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2011 polls in trouble over Shs 30bn deal

By Joseph Were

Mbabazi, Rwakoojo, Kutesa deny personal interest as PPDA orders fresh tendering of voter machines

At the height of the Temangalo saga in which Security Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is also the Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance (NRM) party was accused of corruption, he addressed the NRM parliamentary caucus saying: ‘I am a revolutionary who totally and very strongly abhors and rejects corruption in all its forms because I know that corruption or dishonest exploitation of power for personal gain is the greatest enemy.’

In the same statement, while addressing the issue of conflict of interest as covered under section 10 of the Leadership Code Cap. 168, he described it as ‘the situation in which a public official or trustee who, contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the public or a designated individual, exploits the relationship for personal benefit, typically relating to money.’

Unfortunately, a new scandal is unfolding with the minister’s name right at the centre.

Information availed to The Independent by anonymous sources indicates that a squabble involving big names in government has erupted over the US$ 15 million (about Shs 30 billion) tender to update the national voters register by the Electoral Commission (EC).

It is alleged that Mbabazi is fronting a company called Balton (UK) and Technobrain (TZ) Ltd. Another firm that bid, Waymark (SA) & AH Consulting (UG) Ltd has been linked to a member of his family.

Mbabazi denies the allegations.

‘I have and do not represent any business in Uganda as a matter of principle,’ he told The Independent in an interview over the issue, ‘I don’t know anything about the tendering process except possibly the security reports I receive.’

This statement means that if it emerges that indeed Mbabazi is fronting any company, he would be involved in conflict of interest. The Independent could not independently verify any of the allegations.

Insiders at the EC, however, told The Independent that the tendering process has been infiltrated. As a result, according to a November report by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) titled: ‘Investigation Report on tender for supply, installation and commissioning of voter registration and biometric identification system for Electoral Commission of Uganda, Proc Ref No. EC/Servc/08-09/000267’, alterations were identified at the technical evaluation level of the bids to favour Balton (UK) with Technobrain (TZ) Ltd.

Apparently, Edgar Kasigwa who represents the User Department at the EC on the Evaluation Committee and was tasked to summarise all the sheets for ranking, significantly altered bids for Balton and Ontrack Innovations. He is also the secretary to the committee.

The PPDA report says: ‘If the alterations and the errors identified under Ms Balton UK and Ms Ontrack Innovations Ltd were not made, the two firms would not have scored the required average pass mark of 850 of the 1000 (85%)’.

As a result of this and other anomalies identified by the PPDA in the procurement process, the PPDA has recommended that the process be cancelled and retendered.

The Independent reported in its cover story of the September 4-10 issue: ‘Is EC playing foul on voter register?’ that 15 firms bid for this tender in June and the award was to be in August. Six months later the tender has not been awarded.

Public anger over the scandal is mounting because it adds to confusion that has thrown the EC’s roadmap for the 2011 elections off track.

Already, the 2011 elections are threatened by a petition in the Constitutional Court by the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party challenging the competence of the Electoral Commission (EC) chaired by Badru Kiggundu.

There is also a growing clamour from civil society and the donors to disband the EC in favour of a body that is more independent of the ruling NRM and President Yoweri Museveni.

There is likely to be a constitutional crisis unless these issues are resolved in time for the election in February or March 2011.

The voter registration tender is unlikely to be resolved soon because in a twist unlikely to go down well with some people, the PPDA letter of November 6, 2009 to the EC Secretary recommended in the 2nd last paragraph that ‘the secretary of the Electoral Commission should replace the Head of Procurement and Disposal Unit.’

The EC Secretary Sam Rwakoojo is accused of favouring one of the firms, Ms Sagem, which is bidding for the tender. According to insider information at the EC, Sagem scored the highest points at the technical valuation level in the just cancelled process. The firm is allegedly fronted by one Christopher Kamukama whose wife, Molly, heads the EC’s Voter Education and Training Department.

