Tempers flare as Cabinet debates Mulago land deal

A closed-door Cabinet meeting of December 9 began without any hitches. But when outgoing Lands minister Betty Amongi reported a plot to claim part of Mulago National Referral Hospital land in a disputed compensation deal involving officials in the Attorney General’s chambers, the meeting quickly degenerated into a shouting match, with two ministers exchanging personal attacks.

As tempers flared, outgoing deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana and Investment minister Evelyn Anite called each other names.
Sources told Daily Monitor that a secret Mulago hospital land deal came to light as Ms Amongi presented a Cabinet paper on urgent land matters in the country. She informed Cabinet that she was under pressure to give away part of the hospital land to an individual.

At this point, sources told Daily Monitor that Ms Amongi’s presentation was interrupted by “a flurry of objections” from ministers who one after another demanded to know the people claiming part of the country’s oldest referral hospital.

Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda then called the meeting to order and asked Ms Amongi to explain the matter. Ms Amongi did not not say much but only talked about “people” from Attorney General’s chambers who wanted to advise her to either give Mulago land to an individual or compensate him. Cabinet heard from another minister that the land deal came from the Office of the Administrator General before it went to Attorney General’s chambers.

Further inquiries by this newspaper have also revealed that the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), the Ministry of Health and Dr Byarugaba Baterana, the Mulago Hospital executive director, knew about the saga.

Another source said Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health minister, informed Cabinet how people from the Attorney General’s chambers wanted to force her to sign documents on the same land deal. Ms Aceng did not provide additional details as other ministers led by Gen Elly Tumwine (Security) hinted at corruption in the deal and asked Cabinet to block it.

“There are thieves in government,” a source quoted Gen Tumwine as saying.
Finance minister Matia Kasaija supported Gen Tumwine and narrated how “thieves” in government have “choked the economy” through “connivance,” especially in the payment of court awards and compensation deals.

Mr Charles Bakkabulindi (out-going Sports), Mr Haruna Kasolo (Microfinance), Ms Anite, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa (Chief Whip) and Dr Kasirivu-Atwooki (Economic Monitoring) also rejected the deal and asked the line minister to provide details of the individual claiming part of the land.

Dr Rugunda, who chaired the meeting, then ordered Mr Rukutana to explain the deal and whether the AG’s chambers knew about it, the money required for compensation, the acreage of the disputed land and the details of the people claiming it.

Rukutana, Anite clash
Before explaining the deal, Mr Rukutana, however, reportedly sought to set the record straight. According to sources, he first denied allegations of corruption. Mr Rukutana reportedly told Cabinet colleagues that the accusations were made by Ms Anite. Daily Monitor could not establish where and when Ms Anite made the accusations against Mr Rukutana.

When Ms Anite heard her name, another Cabinet source said, she “erupted in anger” and booed Mr Rukutana. This infuriated the new Labour minister, who reportedly used unsavoury language against Ms Anite. The Prime Minister ruled Mr Rukutana out of order and asked him to withdraw the derogatory remarks about the Investment minister.

Ms Anite then rose up in what sources called “a combative mood” and also fired back at Mr Rukutana.
Before she relinquished the floor, another Cabinet source said Ms Anite requested Cabinet to “squeeze” corruption out of the Attorney General’s chambers and defend Mulago land.

Rugunda calls for order
Elders led by the 2nd Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Kirunda Kivejinja, then pleaded for calm and Dr Rugunda took charge of the meeting sources described as “riotous.”
He then asked Mr Rukutana to stick to the issues at hand - the latest Mulago land saga. Some ministers led by Mr Kasolo rebuked government officials in the deal and threatened to bring the matter to the attention of the President.

“You have decided to look at this matter through corruption lenses but the land you are taking about belongs to an individual. He has all the papers,” a source quoted Mr Rukutana as he tried to convince Cabinet about the land deal.

The outgoing Deputy Attorney’s reference to “papers” provoked Ms Amongi to rise on a point of information. She told Cabinet that she has evidence that the land belongs to Mulago and promised to table the documents. Ms Amongi also explained that the legal principle of time limitation should be applied by AG before siding with land grabbers.

“The law is very clear, you cannot bring a claim on a matter of land after 12 years have elapsed… where was that person, who is claiming Mulago Hospital land in 2019, when the hospital was constructed in 1913?” a source quoted Ms Amongi as she countered Mr Rukutana’s submission.

Attorney General responds
Attorney General William Byaruhanga told Daily Monitor last evening that Mr Rukutana was handling the matter with Mulago Hospital authorities and that he needed time to look at the files. The AG, however, invited Daily Monitor to his office today [Thursday] to get the details.
Ms Anite said she was busy and told Daily Monitor to call her later. This newspaper’s attempts to reach again in the evening were unsuccessful.

Although Dr Aceng did not respond when contacted on the matter, Ms Amongi confirmed the discussion in Cabinet but declined to talk about the details of the meeting. The minister, however, explained that there are so many third and fourth generations making claims on government land.

“The land under contestation houses Mulago staff quarters but our position is that the legal principle of time limitation should be applied by Attorney General in resolving the matter. It is a settled principle, which even the Supreme Court has applied in several rulings,” Ms Amongi said.

She added: “Mulago has existed over 50 years, none of their grandparents made claims on the land within 12 years after Mulago built the staff quarters on the land.”

Dr Byarugaba said he needed details of the plot number of the land in question.
“We have very many lands (sic) of Mulago that are being claimed by individuals but we have been knocking them off one by one,” he said. He did not disclose the details of the contested pieces of land.

A source at Mulago said the President is also investigating the matter and that a joint committee involving officials from Mulago, Health ministry, Lands, ISO and AG will study the claim and submit a report to Cabinet through the new Lands minister, Ms Beti Kamya.

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