheets from others on themarket.”
Extract from February 17 statement, and separate interview with Daily Monitor