What you need to know:
The issue: Iron sheets scandal
Our view: No one is above the law in Uganda, and fortunately our Constitution guarantees the universal principle of presumption of innocence for accused persons. It would, therefore, be an injustice if the adversely named ministers do not enjoy their constitutional right to defend themselves in court.
The law is the law and must be adhered to. You cannot slap ministers on the wrist and then lawfully expect them to get away without responding to allegations of having committed crimes as unearthed in the Karamoja iron sheets scandal. For this reason, the committee report presented to Parliament on Tuesday partly came off as an unfortunate whitewash. It was brazen in its self-contradiction – showing how ministers illegally took iron sheets and then trying to shield most of them from the full force of the law. Tuesday’s injudicious proceedings at Parliament are precisely the reason President Museveni admonished Parliament months ago, reminding the House that it had no business inquiring into a matter under criminal investigation.
The intended beneficiaries of the bungled Shs39 billion Karamoja Community Empowerment Programme (KCEP), expect due process of the law to ensue unfettered. The Director of Public Prosecutions must not waver. That office is independent and should prosecute wherever the evidence is unimpeachable. To do otherwise will expose it to suspicions of mollycoddling corruption, impunity and selective prosecution.
Under Uganda’s Penal Code Act and anti-corruption laws, if one is found in possession of stolen property, you are deemed to have committed a crime and should be prosecuted. Causing financial loss to government is a felony and is also prosecutable. When you irregularly receive public property intended for some other purpose, suspicions of conspiracy to defraud inevitably follow. Thankfully, the committee had the momentary presence of mind to report that the diversion of thousands of KCEP’s iron sheets to 15 ministers, including the vice president, prime minister; the speaker of parliament and others, was part of a “pre-meditated plan”.
In the case of the prime minister, who was chided for being dishonest, it is doubly intolerable that she reportedly did nothing when established protocols were being flouted.
Government business is not carried out over the telephone as happened in this case. Instructions must be put in writing and formal procedures followed. At the Office of the Prime Minister under whose ambit Karamoja affairs fall, the leadership failed in this respect, an omission for which the report correctly said the prime minister must be held accountable.
No one is above the law in Uganda, and fortunately our Constitution guarantees the universal principle of presumption of innocence for accused persons. It would, therefore, be an injustice if the adversely named ministers do not enjoy their constitutional right to defend themselves in court. They were denounced by the President for political corruption, theft and undermining national security. It is only proper that the DPP examines these views as the other crimes implicit in the Karamoja iron sheets’ outrage are prosecuted.
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