By Agather Atuhaire
At the centre of allegations that she received money from President Museveni and that she has been suspiciously close with the president, Kitgum woman MP Beatrice Anywar resigned her position as shadow minister for Energy, Oil and Mineral Development. She spoke to the Independent’s Agather Atuhaire about the accusations.
Did you have to resign your position? I mean, were things that bad?
I really wonder why the word resignation sounds so harsh. Following the reports in the media that am about to cross, that am meeting the President but most importantly the letter I received from my leader of opposition Hon. Nandala Mafabi putting my integrity to question, the only noble thing I hard to do was resign. Because if there are allegations against you, the only way you can clear your name is leaving office and allowing the appointing authority to carry out investigations to authenticate whether the allegations are true or not. And it will be upon the appointing authority to agree on your resignation letter or not after the investigations. This is something that does not raise questions, it is just a normal procedure of public officers but in Africa particularly in Uganda, it is surprising and impossible for so many. A shadow minister means I am the government in waiting and therefore I should do what I would do if our government was in power and what I expect those in power to do in similar circumstances.
Where do you think all these allegations are coming from?
I think everyone is entitled to their views and I want to be on record that the media is entitled to publishing what they think is in public interest whether right or wrong because the media are the mouth-piece of the people. The onus is upon the officer in question to prove that what was in the media was either wrong or right.
Some people say you resigned so that you could cross over easily to the NRM without having any responsibilities holding you back.
But which crossing? We have already weakened NRM. I am a founder member of FDC right from Reform Agenda. For anybody to start dreaming that having weakened NRM to the extent that people are now even daring to stand against it and throw it out of government am going anywhere, I think that is wishful thinking. I bet you even after 10 years I will come back here and talk to you as a member of FDC. Over my dead body, I will never cross to NRM, my party is a FDC, I am a mother in FDC and I believe in the ideology we put in place to deliver this country and the truth will set me free.
What relationship exists between you and President Museveni? Why do you meet him so often that your party has become uncomfortable with it?
Meeting President Museveni shouldn’t bother anyone. I have met him as a head of state on principle and on issues with information to my party colleagues. I have a constituency which has issues and which issues I have a responsibility to address. I talk to Olara, I talk to Mao and heads of other parties. I don’t know whether as party members we are not allowed to talk to any other leader. We even expect NRM members to talk to Besigye, otherwise how do you engage your opponent if you don’t communicate? I will continue to lobby for my constituency and I will continue meeting with anybody who can save my people. Like this issue of nodding disease, I cannot be diverted. I will even go back to Museveni if I have to. And on the allegation that I travelled on government sponsored trips, I have the documents showing that the American Embassy sponsored me to go to New Mexico and the Australian government sponsored me to go to Australia on issues of oil and energy. And I was not alone; I was with other members of parliament both from the ruling party and FDC.
Could you clarify on the money that you supposedly got from the President on the account of nodding disease? Like who exactly received this money and how much was it?
It is unfortunate that the issue of nodding disease is being diverted. It is true that when I visited my constituency I was challenged and I wanted to use my personal money to bring 10 children to the national referral hospital. It caused panic and the LC5 chairperson of Kitgum alleged that my intention was to shame the government and show everyone that it has failed to come to the rescue of its people. These children, as you know, were intercepted on their way. In that process, the President rang me and I assured him that I was bringing 10 children to Mulago and we first had an argument because he wanted to first find out whether the illness is not contagious. After finding out, he said he also wanted to join hands and we bring some of the children to Mulago. At that point we increased the number of children from 10 to 25 and with their helpers and the health workers the number came to about 65 people.
It was being handled and coordinated by my political assistant and the health workers even if I was the one on top of it. So, me not being a patient in Mulago, not being the caretaker of the children I could not have handled the money that was given by the president. I worked with a team which coordinated this and am sure if the President wanted the accountability of this money he knows who to ask and how to get those receipts.
Why did you find it hard to notify your party whenever you met with the President or whenever you left the country? I mean you are a member of the shadow cabinet and there must be procedure, or am I wrong?
I have met the president with information to my party colleagues. Probably the leader of opposition was not in the know but at least my party president has been aware the four times I met with President Museveni officially. When I traveled to New Mexico and Australia, I wrote letters to the speaker and copied to the Leader of Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip. I have copies of those letters.
What do you think this infighting within your party means for the party the broader opposition?
Of course those are NRM strategies and it is upon us as opposition to understand these strategies and identify ways of dealing with them. We should not fall prey to that because when you are being smeared from government side and then your people reject you, it puts people in a dilemma. We should trust our leaders and we should be aware of government ploy to disorganise us and what we can do to make sure we remain united as opposition. That is very frustrating and it is challenging for party members and for their supporters. This business of hearing something from Red Pepper or from wherever and you run to the public because of the panic and you make reckless statements as if you don’t know how to deal with in-house issues. I think we should learn how to handle these issues if we don’t want to lose track.
You were accused by the Leader of Opposition of being inefficient and incompetent as a shadow minister. What is the problem?
I have served on the shadow cabinet for six years now and the record I have there doesn’t portray me as a non-performer but an award winner. While I was the shadow minister for water and environment, I was the only shadow minister who received three awards. Ugandans have given me a name which remains in the history of Uganda as mama Mabira and all that didn’t come on a silver plate. In the current position where I have been serving for one year now, I got an accident with in the first months which incapacitated me. And if I have not delivered to the expectations of some people, they should appreciate that fact and judge me fairly as I couldn’t deliver efficiently while I was bedridden and I needed time to recover from that horrible accident.
There seems to be a vacuum in FDC with other members seemingly unimpressed with the way the Leader of opposition accuses them of interacting with the ruling party members or receiving money from suspicious sources. Do you think so? What do you think is the problem?
All these accusations have been used on many people. Even my President himself has been accused of lying and doing businesses with Museveni. This speculation and these strategies are heavily used by government on strong and popular people within the opposition. And this has caused mistrust within the party. There is also rumour-mongering within the party and internal wrangles where everybody wants to be seen shining. They tend to think some members are becoming too much for them and earning names above them. There are some opportunistic and selfish members who think it should be their names coming up and whenever there is an upcoming individual they tend to pull the person down. There is also the issue of struggle for positions, but they forget that these are public offices and we will serve in them and leave when the time comes. If we struggle now before we come to government, how are we going to behave when we are in government? Won’t we kill each other? I personally think that in my case the issue of nodding disease has made some of my colleagues uncomfortable. They think I own nodding disease and they are afraid I am soon becoming “mama nodding” after earning “mama mabira”. This is very unfortunate because we are talking about life and death here. What my colleagues should have done is to go to their constituencies and also ferry some children to Mulago. That would have solved the problem.
Could this be about the Besigye succession?
I don’t know, because for me I don’t want to succeed Besigye, I don’t have any ambitions there. I don’t know why they are trying to fight me.