President Museveni yesterday overruled Cabinet and asked Lands Minister Betty Amongi to comply with Catherine Bamugemereire’s directive to appear before the commission of inquiry into land affairs and explain allegations of abusing money from the Land Fund and other related issues.
Speaking to NTV, our sister media outlet, last evening, Ms Amongi said she was ready to appear before the probe.
“Now that I have been cleared not only by the Cabinet but also His Excellency the President, tomorrow [today], I will appear before the commission happily,” she said.
Initially, the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, first chaired the Cabinet meeting which directed Amongi to ignore the witness summons by Justice Bamugemereire to testify before her Commission of Inquiry today and present particular documents to explain queries regarding use of money from the Land Fund.
The ministers said Ms Amongi cannot disclose government’s confidential documents on land issues.
However, when Mr Museveni entered the meeting later, he overruled his Cabinet and said it was okay for Ms Amongi to appear before the commission and disclose the documents, including letters from his office regarding money from the Land Fund.
Sources in the meeting told Daily Monitor that Mr Museveni said the commission must appreciate that his directives are based on people’s needs and there is nothing wrong with Ms Amongi paying money from the Land Fund to implement his instructions.
“Amongi was implementing my directives and I was helping people so what is the problem here?” a source quoted Mr Museveni as telling Cabinet.
Following the initial Cabinet directive, Ms Amongi had written to the commission into land affairs, explaining why she would not appear to testify as earlier scheduled.
In her letter, Ms Amongi said she needed Cabinet clearance to present the confidential land documents.
“Coincidentally, Cabinet sitting at State House Entebbe today shall discuss and guide on whether such confidential documents should be availed to the commission. While I hope to obtain clearance and appear at 12 hours as scheduled. I have been guided that I cannot appear today as outcome of the meeting requires extracting minutes,” Ms Amongi’s letter reads in part.
She said she was acting on instructions from Dr Rugunda.
However, Ms Amongi’s communication provoked the commission into action as Justice Catherine Bamugemereire issued criminal summons to Ms Amongi.
Justice Bamugemereire warned that she would be arrested if she does not appear today to testify on accusations of impropriety in management of the Land Fund money.
“Hon Amongi is hereby granted the final criminal summons to appear before this Commission not later than May 8 this year at 9am. Failure to do so, this commission will be left with no option but to issue a warrant of arrest upon the body and person of Amongi,” Justice Bamugemereire ordered.
She said once the warrant of arrest is issued, it will not only be served on Ms Amongi in person but also on Dr Rugunda to cause her to appear before.
“We have been attempting to serve the minister since April 3 this year. The Minister of Lands has been served with summons to appear before the commission. She has received these summons; she did reply to us and showed her inability to attend the first time. On the next occasion, she just did not show up.
This is going to be the third occasion that we again summon the Minister of Lands,” Justice Bamugemereire stated.
“The terms of this commission of inquiry and its operations are statutory and the commissioners under this commission have powers of the High Court. This does not say there is a class of people; it does not classify that except where you are a cabinet minister.
There are no exceptions under the law. There is no provision where a person who is served would have recourse of constraint to attend to summons of a body that has powers of a High Court on the belief that you are constrained by the Prime Minister,” she added.
Justice Bamugemereire dismissed Ms Amongi’s statement that she was acting on the Prime Minister’s instructions not to appear before the commission.
“I see a note that purports to seek a Cabinet approval and clearance of confidential documents. This is not anywhere supported in law. This commission has powers to summon witnesses even if they are abroad. I don’t see any justification for seeking cabinet approval,” she said.
Ms Amongi is accused of impropriety regarding Land Fund money and fraudulent acquisition of property belonging to the Departed Asian Property Custodian Board in various parts of Kampala.
It is alleged that in 2016, she directed Uganda Land Commission (ULC) Undersecretary, Mr Albert Jethro Mugumya to effect payment of millions of shillings under the Land Fund contrary to her mandate.
Testifying before the commission, Mr Mugumya admitted that Ms Amongi directed him to pay the money to several people but said it was under ‘special requests’.
He declined to explain the “special requests” but testified that the minister’s involvement amounted to micro- management of the Land Fund contrary to her mandate and established procedure.
Documents presented before the land inquiry show that on November 23, 2016, Ms Amongi asked Mr Mugumya to urgently pay land compensation of more than Shs620 million to nine people.
In another letter on October 31, 2016, Ms Amongi asked Mr Mugumya to pay special consideration to two patients.
According to the letter, the minister directed Mr Mugumya to give Ms Victoria Kakoko-Sebagereka an advance of Shs100m as part of a Shs776.7m claim on account that the recipient was “very sick’ and needed treatment abroad.
Mr Mugumya was also directed to pay another Shs50m of Shs210m claim to one Kuriash Barinda of Isingiro district.
“I have received many urgent pleas for consideration for payment from Uganda Land Fund which cannot all be accommodated this quarter due to limited funds. However, exceptional two cases that require our humanitarian considerations….,” Ms Amongi’s letter reads in part.
It is also alleged that in December 2017, Ms Amongi’s company Amobet Investments Limited acquired temporary possession of property after it was repossessed by the Asian family in 1992.
The property is on Plot 29 on Acacia Avenue in Kololo. It is registered in the names of Toshak Munubhai Patel.
Documents indicate the allocation of the property to Amobet Investments was signed by George William Bizibu, the executive secretary of the departed Asian Property Custodian Board.
Documents were presented before the Commission showing how officials at the Uganda Land Commission in connivance with businessmen and influential people in government fraudulently received billions of Shillings from the Land Fund.