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Mayor Kezaala fights back

By Onghwens Kisangala

In January, Mohammed Kezaala, mayor of Jinja municipality, was arrested and charged by the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Faith Mwondha, with abuse of office and of misappropriating municipal funds. The IGG alleged that 100 iron sheets and 820 bags of cement earmarked for charity organisations were never delivered, despite a payment of Shs16.6 million to Green Summer Enterprises from the Mayors Charity Fund. The charge followed a report issued by the IGG in December, which had accused Kezaala of distributing land to a Muslim association he belonged to and urged his removal from office. Kezaala, a DP faithful, claims he is the victim of a witch-hunt. He gave The Independents Onghwens Kisangala his side of the story.

Are your battles with the IGG, or with the government?

I wouldnt rush to conclude that it is the government, although I get the impression that there is a strong force behind the IGGs actions. This started as a local dispute in Busoga politics. My long-time friend Harry Kasigwa, MP for Jinja West, is the brain behind everything that is happening to me now. Because we contested the same seat in 2001, he believes that come 2011, I am going to run against him.

Why would the IGG engineer a case against you when your actual political enemies are elsewhere?

Kasigwa connived with some people in Jinja Municipal Council, and wrote a petition to the IGG complaining about me. Their aim is to keep me out of public office for the next five years. Of course, the NRM would like to see members of the opposition fighting among themselves. These are the forces working with the IGG.

Why do you think the IGG had to exert pressure for you to be removed even against a court order?

I am one of the fast-rising stars in Busoga politics. Other leaders in Busoga are scared about my prominence in the region. They ganged up and started pressurising the IGG.

How do you respond to the IGG allegations against you?

If any wrong was committed – which I do not believe – Faith Mwondha should have apprehended the councils technical officers, not me, the political head.

But the political head can influence underhand activities.

You cannot accuse me of failing to put cement in the council store. The mayor is not responsible for this. In any case, I have nothing to do with the procurement process. Second, the IGG cannot single me out for distributing land to the Muslim community when the minutes I gave her indicate that this was not an individual decision but one of the whole council. There was no dissenting voice.

Why did the IGG have to effect your removal from office in your absence?

Late last year, I secured a court order from the High Court restraining Speaker of Jinja Municipal Council from doing anything aimed at removing me from office. Yet the IGG somehow went ahead and arrested me. They incarcerated me in Luzira (prison) and convened an illegal meeting in total defiance of the court order. We secured another court order on the very day of that meeting, restraining them from removing me from office, but again they defied it. The meeting building was surrounded by security agents from ISO and Uganda Police Force, obstructing my lawyers from serving the new court order.

Was the court order restraining the IGG from removing you from office issued before or after your arrest?

Before. She went ahead and signed a warrant of arrest and that is how they picked me from my office. But the manner of arrest was strange. It was designed to embarrass me. The order to arrest me was signed on January 5. But they didn’t want to arrest me from my home or on the streets – they wanted to humiliate me before my councillors.

What was special about you being charged and tried in Kampala?

I am told one of the reasons to try me in Kampala was that the authorities knew that they would be overwhelmed by the crowd that would turn up if I was tried in Jinja. On the day I was released, people were celebrating as I entered Jinja town. Police started shooting in the air to disperse people. Also, it was the Jinja High Court that issued the original interim court order against the IGG’s report. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable taking her case before a court whose order she had defied.

Did you use the council money for personal business, as you are accused  100 pieces of iron sheet and 820 bags of cement?

The IGG said I used these building materials for the construction of my house. But I used tiles to roof my house. I do not sleep in a mabati house. And I completed my house in 2005 – before I became mayor. I want to state categorically that not even technical staff could have misused these materials. Fine, there could have been errors in the procurement procedures in that the cement and iron sheets did not enter the council stores. But what is certain is that the beneficiaries received these items.

According to the IGGs pronouncement, you are no longer the mayor of Jinja municipality. What makes you claim the mayorship despite the council vote?

What about according to the law? Uganda is not a failed state. The High Court ruled that the IGGs recommendations as contained in her report should wait. Yet she went ahead to intimidate the speaker and councillors into moving a vote of no confidence against the mayor. So who is above the other, the IGG or the courts?

The IGG has had problems with local government leaders in Busoga; first in Iganga, now Jinja. What is the problem?

I wouldnt like to speak for the whole of Busoga. I speak only for myself. It is Kezaala that the IGG is interested in. We have reported people who have committed serious crimes in Jinja to the IGG, but she will never act. So it is all a witch-hunt.

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