By Agather Atuhaire
Western Region Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga has been at the centre of the oil debate ever since he tabled documents alleging that three top ministers Amama Mbabazi, Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek received bribes from oil companies. He speaks about this and more in an exclusive year-ender interview with The Independent’s Agather Atuhaire.
You took parliament and the whole country by storm when you tabled the oil bribery documents in parliament in October. As a new and young legislator, how did that make you feel?
It makes me glad that parliament is focusing on the things I have always wanted to deal with particularly corruption. I have always believed that if we did not have corrupt tendencies as human beings Uganda would be far better than it is. We have remained poor because those who manage public funds use them for their selfish purposes. But I would be unfair to my colleagues to give myself the credit. There is a team of members of parliament like Abdu Katuntu, Sekikubo, Niwagaba, Mariam Nalubega, Nsereko and so many others, so it is teamwork. They all detest corruption.
Some think by tabling baseless documents in parliament, you were not working for Ugandans that elected you but working for another individual or group to satisfy your own motives. What do you say about that?
Well, I have heard this but the most unfortunate was Andrew Mwenda. I thought he would read through the lines and appreciate what we are doing but people do things for different reasons. I guess people are failing to understand this but fortunately they are an insignificant number of Ugandans. It is because this concerns the so called untouchables. So they are wondering how this is possible and start thinking there must be a mightier force pushing it. People never thought Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi could be tackled that way. But I can tell you if there was any evidence of any external influence, Mbabazi or Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa would expose us because they have the means. So they should not run away from the issue and be fair to Ugandans.
What have you done about the authenticity of the oil bribery documents ever since you tabled them in parliament? Have you done any further investigations?
I hope parliament will be able to procure a forensic expert as soon as possible and I hope the Constitutional Court will not disorganise that as well. We should be able to move ahead to substantiate the contents of those documents. And I can assure you Ugandans would be surprised if it is discovered that they received much more bribes than we know. When we said `produce your bank statements for the last 2 years’, people started panicking because they know they have monies they cannot account for.
Some people say you took advantage of the rule of privilege in parliament to make a name for yourself by displaying forged documents which tarnished other people’s names. Would you repeat the same allegations outside the house?
I have repeated them over and over again, on radio, on television and I am saying it here without fear. I believe these fellows took bribes and that is why the oil sector is being mismanaged and we should try to preempt a Nigerian situation here. If president Museveni and Mwenda, as they say, found these documents worth investigating why wouldn’t I? I found documents and took them to the House and said colleagues, I have information here that some of us received bribes, could we investigate the truthfulness of this information. The members unanimously agreed. And that’s the first time the President says he had carried out an investigation and he did not find them genuine, later the IGP says they are still investigating, then Mwenda writes that they could not find an expert who could investigate because apparently the banks wouldn’t cooperate. They are all saying contradictory statements and they have never produced any report of their investigation. And they say they know where these documents came from, who forged them how come no one was arrested, no one charged and no one prosecuted with the way these documents have shaken the government?
You seem to be so convinced that these documents are authentic and that these individuals received bribes even when others doubt their authenticity. Why are you so sure about them? Is there anything you have not told Ugandans?
You know, in 2004 Heritage Oil got its exploration license renewed for six years. At that time Energy Africa came on board which later sold its shares to Hardman and Hardman later sold to Tullow. In 2008, a significant oil well- Kingfisher was discovered. The minister of Energy wrote to these two companies telling them that under our laws, the new exploration area reverts back to government. In 2010 the two companies’ six year contract expired and in that same year, Heritage sold its 50 percent stake to Tullow at US$1.5 billion. The government consented to the selling of what did not exist because the licenses had expired and the entire area had reverted to government. This means that if Tullow decided to sell its shares as well, it would probably sell it at the same amount that Heritage sold its own or even more. That means that Uganda would have gotten from these companies US$3 billion. Could this have happened by mistake? No. This couldn’t have happened by mistake. Money exchanged hands and Uganda lost about Shs 8 trillion and as a cover up they started running after taxes worth Shs 1 trillion.
Most people have challenged the genuineness of those documents you brought to parliament. Don’t you think telling people about their source could clear some matters?
The Whistleblowers’ Protection Act protects people who bring information to the public domain. So I would be violating that Act by revealing people who brought information to me and asked for anonymity. People would never in future trust me with any information. Even if some one put a pistol on my forehead I would not say anything about the source of these documents because for me that is principle. But I am not the only one who has those documents, am sure people who got them earlier know where they came from.
It has been deemed dangerous to just get allegations or documents from anywhere and accuse individuals in parliament. What if it turns out that you were wrong all along? Don’t you think you could be punished or sued for defamation?
Not at all, fortunately being a lawyer. The law would be unjust if whoever accuses is guilty of accusing incase the ones they accuse are found innocent. Otherwise people would never bring cases to court. I believe no one would attempt to take me to court.
The constitutional court has halted the investigations of the parliamentary adhoc committee on the oil bribery allegations. What do you say about that, do you think it is one of the executive’s ways to shield the prime minister?
I am aware of the sub judice rule that you are not supposed to discuss the merits of the case when it is before court. But it shows the dishonesty of our leaders because you now have Mbabazi who picks up his boy, a security operative in the Electoral Commission in the name of Twinobusingye Soverino. I know him very well by the way; we went to law school together and he was being paid for by Mbabazi. That is a situation where some body does everything possible to stop parliament from doing its work. If they were as innocent as they claim to be they would actually be struggling to have this investigation done so that it cleans their names.
It has become a tendency for the supposed voters to come up and defend their MPs every time they are implicated in corruption scandals; the Kinkizi voter who took parliament to court, Kabakumba’s supporters who petitioned the President etc. what implications does this have on the fight against corruption?
Every human being has sympathizers. It is only the degree that varies, there are those who are sentimentally attached to you and because of that reason they are always by your side. That is why even people that commit murder have sureties. But I don’t want to think there are many Ugandans on the side of these corrupt officials because honestly all Ugandans have been with us in this struggle. The challenge we have is to be consistent. We must not be selective to deal with every corruption scandal as it comes.
What does Kabakumba’s resignation mean for parliament, the executive and the general fight against corruption?
There is a message that has been sent that we have a parliament which is going to stop at nothing to expose whoever is corrupt. That sends a signal and will put everyone on the alert to be careful before they sign any documents and I am sure the message has sunk.
Most legislators, you inclusive have been pushing for the resignation of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Hilary Onek but they have remained defiant with the support of the President. All of a sudden Kabakumba is implicated in a scandal and she is forced to resign and not even her party or party chairman defends here. How are these two cases different? Don’t you think it has confirmed many people’s accusations that the president defends Mbabazi?
This portrays an element of patronage. Museveni thinks if he removes Mbabazi or Kuteesa his regime will not survive which is not necessarily true. These men are not credible at all. In any case the President would probably do better without them. It is more or less like selective treatment, because the President has had a long history with Mbabazi and Kuteesa so he thinks probably he should keep them around and sacrifice Kabakumba. That is unfortunate because selective treatment can cause chaos and eventually a crisis in a society
What is the way forward or the new strategy for parliament in its fight against corruption notably in the oil sector especially now that there is a court injunction on the activities of the adhoc committee?
We can be dealing with other corruption scandals as we look for more proof on this particular issue. I don’t think the issues with court will take long but I am sure we will.