Will `God’ forgive him again?
Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Mwesigwa Rukutana, the Minister of State Minister for Labour who was arrested and remanded to prison on Sept.05 in relation to violence in the just concluded NRM parliamentary primary elections, is no stranger to the top and down of life.
He has been involved in money scandals and political fights and been kicked out of parliament for misbehavior. But one thing is clear; he always stumbles back to the top.
This is not the first time Rukutana is in the spotlight for his gun-toting antics. In November 2018, there was uproar after a photo surface on social media of him apparently herding cattle on his farm while holding an AK47 rifle. When put to task over the issue, Rukutana reacted as if there was nothing wrong with him herding cattle with the AK47.
“What if it was me in the photo,” he told a journalist. “Let’s assume it was mine, what could be wrong with that.” He said he has lawfully owned a gun for over 20 years and the matter died down.
That is why the most interesting bit about his latest escapade will be watching how he bounces back again. It will point to how President Yoweri Museveni is this time handling the so-called “untouchables” within his government.
Rukutana, who is also the MP for Rushenyi County in Ntungamo District, is charged with causing bodily harm, attempted murder, malicious damage to property and threatening violence. He allegedly pulled a gun on a convoy of his political opponent. He allegedly committed the offences on Sept. 04 during the NRM primaries in his constituency.
The 60-year old Rukutana who has held the seat for over 20 years appears to have been caught flatfooted when it became obvious he was being licked by a younger latecomer to the race, the 52-year old Naome Kabasharira.
Kabasharira has been the Ntungamo district Woman MP longer than Rukutana has been MP and appeared comfortable in her seat. But various politicians opposed to Rukutana convinced her to take him on with their backing.
Their tussle appears to have caught fire because Rukutana and Kabasharira have a history. They are former business associates and she is his sister-in-law. The stakes were equally high career-wise. Rukutana’s loss in the primaries means he will not be a member of parliament for the first time in about 25 years.
That means that although he has in the past got favour from Museveni who is also NRM party chairman, the loss in the primaries also tosses into the air any chances of Rukutana being retained as a cabinet minister. Museveni likes to have vote winners around him.
The untouchables surface
That Rukutana might walk away without serving any jail time is partly down to his powerful connections in high circles that always step in to rescue him.
Rukutana’s biggest escape happened in October 2011 when, together with two other ministers, he was arraigned before the High Court in Kampala and charged with the offences of abuse of office and causing financial loss.
Rukutana, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa and then chief whip John Nasasira were accused of misusing about Shs500 billion meant for hosting the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM). They were all forced to resign from parliament and the trio appeared cooked.
But the case was a few months later thrown out court on a technicality. The Constitutional Court ruled that the case could not stand because the Inspector General of Government (IGG) who was prosecuting the ministers was in breach of the constitution. The lawyers for accused argued that under the law, only the IGG could prosecute the case, moreover with two deputy inspectors general. In this case, there was no IGG because the office holder was in an acting capacity and President Museveni had not named a substantive IGG and second deputy IGG.
Interestingly, Rukutana was in court at about the same time as Kutesa was battling another corruption case in parliament, the so-called Tullow Scandal. It was alleged that Kutesa, together with then Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, and then- Internal Affairs minister Hilary Onek had taken bribes from the Anglo-Irish oil company Tullow Oil in exchange for concessions in oil fields.
MPs alleged that between June 01 and July 16, 2010, Tullow paid up to $100 million to “expert” bureaucrats, among them the three ministers.
The case was related to allegations that Museveni also took bribes from the Italian oil firm, ENI, in the sale of Tullow Oil shares. Museveni denied the accusations made by the same MPs against him. He said the documents the MPs presented as proof were in fact “forgeries”.
“I have never been given any money by anybody,” he said. “Did I receive money from ENI? I am the one who stopped them . . . In fact I chose the Chinese,” he said, referring to the eventual deal which the Chinese state oil firm, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) won.
Barely 10 months later, in August 2012, President Museveni reappointed Rukutana, Kutesa, and Nasasira back to his cabinet. At this point, Rukutana appeared to cement his position as an “untouchable” within the Museveni government. And Rukutana loves to act untouchable.
`Report me to God’
In a telling incident in February last year, Rukutana who is a top lawyer, cursed and walked out on a judge appointed by President Museveni to investigate corruption in the land sector.
The Land Probe chairperson, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, had summoned Rukutana to defend himself on charges that he wrongly advised and misinformed President Museveni on the ownership of a prime plot in a Kampala city suburb called Mutungo hill.
