KAMPALA. President Museveni has for the second time extended the lifespan of Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led land probe, and directed Finance Ministry to give the commission an extra Shs7.8 billion to complete business.
The President moved to fulfill a request by Justice Bamugemereire, who according to sources met him privately on Tuesday at State House Entebbe and made a case for another six months to deal with the “pending business”.
The President also agreed to meet the seven-member Commission tomorrow (Friday), apparently to deliver what sources have called the “the good news,” assure the commissioners of his unconditional support and also give them a copy of the new instruments, extending the term for additional six months.
The Bamugemereire Commission has been entangled in accountability queries and accusations of taking “fat allowances” at the expense of the support staff who were asked to “endure the pain and serve the country”.
The initial six-months tenure started in May 2017 and expired on November 9, 2017. The President granted them extension for six months which was due to expire on May 9.
But before the expiry of the term, Justice Bamugemereire went to State House and requested for another extension. The latest extension means the inquiry now run for and one and half years.
More than 5,600 cases have so far been registered but a bigger part of these remain untouched.
The commissioners and their sympathisers blame “limited time and a small budget” yet the MPs who talked to Daily Monitor blame the backlog on what they have called “excessive expenditures”.
The President met Justice Bamugemereire on Tuesday last week, in what sources close to State House called a private meeting where she made a case for additional funding.
When contacted yesterday, senior presidential press secretary Don Wanyama confirmed the “private meeting” at State House and declined to divulge details because he was not privy to the discussions.
The other commissioners did not attend the meeting at State House but they were aware of the meeting .
Daily Monitor understands that before Justice Bamugemereire went to State House, Entebbe, she met her team to thrash out the sticking issues they wanted the President to help them address before their term expires.
The commissioners, according to sources, zeroed on what sources called, “unreliable funding” to their approved work plan, and asked Justice Bamugemereire to brief the President on the progress so far, challenges and request him to instruct Secretary to Treasury to approve their supplementary.
On account of competing government priorities, such as infrastructure projects and the planned enhancement of civil servants’ pay, technocrats in the Ministry of Finance had resolved to slash the Justice Bamugemereire supplementary budget request from Shs7.8b to Shs2b.
Mr Elbert Byenkya, the lead counsel for the land probe and its spokesperson, has since defended what some staff and MPs called “unnecessary fat allowances” for the commissioners. He justified the “fat pay”, saying the commission is doing “a special job”.
He asked Ugandans to understand that investigations are expensive.
Since it started its inquiries last year, the commission has had more than 140 sittings. Sources said the commissioners are paid about $200 (about Shs720,000) per day they sit, with an additional to $690 (about Shs2.5m) per day whenever they travel abroad.
The team has visited Ghana, United Kingdom and South Africa, spending at least seven days in each country. This translates into about Shs470m for seven commissioners for 21 days abroad.
But in the meeting with the President, Justice Bamugemereire protested delayed releases and accumulated arrears to the commission staff before she assured the president that “there is no accountability problem” and because their expenditures were approved by him and finance.
She also tagged the stories [about their expenditures] in the media, to unidentified land grabbers who do not want her team to succeed.
The lawmakers on the Physical Infrastructure Committee have also threatened to block the supplementary request and demanded full accountability of the Shs13b so far spent in the name of investigations into the effectiveness of law, policies and processes of land acquisition, land administration, land management and land registration in the country.
“Why should taxpayers spend Shs15b and another Shs7.8b in additional funding on a commission whose report is not going to be acted upon, just like other previous inquiries?” Ms Cissy Kagaba, the head of Anti-Corrupt Coalition Uganda, asked yesterday.
“The [Bamugemereire] commission is becoming more of a liability than an asset, especially if it is riddled with accountability issues that it is meant address. The same government says it does not have money, why can’t these billions of shillings go to other priority areas?” she added.
Asked whether it is reasonable for the President to extend the mandate of the Bamugemereire commission, Opposition Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba said: “There is no doubt that the President’s intention in establishing the commission was to divert political attention from the rape of the Constitution and to reward financially some of the commissioners for their loyalty to him and that explains his indifference to the accountability issues and that fat pay to his cadres.”
Appearing on NTV, a sister media outlet of Daily Monitor, last week, Justice Bamugemereire compared her expenditures with four Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“I know at least four MDAs who receive a maximum of 3,000 cases a year but their budget is Shs40b and above. In 11 months, we have received 5,600 cases, we have traversed this country except West Nile, and carried out very thorough investigations,” Justice Bamugemereire said.
“Our investigations are not cheap. Before we get there, there is a lot of background work… We can account for every penny, we do not have an accountability problem, and those issues in the media are not there.
The work plan was discussed with the president and finance, every plan was mapped and every shilling was budgeted for.”
The Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, yesterday said he is yet to receive a presidential directive to release the required funds. “I have not yet seen the presidential directive. As a ministry we shall implement the directive as the President will have put it and if we find any problem with it, we shall also advise him accordingly,” he said.