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Power shock has House under fire

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Parliament was recently in the spotlight over alleged illegal recruitment of staff, profligacy and abuse of public funds. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

A string of debacles continued to place an unwelcome spotlight on Parliament this week despite, or in fact because its sanctioned Speaker insisted that, amid a flurry of arrests, the police run something by her.
“One thing I insisted to [the] police is that if you want to arrest my members, give the summons to me,” Speaker Anita Among told a plenary meeting on Wednesday.

The travails of lawmakers Cissy Namujju (Lwengo District), Yusuf Mutembeli (Bunyole East), and Paul Akamba (Busiki), all accused of being extortionists, had opened up deep and damaging fissures in the House the workweek before. Much earlier, contestations over service awards doled out to four parliamentary backbench commissioners culminated in a censure motion that, depending on who you speak to, has since spluttered into life or suffered a stillbirth.

The table of record that movers of the censure motion have for several weeks mounted within the precincts of the House appears to have cracked a veneer of decorum. On Thursday, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), one of the movers of the motion, accused Mr Ahmed Kagoye, the House’s Sergeant at Arms, of finding civility increasingly hard to maintain.

“We came and found, surprisingly, that somebody had chosen to take away the table of record,” Mr Ssekikubo fumed. 
“I…want to urge the Sergeant at Arms not to get involved in the affairs of MPs while exercising their due rights.”

While the so-called table of record was returned hours later, exhibits the police took on the same day from the private residence of Mr Michael Mawanda in the leafy suburb of Kololo look set not to be returned anytime soon. The Igara East lawmaker must have known that the cooperatives money bonanza he is alleged to have profited from had started playing out with fresh urgency last Friday after Mr Akamba was extrajudicially arrested outside the Anti-Corruption Court.

Cash bonanza
Mr Mawanda and Mr Akamba both came up for mention after the House Committee on Trade launched an inquest into budgetary appropriations to cooperatives. The report that the Office of the Clerk to Parliament received on November 15, 2023, shows the two lawmakers and others from the House in the most unflattering light.

Called out for his involvement “in the war loss compensation payments for West Mengo Growers Cooperative Union Limited”,  it is evident that Mr Mawanda takes the toughest body blows among the lawmakers fingered. The inquiry report goes to great lengths to show the futility of the Igara East lawmaker’s written memoranda in combating the punishing body blows.

In one of his written statements, Mr Mawanda provided “accountability documents” for nearly Shs1.5 billion made available to West Mengo Growers Cooperative Union Limited. This was much to the dismay of the House Committee.

Igara East MP Michael Mawanda (right) at the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI

“…the Committee is perplexed at how the honourable member, who is neither a beneficiary, a shareholder in West Mengo Growers Cooperative Union Limited, nor a partner in M/S Mungoma Justin & Co Advocates, would have access to such accountability documents,” the inquiry report reads in part.
It is possible that the perplexity was rhetorically expressed, not least because the Committee heard from the acting accountant of West Mengo Growers Cooperative Union Limited about just how far Mr Mawanda’s directing hand went.

“Mr Musa Bagaala, the acting accountant, informed the Committee that West Mengo Growers Cooperative Union Limited had resolved to use M/S JM Musisi Advocates for the purpose of pursuing the compensations. The agreement was made on November 4, 2022,” the report notes.

It added: “However, he further informed the Committee that the union leadership convinced by [Mr] Mawanda…[opted] to get another lawyer, who would help them to follow up the claims and he recommended M/S Mungoma Justin & Co Advocates.”
Mr Moses Lubega Kitaakule, the secretary manager of West Mengo Growers Cooperative Union Limited, told the Committee that Mr Mawanda “helped them draft the agreement with the law firm” and allegedly doctored a meeting where the union’s membership was grossly inflated.

“….in order to complete this deal together with [Mr Mawanda’s] team, we were to give them Shs2 billion. We told him that as a union, we did not have it,” Mr Bagaala told the Committee, adding: “Then he said, ‘if I provide it, will you pay it back when the money is out?’ We said ‘yes’ because we had heard that we were going to get Shs14 billion…”

The Committee also heard that both Mr Bagaala and Mr Lubega received Shs25 million apiece “as a token [of appreciation]” after the union “received Shs2 billion in two equal instalments on November 19, 2021 and May 3, 2022 through M/S Mungoma Justin & Co Advocates.”

Mr Mawanda was also red-flagged in a tranche of slightly over Shs17 billion that Buyaka Cooperative Society ostensibly received via different law firms, including Kirya & Co Advocates and Probarta Advocates. The Committee’s findings will present a formidable challenge for Mr Ignatius Mudimi (Elgon) who was detained at Kira Division Police headquarters on Wednesday before his home was searched on Thursday.

