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Iron sheets scandal silences Anita Among

Speaker Anita Among with women MPs after their release from Central Police Station on April 28 (PHOTO/ANITA AMONG)

Speaker in panic as Museveni turns heat on implicated ministers

Kampala Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, has cut back on her public appearances as she is gripped by panic and tension over charges she could face following her involvement in the blossoming scandal where government officials diverted iron sheets meant for the people of Karamoja.

The scandal involves more than two dozen ministers including Vice President Jessica Alupo and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

Among has not chaired parliament plenary sessions last week as the country’s top leaders come under fire over the scandal. During a plenary session on April 26 where the anti-homosexuality bill was discussed, Among could only sneak in the House to whisper a message in the ear of her deputy, Thomas Tayebwa.

The arrests of ministers; Goretti Kitutu (Karamjoa Affairs), Amos Lugolobi, (state for planning) Agnes Nandutu (state for Karamoja) have left more ministers in a scramble to return iron sheets. Reports indicate that a section of ministers are now moving with hordes of cash in anticipation of bail payments should arrest officers come swinging down on them.

The Speaker was not at the state funeral accorded to Keith Muhakanizi, former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on April 22. The OPM was the epicentre of the scandal and Secretary to Cabinet
Lucy Nakyobe while giving her eulogy, said the late Muhakanizi warned ministers about the theft of iron sheets.

In attendance at the funeral held at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds were President Yoweri Museveni, Vice President Jessica Alupo, and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja. The latter two have been implicated in
the scandal that has already seen two ministers spend time at Luzira prison facing charges of theft and misappropriation.

Among was a beneficiary of the iron sheets and a batch was delivered to her private school in Bukedea district an action that put her head on the chopping block.

According to MPs and employees at parliament where Among holds court as one of the most powerful people in the country, the Speaker is in panic following revelations that her file at the Office of the Director of Public
Prosecutions (ODPP) is one of those under scrutiny as she faces potential charges to the iron sheets scandal.

The Speaker used to high-powered displays of pomp and ostentation, has now resorted to face-saving events such as baling out a group of female MPs who were brutally arrested as they marched to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to deliver a petition against police brutality.

It was in the same charm offensive that the beleaguered Speaker received a petition on April 24 from intern doctors who were on strike over non- deployment and deplorable working conditions. Ironically, the Police had arrested 37 intern doctors earlier on the same day as they led a demonstration against their working conditions.

As she works to soften her image, authorities are also working to tighten the noose on those implicated.

Enter DPP

On the sidelines of the annual prosecutor’s symposium, Jane Abodo, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was peppered by journalists on the progress of the investigation her office is making on the ministers implicated.

“We received eight files a week ago, we read them and we found out that there were inquiries to be done and we sent them back to the police to finish up,” Justice Abodo told Daily Monitor at the event.

Abodo’s answer means investigations are underway and more big fish could soon be in the dock. A week ago, Abodo said that Minister Nandutu was committed to the High Court because inquiries into her case were fully complete. This was unlike the cases of Kitutu and Lugolobi who were arraigned before the Anti- Corruption Court.

Abodo did not explain how files into a junior minister were complete and why those into a minister in the same docket were not.

Meanwhile, Nandutu complained about why she was being sent to a higher court but her pleas fell on deaf ears and she is now on remand until May 4 when her case comes up for hearing. But as the Nandutu case cools off, attention is now turning on Speaker Among who has kept a low profile as the scandal blossoms into its fourth month.

In March, Among bought 500 iron sheets and sent them to the Office of the Prime Minister as penance but there is panic and tension among her staff over what is looming.

The DPP and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) have been inundated with requests from the public to take action in the form of announcing charges and making summons for statements respectively concerning Speaker Among’s actions of receiving iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja region.

A delivery note from OPM reveals that the head teacher of Among’s private school in Bukedea received 500 iron sheets on June 23, 2022. The delivery note is now a crucial part of the paper trail at the disposal of the DPP and other authorities; CID and Inspector General of Government (IGG) as they conduct their investigations.

Two months ago, as the scandal broke, Among announced: “After thorough analysis and looking at it that the iron sheets were meant for Karamoja, not Bukedea, I have taken a personal decision and responsibility as a leader to buy 500 iron sheets and give it back,” said Among while presiding over parliament. She is also the Bukedea District Woman MP.

“I don’t want to be a shame to parliament and I’m doing this for the House,” Among said. Before police started summoning ministers, Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Semujju consistently brought up the issue of theft of iron sheets leaving Speaker Among in a pickle.

“Madam Speaker, yesterday the leader of government business was missing, even today she is missing. I want to find out if she has already been arrested because she took 3000 iron sheets or if she is writing a statement to the police,” Semujju asked Among.

Among has emerged as one of the most powerful individuals in Uganda since she was elected to succeed the late Speaker Jacob Oulanyah a year ago. She was elected as Deputy Speaker in 2021 and even in that position, she did most of the work as Oulanyah was ailing.

Known as a wealthy benefactor, funding MPs and other activities of political mobilisation, Among has cemented herself as a pillar of the ruling NRM party seeming to win the favour of Museveni and hordes of NRM supporters. However, the iron sheets scandal has left the Speaker in the crosshairs.

President Museveni has expressed fury at the ministers fingered in the iron sheets saga although he has not expressly commented on the big fish involved; the VP, Speaker and Prime Minister. Museveni was irked that the implicated ministers were present when the cabinet passed the resolution of a supplementary budget of Shs39bn to purchase iron sheets and goats for Karamoja.

It will not be the first time Among faces a test to clear her name. The Speaker has been on the spot over irregular appointments at Parliament, the use of parliament monies and the way elections for representatives of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) were conducted among others.

In 2021, the IGG who is investigating the theft of iron sheets, received a petition calling for a forensic investigation into the conduct of then Deputy Speaker Anita Among. She hit back strongly saying she would not be cowed.

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