The politics behind calls to censure Kasaija, fire Muhakanizi
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | Recently, according to State House sources, President Yoweri Museveni was on phone with Secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi. He sounded to be in no mood for pleasantries. “I am tired of this,” the president reportedly said seething with anger.
On the end, those near Museveni could hear a panicky Muhakanizi stammering severally. Finally he was heard saying: “Mr. President I am also tired of these lies. Those behind them should be investigated.”
The call lasted a few minutes and the president slammed the phone seemingly unconvinced by the response from his chief lieutenant at the Ministry of Finance.
President Museveni was calling following allegations that Muhakanizi and Finance Minister Matia Kasaija mishandled a $200 million (Approx. Shs700billion) loan from the Eastern and Southern African Trade Bank (commonly known as the PTA Bank).
Over the same matter, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament on Feb.7 tabled a report calling for the censoring of the two.
The joint team of 34 MPs from the ruling NRM party and opposition parties recommended that: “For misleading the House to believe that the most critical funding objective was medical supplies, lying to parliament in writing that NMS (National Medical Stores) had never provided the needed supply contracts to enable disbursement of funds and further duping parliament by repackaging the same loan thus obtaining money by false pretense, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Hon. Matia Kasaija should be censured”.
“For lying to parliament and for superimposing his authority on the loan acquisition against strong advice in writing by the Governor Bank of Uganda, the Accountant General and the Director of Economic Affairs MoFPED and superintending the gross diversion of public funds, Mr. Keith Muhakanizi, the PS/ST should be relieved of his office,” the PAC team added.
However, although the PAC report tabled in parliament on Feb.7 gave a deadline of 60 days for these and other recommendations, President Museveni has not acted on any of them. The case, which first surfaced in 2016, keeps flaring up. And Kasaija and Muhakanizi are living dangerously because Museveni has shown reluctance to protect them.
At a previous cabinet meeting, the President had been even more brutal with Muhakanizi. “You go messing up here and there and I have to clean up,” the president had said before startled cabinet officials, slammed the door and stormed out of the cabinet meeting room at State House, Entebbe.
To officials who attended the meeting, it appeared that Muhakanizi’s days were numbered. Around the time, a fight was raging between Muhakanizi and Stephen Isabalijja, who had just been appointed the Energy Ministry Permanent Secretary. Isabalija had led to the firing of Kabagambe Kalisa, the then Energy PS and talk was rife Muhakanizi was next. Isabalija had told those close to him that Muhakanizi was another problem—negotiating bad deals for government, some of which he alleged even to the president that the PSST was personally benefiting from.
“Some of these people are taking advantage of the challenges I have heard with State House,” Muhakanizi was overheard telling friends in reference to Isabalija, “they are telling all sorts of lies to push the president to fire Muhakanizi.”
In the PTA loan case, Kasaija and Muhakanizi deny any wrongdoing, spew a battery of technical data and evidence to back their defense. Rather than follow facts, they say, the PAC MPs appear to be determined to rely on allegations to have them lose their jobs.
“It has been a scheme to hit us with all these allegations such that the President gets tired and fires Muhakanizi,” the secretary to the treasury told The Independent at his offices on Feb.8. “They (detractors) have been waiting. Part of what you are seeing in parliament is being driven by that.”
So far Kasaija and Muhakanizi appear to be getting some cushioning from government departments that could easily cut them down.