Rwakoojo is also accused of irregularly appointing one Martin Twinomujuni as Assistant Procurement Officer. The Procurement Officer post is vacant.

Rwakoojo, is also at the centre of a tantalising document titled:’Analysis of electoral fraud in Uganda’.

Written by researchers for the NRM and dated August 13, 2009, the document variously accuses the EC of incompetence, deliberately creating ghost voters, hiking the cost of the 2011 elections to frustrate the process and working to bring down President Museveni’s government at the 2011 election.

The report says: ‘The inflated budget proposal of the Electoral Commission for the year 2011 delays governments’ capacity to raise funds and hence ensure a properly managed electoral process. As some individuals are more interested in chasing deals, they leave the mundane business of electoral management to ‘others’ that subvert democracy.’

Less than 14 months to the 2011 elections, the claims in the stinging dossier have paralysed activity at the EC.

The EC has a budget of about Shs 200 billion for the 2011 election. The figure is about three times what was spent in the last election. The EC says the figure shot up because of the creation of new districts, including a Shs 40 billion new cost because of Supreme Court recommendation that the EC recruits its own staff in over 1,000 sub-counties and 6,000 parishes. The EC says it has a budget deficit of Shs 57 billion for this year alone.

A visit to the EC’s headquarters on Jinja Road in Kampala reveals scant activity and workers speak of low morale and uncertainty about the future.

‘We are stuck in the middle,’ laments the man at the centre of the storm, EC Secretary Rwakoojo, ‘the opposition says we have four million ghost voters, the NRM says one million and nobody is coming out with any evidence.’

Rwakoojo says that on October 28, the EC Chairman Kiggundu wrote to Mbabazi to clarify the NRM position on the dirty dossier but months later, the party has not replied.

Meanwhile, Rwakoojo says, the EC is paralysed. Programmes, including public relations visits to media houses that were to be rolled out to the districts, have all stopped.

Rwakoojo has reason to be anxious. His name is specifically mentioned in the dirty dossier.

‘The trend of phantom villages is also a clear sign of the EC secretary’s incompetence,’ the dossier says in part. ‘The secretary, Mr Sam Rwakoojo is not qualified to hold the job of secretary,’ it says before adding that: ‘If the senior most planner/officer is not qualified to hold any leadership position in any government department at a permanent secretary level, he is most certainly not capable of organising a free and fair election.’

From a business perspective, observers say the NRM’s ghost voter report could be a ploy by powerful people in the ruling party to discredit the EC and specifically Rwakoojo in order to get him out allegedly because he is frustrating their interest in the voter registration tender.

When confronted about these allegations Rwakoojo says the issue of his qualification or lack of it for the job was investigated by Parliament and concluded in his favour.

‘It is ok if somebody still wants to destroy me,’ he said in an interview in his office,’ You can kill Rwakoojo; but why destroy the whole organisation? I don’t see how all this helps the NRM or the government.’

Apparently, sources say, Rwakoojo is in trouble because he is working to ensure that a company fronted by another top NRM leader, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, gets the deal.

‘I swear upon the living God Kutesa has no interest whatsoever in the tender,’ Rwakoojo told The Independent.

Sources who spoke to The Independent on condition of anonymity claimed Kutesa was behind a company called Smartmatic Inc. The Smartmatic link to Kutesa could not be independently verified. However, the PPDA report showed that it was disqualified by the valuation committee because it did not pass the commercial criteria. It would be interesting to see if it bounces back during the retendering and Rwakoojo is in charge. Rwakoojo and Kutesa are cousins.

In an interview with The Independent Kutesa too denied fronting any company.

‘I have no business with the EC, in fact I was not aware there was such a tender,’ he said.

So why do such allegations persist?