Based on his legal opinion, the government was on the verge of paying out Shs24.6 billion and another Shs8 billion. Initially, Rukutana played for time. But when that ran out and he had to appear before the Land Commission, he reportedly acted impudently and a sharp exchange ensued between him and the judge.
“My position is very clear,” Rukutana told off the judge, “As long as I am respected, I will be respectful. If I am not respected, I will not respect anybody.”
“Okay, I think let’s stop here,” Bamugemereire said. She said Rukutana was showing the commission to be a waste of time.
“There have been allegations that these figures and this contracts are arrived at through an inflated, irregular and even probably fraudulent process. We were hoping to get answers to these questions. And it turns out we are confronted with a situation, a situation of hostility, combativeness, disrespect and an attitude never ever seen before,” Bamugemereire said.
“As it turns out, this level of disrespect by government officials makes it impossible for us to continue with this type of investigation. If this level of disrespect continues, we might actually rethink our method as a commission. But as of now, this interview is over. You are dismissed and discharged. Please get out of here,” Bamugemereire said.
When journalists as Rukutana to comment he said: “I don’t give a damn. Let her tell the president, she can even tell God.”
Soon after his arrest, a cartoon in one of the local dailies depicted Rukutana behind bars with the caption “May be he has finally be reported to God”.
Soon after this, the country waited anxiously for Museveni to act. Museveni did nothing. Rukutana walked with an even more pronounced swagger.
At around the same time, Rukutana was embroiled in another fight with the Minister of State for Privatisation and Investment, Evelyn Anite, over the failing Uganda Telecom Company.
Anite was bent on causing an audit into UTL to enable government confirm or clear the allegations about the mess at the telecom company. But a standoff ensued between her on one side and the Attorney General’s office and some Ministry of Finance officials on the other side.
On July 16, 2019, President Museveni directed that the audit goes ahead. But Rukutana and company continued to oppose the audit and removal of the administrator, one Twebaze Bemanya, who Anite accused of corruption.
Anite said Rukutana and Bemanya were part of mafia cabal within the government. She suggested they want to kill her.
In reply, Rukutana threw a cheeky barb: “If by advising her on legal matters you become murderers, mafia, cabal, cartel, crooks, so be it. I don’t have any hostility towards her; if I am among the murderers she is referring to, then…if it occurred to her that I could be a murderer, then we should take her to Butabika to get her head checked. Why would I murder a girl anyway? I know how to put girls to some other good use.”
In another incident, on January 24, 2017, Bank of Uganda wired Shs9 billion on a High Court account after Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) was compelled to deposit Shs46 billion it owed a Chinese firm. But the money ended up on two accounts, one held by Welt Machinen Engineering Limited whose signatories were Ben Koryang and Felix Oroma; sons of the Minister of Energy, Peter Lokeris, and the other by the Attorney General. Another Shs12 billion was released in July.
The money was said to be compensation for the mysterious Kamusalaba rock, which Lokeris sons claimed to own. The Chinese road contractor, China Road and Bridge Construction Corporation (CRBC) rejected their claim because the Nakapiripirit District Administration had given permission to remove it. On December 20, 2016, CRBC had secured a court order halting any payment of money to Welt Machinen Engineering.
0n March 27, 2017 an Interim Order staying execution was issued but Welt Machinen Engineering Ltd and the Attorney General said the money had already been paid to them. Rukutana, as deputy Attorney General, agreed with Welt Machinen Engineering Ltd that UNRA pays to the Attorney General Shs11 billion of the money due to CRBC.
After watching how Rukutana has jumped over all the hurdles in the past to climb even higher in the echelons of government, many Uganda’s appear certain he will survive even this one. The only question is how and where he will land.
Museveni signaled his intent on Rukutana when, just hours after Rukutana was arraigned in a magistrates court on Sept. 07 and remanded to prison until Sept.15, the President said he should not be given bail.
“The Police did not give Police bond because, according to the Police, the evidence is clear and they should go for trial,” Museveni wrote on social media, “I hope the DPP will also oppose bail. The image of impunity is not acceptable.”
“The shallow crooks still think they can bribe, can intimidate, can assault or can, even, alter results of the obvious that was witnessed by hundreds,” Museveni said, “This is incredible shallowness.”
But before this, several commentators had said Rukutana could easily escape again.
“This reckless minister should be severely punished,” said Alibe Jamal, on The Independent website.
He added: “It’s really embarrassing for a minister to behave in such a manner. But am afraid our justice system is usually most strict on members of the opposition and the poor citizens who cannot afford to bribe their way.”