“The Committee interacted with counsel Kirya of M/S Kirya & Co Advocates to which he stated that he was introduced to the union board member by [Mr] Mudimi in a meeting held in his office at Parliament. That in attendance at the meeting was [Mr] Mawanda and the two board members from Buyaka Cooperative Society i.e. Mr Fred Masaba, the chairperson, and Mr David Watuwa, the treasurer,” the report disclosed. 

“Counsel [Kirya] further submitted…that [Mr] Mudimi instructed him to pay Shs1,050,000,000 to [Mr] Mawanda. That [Mr] Mudimi also instructed him to pay Shs200,000,000 to [Mr] Akamba and Shs550,000,000 to Buyaka Grower’s Cooperative Ltd, among other instructions,” it added.

A shocker
In the Wednesday plenary session, Speaker Among told the House in no uncertain terms that Mr Akamba was “at the Criminal Investigations Directorate headquarters answering charges on allegations of another case [separate from the extortion claims made by the Uganda Humans Rights Commission chairperson, Ms Mariam Wangadya].”

Yet, a day prior, she too had been unquestionably tarnished by revelations that in December of 2022 the House purchased 80KVA generators for its Speaker and the Deputy Speaker at a princely sum. Documents show that Shs591,666,660 was paid into M/S Blue Crane Communications (U) Ltd’s account for “the supply and installation of the two 80KVA generators at the residences of the Speaker (Ms Among) and Deputy Speaker (Mr Thomas Tayebwa).”

To contextualise how the purchase has an unsettled air about it and reeks of abuse of power, Agora Discourse, the digital public square that broke the story, added a juxtaposition with procurements the World Health Organisation (WHO) made that same year (May of 2022). WHO spent Shs571.22 million to purchase and supply three considerably powerful (250KVA) generators for referral hospitals in Gulu, Kabale, and Jinja.

Ms Gorreth Namugga, the Mawogola County South MP

Observers said it was a bad look for Ms Among and Mr Tayebwa, whose statuses as ascendant figures in the House are not in doubt, to be beneficiaries of a superfluous spend. Critics have also taken exception to a contract handed to M/S booth Fire Services Limited to, per a letter from the Attorney General’s chambers supply and install “firefighting equipment, electrical/razor fence equipment and compound solar lights for [Speaker Among’s] private residence in Bukedea at Shs532 million.”

Clarion call
While closing the third Annual Sustainable Development Goals conference in Munyonyo on Thursday, President Museveni issued a clarion call to put the skids under corruption. Different indices have indicated that the vice continues to wail limpidly as though it is a peaceable ghost. Mr Museveni said it was not going to be business as usual.

“The biggest problem we have now is corruption. This corruption is not happening on the moon, it’s happening in the district, sub-county, and constituency,” he said in Munyonyo on Thursday, adding, in a tone that was certain and prescriptive, “I have opened a war on the corrupt, so, make sure that you are not in my gun sight. We cannot let our people down.”

In An X, (formerly Twitter) Space hosted this week by the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), Ugandans expressed their misgivings about Mr Museveni”s ability to groom clean leaders and bend them to his publicly expressed will. 

“This is a national leadership issue that should be discussed from a context where there is state capture,” Mr Joseph Ochieno, who leads one of the breakaway factions of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), said of the corruption streak that has blighted the House in recent times.
Ms Agather Atuhaire, Agora Discourse’s team leader, described Ms Namujju, who was arrested on extortionist claims, as being no more than “a sacrificial lamb.” The journalist-cum-lawyer opines that “there is a whole cartel” at play. 
This is certainly the case, reckons Ms Gorreth Namugga, the Mawogola County South lawmaker, when the budgeting process is reduced to its constituent parts.

“The budgeting process in the 11th Parliament has been vulgarised,” the National Unity Platform (NUP) lawmaker, who was part of the House Budget Committee for two and a half years, noted.
Ms Namugga added:“A [corrigendum] of Shs14 trillion was brought in two hours [before the 2024/2025 National Budget was passed]. A [corrigendum] is supposed to correct mistakes. How do you correct mistakes at the tune of Shs14 trillion?”

She said with as much as Shs750 billion “allocated to members of the Budget Committee” in different activities, it should not come as a vulgar surprise that “implementation of the NDP III (third National Development Plan) is at 17 percent when the Financial Year 2023/2024 closes the NDP III.” That will be next weekend on June 30.

Meanwhile, more arrests of lawmakers are expected next week. Mr Maxwell Akora (Maruzi) and Ms Ann Maria Nankabirwa ( former Kyankwanzi District Woman MP), who were all pejoratively mentioned in the inquiry report of the House Trade Committee, will no doubt be looking over their shoulders. As will several others.