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Censure hangs over Mbabazi

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By Independent Team

Since the scandal over the NSSF purchase of Amama Mbabazi’s land in Temangalo broke almost a month ago, the Security minister has accepted no mistakes on his part. In his defense before the NRM caucus he said the land deal was legal, fair €“ in fact unfair to him €“ and was executed without influence.

But in a sign that the heat is still on, the finger-pointing has swung from the legal and procedural irregularities to the political realm, sucking more names for and against the minister into the scandal.  The Independent brings you interviews with some of the main players.

Meanwhile, others like Finance Minister Ezra Suruma, have already rallied to Mbabazi’s defence but his supervisory role of NSSF, his relationship with Mbabazi and National Bank of Commerce in which the money was reportedly invested raises questions about his impartiality and motive.

In a frantic move, State Minister for Local Government Hope Mwesigye sent out an SMS to some MPs asking them to €œkindly help out on Amama issue if you can€ and the NRM Chief Whip, Ms Kabakumba Matsiko issued a statement claiming the party caucus had accepted Mbabazi’s explanation but other members rejected it saying there was no such resolution.

In fact, many NRM members of Parliament like Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi and Henry Banyenzaki insist Mbabazi should pay the price for his alleged misconduct. Gen. Salim Saleh on his part advised Mbabazi to refund the money.

Past Parliament censures
Maj. Gen. Jim Katugugu Muhwezi

In 1998, Maj. Gen Muhwezi was the first minister to be censured. Then Minister of State in charge of primary Education, Muhwezi was censured by Parliament for alleged abuse of office, influence-peddling, failure to account for his massive wealth, and for flouting the Uganda People’s Defense Forces’ (UPDF) standing regulations barring soldiers from transacting business with foreigners. Muhwezi had had dealings with Meera Enterprises owned by Ugandan tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia. Muhwezi insisted he was a victim of a witch-hunt by his political enemies. He was subsequently dropped in the next cabinet reshuffle but bounced back after the 2001 presidential elections as minister of Health.

Sam Kahamba Kutesa

Kutesa, then a minister for Finance in charge of Planning and Investment, was sacked in 1999 after 116 members of Parliament signed a petition of censure. The reasons behind the censure were that Kutesa held a ministerial post and at the same time was the chairman of the Entebbe Cargo Handling Services (ENHAS) which constituted a conflict of interest, contrary to the leadership code of conduct. Kutesa was also accused of causing financial loss to Uganda Airlines by allowing ENHAS to buy the national carrier’s shares in the cargo firm below market value and also writing off as a bad debt US $400,000. Kuteesa insisted the censure was the work of political enemies in NRM. He bounced back to Parliament unopposed a year after his censure and has since held important cabinet positions.

Mathew Rukikaire

In 1999, Rukikaire came close to censure but made his escape through resignation as the minister of State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development in charge of Privatisation after Parliament cited irregularities in the privatization of four parastatals including Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB). Rukikaire was implicated together with Sam Kutesa, Joash Mayanja Nkangi and John Nasasira by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Privatisation for incompetence, abuse of office and misconduct. The inquiry which unearthed irregularities surrounding the privatization of the UCB also implicated Gen. Salim Saleh. He was found to have been involved in million-dollar deals and the back-hand purchase of UCB by Greenland Bank. Rukikaire was forced to resign after parliamentarians collected 60 signatures supporting his censure within an hour. He has never returned to cabinet.

Joash Mayanja Nkangi and John Nasasira

The current chairman of Uganda Land Commission, Joash Mayanja Nkangi and the Minister for Works, Transport and Communications John Nasasira came close to censure in 1999 but Parliament exonerated them. In the same scandal that saw Kutesa and Rukikaire leave their ministerial posts, Mayanja and Nasasira were investigated for influence peddling in the sale of parastatals. Nkangi who was the Finance Minister was accused of influence peddling in the sale of Uganda Airlines while Nasasira was the minister for Transport and Communication, under whose docket the company fell.

