How Museveni letter trapped Muhwezi
Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On Tuesday July 27, the new Minister for security, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi made a humbling return to the headlines of Ugandan news media when he made a statement to parliament regarding the controversial vehicle tracking deal between Uganda and a “bankrupt” Russian company.
Muhwezi was just one month into office but as he made the statement before parliament, many of those listening and watching were unaware that he was possibly the victim of a sternly worded letter written to him by President Yoweri Museveni regarding the deal with the Russian company, M/S Joint Stock Company Global security.
The letter is said to have been drafted by the State House Legal Department headed by one Florence Kiconco who, incidentally, is the wife of one Albert Rugaju; the Uganda representative of the controversial Russian company.
For many observers, however, Muhwezi appearing before parliament barely a month after being appointed to respond to queries over suspected corruption in the deal had a sense of déjà vu. For them Gen. Muhwezi was already a marked man.
This is partly because Muhwezi was in March 1998 censured by parliament over alleged corruption and influence peddling. Muhwezi, who was Minister of State for Primary Education, was accused of flouting army regulations barring soldiers from doing private business with foreigners and failing to explain his alleged massive wealth.
Later in 2007, Muhwezi who was Minister of Health, two fellow ministers and Alice Kaboyo who is now Minister of State for Luweero Triangle and Rwenzori Region were sued before the Anti-corruption Court over alleged misappropriation of Shs1.6 billion meant for activities of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI). Muhwezi was acquitted but Kaboyo and one minister were convicted.
Based on such incidents, many observers quickly concluded that “here we go again.”
Muhwezi under pressure
In this case, however, it appears Muhwezi was acting under pressure from President Museveni when he pushed through the Russian deal which had stalled for three years. Muhwezi must have known that Museveni urgently wants vehicles tracked following the June 01, 2021 assassination attempt on the Minister of Works and Transport, Gen. Katumba Wamala.
But Muhwezi’s troubles, it appears, arose mainly out of the strongly worded letter to him from Museveni dated June 13, 2021 which The Independent has seen. Museveni “directs” Muhwezi to conclude the agreement with the Russian company within two weeks.
“Do not waste time with any other group because these were the first to bring this proposal,” Museveni tells Muhwezi.
In the letter, Museveni says he was initially concerned about two things regarding the Russian company; first, whether its technology works, and two the funding for the project.
“On the effectiveness of the technology, read Engineer (Gerald) Lumu’s report. He says that it is effective and anybody trying to tamper with the gadget would be detected,” Museveni writes,“This should have been implemented four years ago. This would have made the work of tracing criminals very simple.”
At this point, it appears, Muhwezi was feeling under pressure. Yet Muhwezi had not yet been sworn-in as minister yet.
As a result, on June 24, just three days after being sworn into office, Muhwezi wrote to the Secretary Office of the President, Yunus Kakande, citing the President’s letter of June 13, 2021 that the agreement with the Russians must be signed urgently.
“Therefore, as the Accounting Officer of the Office of the President, make sure all the processes are expedited before the meeting scheduled for 25th June, 2021 so that we conclude this matter,” Muhwezi wrote.
The Office of the President replied the same day.
“The Draft Agreement should be endorsed as the government position under the ‘pilot Program basis,” said the letter signed by Secretary of the Office of the President, Yunus Kakande.
Citing the outcome of a meeting the same day of “key stakeholders” in operationalising the project, Kakande told Muhwezi that the project needed to be piloted first in the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area by the investor and at the investors’ own cost.
Kakande’s letter to Muhwezi added in part that: “Since the Financial Model of the ITMS project is an analytical document and is provisional, it should thus be appended with no figure.”
Then about four days after Muhwezi was sworn-in, on June 25, 2021, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja also wrote to Muhwezi demanding an update on the project.
“The directive of H.E the President gave you two weeks in which to conclude the agreement with the Russian Company,” Nabbanja reminded Muhwezi.
But on June 28, 2021 Muhwezi also got a letter from Patrick Ocailap; on behalf of the Permanent Secretary /Secretary to the Treasury. Ocailap’s letter communicated a similar position to that of Secretary of the Office of the President, Yunus Kakande. It emphasized the need to pilot the tracking project.
“The pilot shall be treated as a proof of concept of the technology and its adaptability and/or suitability to Uganda,” the letter said.
Faced with pressure from the President on one hand, and warnings from the technocrats on the other, Muhwezi and an inter-Ministerial Committee met the Russians on July 01, 2021 and agreed terms of the agreement.
Muhwezi also agreed with the Inter-Ministerial Committee to move quickly. They formed a smaller committee of police, Ministry of Works & Transport, Security, NEC, NITA, NIRA and Office of the President.
On July 23, 2021, the government of Uganda and the Russian company signed the controversial agreement. And the scandal hit the roof almost immediately.
And four days later, on June 27, Muhwezi was before parliament to explain and try to control the damage.
As he tried to show in his statement to parliament, the deal between Uganda and the Russian company was agreed long before Muhwezi was appointed minister.