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TOP STORY: Kitutu evades State House arrest as Museveni grills Cabinet over Karamoja Iron Sheets

President Museveni tasked Cabinet to submit a detailed report on the abuse of iron sheets, goats and maize meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja by Friday this week.

President Yoweri Museveni (Photo/File)

KAMPALA, UGANDA: It was business unusual on Monday as President Museveni grilled ministers summoned at State House Entebbe to explain circumstances surrounding the Karamoja iron sheets saga that has taken over headlines for weeks.

The Ministers summoned notably included those at the centre of the scandal; Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja (who is the head of government business), Karamoja Affairs Minister Hon Mary Goretti Kitutu and her junior minister Agnes Nandutu.

The president who had earlier engagements earlier in the day stormed the room at around 6 pm and immediately started the meeting in absence Kitutu, who according to sources had been present at State House until around 12pm when she swiftly disappeared over unclear reasons.

According to an insider who was part of the Monday meeting, Ms Kitutu ‘escaped’ from State House as fast as she could after learning that Mr Museveni had ‘allegedly planned’ to have her arrested which could have caused her great embarrassment before fellow ministers.

Questions begin

Museveni who was visibly angry and bitter said enough was enough, he can no longer tolerate this kind of thieving which he reportedly termed as ‘new’.

He asked; “What are these things that I am hearing about the abuse of iron sheets for the people of the Karamoja Sub-region? Where is [Karamoja minister Goretti] Kitutu? I need answers…?” Silence filled the Cabinet meeting room as ministers turned eyes on Karamoja minister’s empty seat.

The President after being told about the absence of Minister Kitutu turned to the Cabinet ministers and again asked, “where is Agnes Nandutu (Kitutu’s junior minister)?” Fortunately, Ms Nandutu, the Woman MP Bududa District was present.

Composed before the President with her head bowed down, Nandutu confirmed her presence to the appointing authority and chairman of the meeting before the latter interjected her with a question.

“Muli baabefii?” the President asked in Lumasaba, one of the familiar dialects affiliated to Nandutu, a former journalist with NTV Uganda. The question is loosely translated as “Are you thieves?” He wanted Ms Nandutu to explain the meaning of the phrase. He again rephrased the question, but this time he was just confirming the meaning of “baabefii”. “Is this how you call them [the thieves]? He asked. The minister responded in affirmative and was tasked to explain “What happened to the iron sheets’’.

Ms Nandutu, who is one of the beneficiaries, tried to explain what happened in the absence of the senior minister, but the President interrupted her with more questions, demanding to know what happened in the papers and what investigators found in her district.

The President who was very furious, according the insider, asked again where was Kitutu before the Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, offered to explain what happened to the Karamoja iron sheets.

Nabbanja tries to explain

Ms Nabbanja explained the genesis of a scandal that has grabbed headlines for weeks. The premier talked of iron sheets bought through the donation budget for the vulnerable people in all regions, but the President demanded to know the formula she used to distribute the iron sheets to selected ministers and other beneficiaries.

The premier had come with a written statement, explaining the iron sheets, goats and maize scandals which she wanted to present, but the President kept interjecting her with numerous questions.

The President rejected the explanation and reminded her that the distribution of iron sheets, goats and maize to the Karacunas (jobless youths) in Karamoja, was his idea.

Mr Museveni explained that through the Supplementary Budget, he sought to encourage the Karacunas to surrender illegal guns to the authorities, and received iron sheets, goats and maize as part of the government reintegration process.

At this point, the President stopped listening to the Prime Minister and turned to Ms Davinia Esther Anyakun, the State minister for Relief, Disaster and Refugees. The President asked her to explain how she got the iron sheets and give an update on the situation since she represents one of the vulnerable Karamoja districts.

Ms Anyakun, however, rubbed salt into the wound when she told the President that some of the iron sheets, goats and unspecified kilogrammes of maize went to the wrong recipients.

The minister implicated Ms Kitutu on the mismanagement of Shs39b Supplementary Budget meant for goats and iron sheets for the Karacunas.

She, however, admitted receiving 300 iron sheets from OPM, which she took to her constituents in Nakapiripirit District during Christmas. When the President demanded to know whether she actually gave the iron sheets to the right people, the minister said yes.

Parallel investigations

In the meeting, the President asked: “What is Parliament and the Inspector General of Government investigating in a police case? Why is Parliament wasting time? This is criminal… whoever is involved in [Karamoja iron sheets scandal] should be arrested for theft.”

The President then asked Deputy Attorney General Jackson Karugaba Kafuuzi to prescribe the ideal charge against Ms Kitutu and other individuals in the iron sheets scandal.

Mr Kafuuzi had suggested “abuse of office” but Security Minister Jim Muhwezi, who is also a lawyer, argued that the people involved in the scandal could still be charged with both theft and abuse of office.  
The discussion in Cabinet now went into the legal definition of abuse of office and theft before the President asked: “Which of the two offences is heavier?”

Before the Deputy AG picked “abuse of office” as a heavier offence, he defined abuse of office as official abuse of power or abuse of authority, an offence committed where a public officer willfully neglects to perform their duty or willfully misconducts himself or herself.

 Mr Kafuuzi also told Cabinet that in criminal law, the existence of “an arbitrary act” is one of the essential ingredients for the offence of abuse of office. 

This offence is created under Section 11(1) of the ACA, 2009. It reads: “A person who being employed in a public body or a company in which government has shares, does or directs to be done an arbitrary act prejudicial to the interest of his or her employer or of any other person, in abuse of the authority of his or her office, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven (7) years or nine (9) fine not exceeding one hundred and sixty eight currency points or both.”
As for theft, Kafuuzi told the President that this is sometimes known as “larceny” and defined the offence as “the taking of something that doesn’t belong to you, without the consent of the owner and with no intention of bringing it back”.

Museveni orders detailed report

When the President demanded a detailed report on the abuse of iron sheets, goats and maize meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja by Friday this week, Ms Nabbanja, according to three ministers, undertook to submit the report.  There were murmurs in the Cabinet meeting as ministers protested what sources called a “conflict of interest” since the Premier is one of the beneficiaries of iron sheets.

The ministers expected the President to use the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) that unearthed information about the sharing of government-procured relief for Karamoja.

While the IGG had not responded by press time, the Parliament director for communication and public affairs, Mr Chris Obore, yesterday said: “I am constrained to say much because it’s still hearsay that the President said so. The President is the head of government and can directly engage with the heads of government arms when he deems it necessary. So I cannot be privy to Cabinet discussions and its contexts.”

Kitutu Summoned

Sources at the State house cabinet meeting further intimated to this publication that President Museveni has since summoned Kitutu to defend herself, and is expected to appear before him before the end of this week.

Other unconfirmed reports suggest that the furious President among other suggestions asked Ms Kitutu to politely resign from her ministerial position rather than awaiting to be sacked.

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