Kirunda Kivejinja

Kivenja resigned as minister of Works, Transport and Communications in 1997 after MPs collected signatures to censure him over accusations that he had diverted 2,000 litres of fuel from Uganda Railways, under his ministry, for personal use.

n my opinion what he tried to argue is technical, legalistic and this is not a legal matter but a political matter,€ former Health minister Jim Muhwezi who is no stranger to such controversy told The Independent (see interview) in reference to Mbabazi’s defence before the NRM caucus.

Mbabazi and NSSF’s defenders have argued about the price being right and there being an urgent need to invest in the housing sector, with the president’s manifesto being mentioned, and rosy figures being painted as to the benefits of the Temangalo investment. They have argued that the baby should not be thrown away with the bath water!

In fact, an orchestrated media campaign in the form of letters and opinion articles in the media in support of this position is visible over the last weeks. The idea is to convince the public about the fairness of the deal and justify the urgency of the need for NSSF to invest in the housing sector.

Many insist, though, that procedure is as good as the results and that in this case, Mbabazi allowed the procedures and the law to be broken for his own benefit and that the National Bank of Commerce that he reportedly invested this money in is neither for government nor for the NRM party, it’s his, so he must explain because his actions are hurting the party.

€œIgnoring the irregularities is like what some people are saying is wrong. We in Ankole say, €˜otashweka amazi okiha obutuzi’ (do not cover the faeces so as to pick the mushrooms),’ said Muhwezi, adding; €œProbably if the processes were followed, we would have got better houses and in better locations, with less expenditure of workers’ money or better land, bigger and for lower cost.€

Nearly everyday of the inquiry has uncovered a new irregularity €“ either of fact, procedure or execution. (See box)

Ideally, the litany of sins in the Temangalo deal should have sent a few people to jail already like happened over the botched Nsimbe estate deal in 2005. The politics must, however, be settled before the legalities can be executed, especially because the matter involves the influential secretary general of the ruling NRM and one of President Museveni’s most trusted lieutenants. Indeed the president has not spoken a word since the scandal broke.

Over the next few weeks, the public will be watching parliament to see whether MPs will push Mbabazi and Finance Minister Ezra Suruma to pay the political price or whether the matter will be swept under the carpet. So far indications are that MPs are sniffing blood and unless Mbabazi, a very adept political player, pulls some stops, censure will be inevitable. The last censure of a minister was under the 6th Parliament. (See box)

List of NSSF Temangalo land deal irregularities

  • There was no tendering or open bidding which is mandatory for purchase of public assets above Shs 70 million of US $35,000.
  • Project was handled through NSSF’s finance committee, not the investment committee
  • Government valuer was not consulted, which is mandatory for public bodies.
  • NSSF paid for land Shs 8 million above recommended price by three reputable valuers.
  • It is not clear how NSSF arrived at decision to pay Shs 24 million per acre instead of Shs 16 million average.
  • Payment was made to joint account run by Amos Nzeyi and Amama Mbabazi yet sale agreement did not mention Mbabazi.
  • The Shs 11 billion deal was mooted and concluded in less than 10 days.
  • Disparities in acreage purchased by NSSF; 414 acres were to be bought but payment was made for 463 acres, but are holding titles for 493 acres. Yet NSSF surveyor certified only 411 acres.
  • Land has not been clearly marked and demarcated six months after transaction.
  • Only three of the six land titles have been transferred to NSSF, all lands belonging to Mbabazi. Nzeyi’s titles have not been transferred.
  • Contrary to NSSF claim that the land has no squatters, a recent visit by MPs found nine families on the land who have been paying ground rent (busuulu) to Mbabazi.
  • Private lawyer [John Byamugisha] represented all the three parties; NSSF, Amos Nzeyi and Amama Mbabazi, even though NSSF employs six lawyers in its legal department.
  • NSSF internal auditor did not know payments made to Mbabazi, Nzeyi and lawyer Byamugisha yet a stamp of approval from his office was on the vouchers.
  • NSSF procurement officer’s advice was not sought.

 

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