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Charge ministers with theft for iron sheets saga, says Museveni

In what could yet be his sternest pronouncement on the Karamoja iron sheets scandal, President Museveni has denounced public officials named in the scam, saying they indulged in subversion, undermined the country’s security and should be charged with theft.

Writing in an April 3 letter to Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, the President also gave notice of looming, though unspecified, political action he plans to take against whoever participated in the ”theft” of iron sheets meant for vulnerable communities in Karamoja.

“Those involved must both bring back the mabaati or equivalent value in money but also be handled by the police under the criminal laws of the country. I will also take political action once the police has concluded their investigations,” he wrote.

While it is not clear what political action awaits the many ministers who have been implicated in this scandal, the President has in the past sacked members of Cabinet accused of theft of public resources.

Amongst those implicated are Vice President Jessica Alupo and Ms Nabbanja herself — suggesting that they too could find themselves at the receiving end of the promised political action.

The President also described the alleged theft as a form of corruption, warning that it has compromised security in Karamoja.

“If somebody, took mabaati (iron sheets) meant for the Karachuna (Karimojong warriors) and gave them to people or institutions in his or her constituency, this is political corruption,” he said, “It is like bribing voters so as to get political favours. In the case of the mabaati, it is at the expense of the Karachuna, but also at the expense of security of the country”.

“Those ministers are, therefore, undermining that in exchange [for] cheap popularity. This is actually subversive. Under the NRA (National Resistance Army) Code, cheap popularity is characterised as subversive,” President Museveni said.

The President explained that giving iron sheets to Karimojong warriors was a part of efforts to help them settle down and stop causing insecurity.

Over the last decade, Uganda’s national army has been carrying out security operations involving disarmament of armed cattle rustlers (some of whom are believed to be Karachuna) in the restive and impoverished sub-region.

The army’s efforts are complemented by affirmative action interventions such as the Karamoja Community Empowerment Programme under which the stolen iron sheets should have been distributed.

In his letter, the President said those ministers who took the iron sheets for personal use cannot claim that they made a political mistake, insisting that “they engaged in theft and they should be handled by the police”.

As such, he told his prime minister, ministers who were consciously involved in the diversion of the iron sheets “must take personal responsibility, pay back the value of the mabaati they diverted and I will decide on the political action to punish [them for] this mistake.”

Those who were unconsciously involved, should also return the iron sheets, if they are still available, or personally reimburse the value of the iron sheets they took, he added.

While the President has powers to sack a minister he, however, cannot fire the Speaker of Parliament directly given, among others, the fact that Parliament is an independent institution which enjoys certain privileges under the principle of separation of powers as set out in Uganda’s Constitution.

But the Speaker is nonetheless vulnerable, especially because Mr Museveni’s ruling party has a huge majority in Parliament which can be mobilised to instigate the removal of the Speaker.

According to the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, a Speaker can be removed from office by a decision of Parliament, supported by not less than two-thirds of all members of Parliament.

In December 2021, the Parliament passed a Shs39 billion supplementary budget for Karamoja empowerment. At least 100,000 iron sheets were to be distributed under the project, however, up to 14,500 of the sheets ended up in the hands of unintended parties after a minister responsible for the sub-region, Dr Mary Goretti Kitutu, irregularly shared them out with colleagues and relatives.  Twenty two ministers have since been implicated in the scandal.

Dr Kitutu was dragged to court last Thursday, April 6, where she was charged with causing loss of public property and conspiracy to defraud. She could spend at least 10 years in prison if found guilty.

WHAT LAW SAYS

Catalysts

Rule 108(1) of Parliament’s rules of procedure provides that:

 (1) A motion for a resolution for the removal of the Speaker or Deputy Speaker from office shall be moved in the following manner—

(a) seven days’ notice, signed by not less than one third of all Members of Parliament, shall be given to the Clerk;

(b) the Clerk shall, within 24 hours of receipt of the list of names, forward the notice to the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may be;

(c) the motion shall be tabled in Parliament and shall be listed for debate within 14 days after receipt of the notice by the Speaker or Deputy Speaker;

(d) in debating the motion under paragraph (c) Parliament shall constitute itself into a Committee, which shall report its findings to Parliament for adoption.

(e) the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker is entitled to appear in person and to be assisted or represented by a lawyer or any other person when the Committee of the Whole House is considering the motion for his or her removal.

(3) Neither the Speaker nor the Deputy Speaker in respect of whom proceedings for removal have commenced, shall preside over the proceedings.

(4) If Parliament passes the motion for removal of the Speaker or Deputy Speaker by not less than two-thirds majority of all the voting Members of Parliament, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker shall cease to hold office.

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