Sunday, March 5, 2023

The unfolding sleaze arising from 450 pre-painted iron sheets, marked “Office of the Prime Minister; Not for Sale” meant for distribution to vulnerable people in Karamoja sub-region but allegedly recovered in Namisindwa district from homes of the relatives to Minister Mary Gorreti Kitutu, if proven, would be a heavy stench on government’s otherwise good efforts in Karamoja, but the sunshine is on. 

It’s being alleged that her mother, brothers, close relatives and political supporters in Namisindwa district who have since recorded statements with police were found selling the iron sheets for commercial gain. Iron sheets, goats and political mobilisation are part of the resettlement package for youths abandoning armed cattle rustling locally known as Karachunas so that they settle down, engage in legitimate commerce and hopefully they become more productive.

It’s an indictment on policy, governance, internal control procedures and leadership particularly in the ministry for Karamoja Affairs led by Kitutu if she directly requisitioned and had 12,200 of iron sheets delivered to her for distribution to the so-called beneficiaries who weren’t independently verified. It’s either a major administrative oversight or impunity.

It’s is even more shocking that the line minister is said to have chosen her  colleagues in cabinet and parliament as beneficiaries for items meant for vulnerable people under her care, who every Ugandan would agree deserve more compassion and support. Equally, it’s an oversight for the senior politicians to request for or receive these items without verifying their actual origin as some have since claimed. But a good investigation should trail the telephone calls logs to establish the depth of each one’s involvement.

To have the minister with her personal staff through telephone WhatsApp messages solely choose fellow senior political leaders as beneficiaries points to them falsely believing that these items were theirs to dispense with as they pleased, probably to galvanize future electoral fortunes.

Kitutu is now facing an avalanche of scrutiny, political and media blitz over alleged mishandling and diversion of relief items whose launch President Yoweri Museveni made mid last year with an undertaking that distribution would begin immediately. Nine months later, it’s an embarrassing trail of sleaze.

Early 2022 Parliament allocated 39bn supplementary budget to purchase 100,000 roofing iron sheets and 74,000 goats for distribution as part of a resettlement package for the Karachunas in efforts to consolidate security, peace and stability in Karamoja where hundreds were recently killed in inter-clan armed livestock thefts.

Records show that Kitutu, whose docket falls under OPM requisitioned for and received in her personal initials (MKA), 12,200 iron sheets to distribute to “vulnerable groups” during her “mobilisation” drives in Karamoja. A former civil servant, Kitutu, joined elective politics in 2015 and has served as state minister for environment, Energy Minister, and currently Karamoja Affairs. Clearly, Kitutu is in an unenviable position, feeling the heat from multiple corners and we wait to see how she wriggles out of the storm and multiple investigations.

Now, a line should be drawn especially for ministers and elected politicians so that in future they don’t flout government procedures for delivering public services when administrative structures for procurement, delivery and accountability exist.

A host of ministers who were named as beneficiaries of the bonanza have admitted but with poisonous caveats, some saying they were simply called to pick up the items. Others justified it saying they have already distributed or intended to handover the items to needy groups in their own respective constituencies outside Karamoja. How many of them will publicly stand with Kitutu under the scotching heat remains to be seen.

The melodrama was first discovered intelligence operatives in Namisindwa who allegedly found Kitutu’s brother and mother selling iron sheets marked “Office of the Prime Minister. Not for Sale,” and has since attracted investigations from State House Anti-Corruption Unit, Inspectorate of Government (IG), and police. In the meantime, MPs and sections of the public and media are yelling the ire that Kitutu should resign, be censured or get sacked by President Museveni.

Obviously, from the investigations the full story of relief items meant for Karamoja whose procurement and distributions have been delayed, compromised, mishandled, and now said to be diverted will be uncovered and appropriate actions taken. A thorough investigation should reveal the most recent procured stocks for all the affirmative line ministries of Luwero Triangle, Karamoja, Teso, Northern Uganda, and Bunyoro affairs to check the integrity of OPM stores, and as well determine whether the iron sheets recently received by ministers were not meant for Karamoja.

In some respects, this scandal is similar to others where government officials have connived to divert, mishandle, or steal often with little trace, items or programs meant for disaster relief, recovery and resettlements since the Luwero Triangle, Northern Uganda and Teso Affairs affirmative ministries were created. Yet somehow it appears no useful lessons have been learnt over the years. Hopefully, this time round, the findings will enable government to establish a more robust system for accountability throughout relief and disaster management chain from needs assessment, procurement, storage, requisition and distribution.