Many will recall the testimony to Parliament of suspended NSSF managing director David Chandi Jamwa regarding such unconfirmed reports that nonetheless influence decisions of public officials. Jamwa to Parliament: ‘The pressure was being exerted seriously by Amos Nzeyi, who informed me that the Minister of Security went to the President and got permission to sell his land to us. I was not appointed to NSSF on political grounds, it was strictly on merit, how could I corroborate that; and this is a man, he is on phone, he says he’s talking to the First Lady; he is on the phone, he is saying the President wants to sleep in his hotel in Kabale; I am just a villager from Tororo but with something on top of my shoulders, what do you expect me to do with such pressure?’

However, there is a non-business perspective to the NRM secretariat’s report on the alleged ghost voters at the EC.

Sources, who claimed to have insider knowledge of the deal but preferred to remain anonymous because of its sensitivity, said the NRM secretariat was given up to Shs 2.5 billion for the research.

In fact the research was not about ‘analysis of electoral fraud in Uganda’ but more on how President Yoweri Museveni can avoid getting less than 50 percent of the vote and, therefore, a re-run in the 2011 elections.

President Museveni’s support has been declining at every election and if the trend persists, he is unlikely to garner over 50 percent of the vote. Museveni got 76 percent of the vote in 1996, 69 percent in 2001 and 59 percent in 2006.

Writing under the sub-topic: ‘Ghost voters and Phantom villages’, Mbabazi’s researchers say that election results since 1996 ‘show that the opposition has been manipulating results and indeed have been in control of middle management of the national Electoral Commission Uganda (ECU) since 2001. They have subsequently built ‘half a million ghosts’ on the electoral roll and the integrity of the data has been compromised.’

Significantly, it adds: ‘the errant individuals seem to know where all these ‘ghost’ voters are. We believe that the opposition intends to use this method or trend to bring NRM to below the legal 50% in the 2011 elections.’

Therefore, as part of its terms of reference, the research team was tasked to ‘give strategic ideas to ensure the NRM presidential candidate in 2011 has 80% of the vote cast.

It notes in the same section that this is because: ‘The performance of the NRM presidential candidate was in the secretary general’s (Mbabazi) opinion not a true reflection of the president’s performance. He strongly believed that the National Resistance Movement candidate did indeed score 70%. The group was to identify all methods used by the opposition to ‘create’ this 59% score.’

An outright win for Museveni is critical because, as the report notes, the NRM cannot hope to continue depending on decisions of the courts to win elections.

The report notes: ‘The presidential election petition of 2006 has serious implications to Constitutionalism and the rule of law in Uganda. The petition was heard by a panel of seven Justices and the outcome was of four Justices dismissing the petition and three Justices dissenting. The ratio of the judges dismissing the petition and those dissenting cannot be taken lightly. There is a possibility that the Justices must have acted the way they did to avoid an absurdity.

It is important that we critically analyse the judgment therefore and the reasons for the decision each Justice came up with. From our assessment, it cannot be ruled out that the Justices would not have ordered for a re-run. If they had, NRM party would have suffered the worst blow since its inception.’

Critics of the report say that the researchers actually found out why President Museveni was unlikely to get 50 percent of the vote in 2011. They say, however, the findings were altered because they discredited the NRM secretariat’s performance before and during the election. In this sense, the EC and Rwakoojo are mere sacrificial lambs for the poor performance of the NRM at the polls.

There is the extreme claim that no research was done but a report was concocted to account for the Shs 2.5 billion allocated. The EC in its October 28 press statement titled: Clarification on allegations of existence of ‘one million ghost voters on the National Voters’ Register’ implies as much. It says: ‘The inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the articles, especially the authors’ use of wrong figures, are enough to discredit their ‘findings.”

The NRM-EC Ghost Voters report quotes Justice Bart Katureebe’s 2006 ruling in his personal statement in the Kizza Besigye v Yoweri Museveni and EC case that ‘When the electoral laws are passed late and with little or no time to correct anomalies and contradictions in them, the Electoral Commission is left with no time to attend to all the issues and problems arise since it is trying to beat the constitutional deadline of holding the elections.’

Perhaps Katureebe should have added the fights over tenders, as big shots and EC officials chase deals, on the list of issues that should not be allowed to jeopardise the 2011 elections.

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