Tainted minister handling big deals for President
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGIA MATSIKO | Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | That drama that played out on May 8 when Betty Amongi, the Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, appeared before the Land Inquiry sitting in Kampala left one question: What would President Yoweri Museveni do about it?
At the centre of Amongi’s appearance, the second before the commission, were allegations of high corruption and property grabbing against the minister.
But the appearance also revealed emotive issues of security of property, misuse of power, and lack of integrity in public officials.
The commission is inquiring into the effectiveness of the laws, policies and processes of land acquisition, land administration, land management and land registration in Uganda.
Justice Catherine Bamugemereire chairs the inquiry, whose other members include; Robert Ssebunnya, the Senior Presidential Advisor on Buganda Matters, Mary Oduka Ochan, a development expert, Joyce Gunze Habaasa, a land Consultant, Rose Nakayi, an advocate, Fredrick Ruhindi, a former Attorney General, George Bagonza Tinkamanyire former LCV Chairperson, Hoima district, Ebert Isaiah Busobozi Byenkya, a lawyer, Olive Kazaarwe Mukwaya, a judicial officer, Douglas Singiza and John Bosco Rujagaata Suuza.
Unlike some witnesses who perspired, cried, and fawned before the commission, Amongi’s make-up, chili red-lipstick, and neatly bobbed hair remained unruffled.
Instead, it was the commissioners turn to appear paralysed when she calmly denied any wrong doing, citing memory loss of events, ignorance of procedure, and lacunas in the law.
Some of the commissioners and many observers of her performance questioned where she got all the confidence when it appeared she was implicated in very serious crimes.
Kololo, where Amongi is said to have grabbed property, is among the areas with the most expensive property rates in Kampala, often valued in dollars because shillings cannot apply.
So when former Attorney General Fredrick Ruhindi heard that Amongi had in two days got hold of three prime properties in Kololo and another in equally prime industrial area, he wondered how that could be possible.
“Perhaps some of us live on another planet,” Ruhindi said.
But Amongi calmly informed him that, in fact, she did not move a finger to acquire them. The deal was easily clinched by her worker, one Henry Mubiru.
Some of those watching the drama and know her intimately were not surprised. Amongi is known to be a tough person.
And this time, she possibly appeared confident because she is perceived to have President Museveni’s ear on property and land matters in the country.
Amongi has been Museveni’s points-person in the controversial acquisition of 7,000 hectares of land in Amuru District in northern Uganda for setting up a sugar plantation and factory in a government joint venture with the dollar billionaire Madhvani family. The project requires 40,000 hectares. A day before Amongi appeared before the Bamugemereire Commission, the Parliamentary Budget Committee had approved Shs12 billion to compensate some of the project-affected people. Another sugar factory in the same area; Atiak Sugar factory, of individuals fronted by President Museveni was set to get Shs21billion from the Operation Wealth Creation.