Uganda Speaker Kadaga speaks out on mafia in government

327 views, Kampala. The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, has expressed outrage over what she termed as impunity by “mafias in government” and lack of punishment for their alleged transgression.

In a no-holds-barred address on Monday to representatives of Commonwealth anti-graft agencies currently meeting in Kampala, Ms Kadaga spoke of “the mafia [in government], working in cahoots with dodgy officials” with “glaring impunity.”

She said such cabal hinders anti-graft fight. The Speaker, whom sources who attended the closed-door dinner meeting described to have been infuriated, also criticised anti-corruption bodies in the country for procrastination.

A highly-placed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ms Kadaga had no kind words for some government officials she did not name, whom she said had turned government service into a hunting ground for personal enrichment.

The Speaker, who recently returned from weeks of treatment in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, narrated how the mafia connive with officials in roads construction chain and Finance ministry to steal public resources yet anti-corruption agencies do nothing about the haemorrhage.

Explaining how the mafia works, Ms Kadaga reportedly told the agencies that one of Parliament’s oversight committees investigated the abuse of public funds and discovered that a colossal amount of money, earmarked for compensation of people along roadways, had not reached the intended recipients.

“The mafia, in cahoots with dodgy officials or like-minds in the road construction chain and the Finance ministry, instead got this compensation money and put it on their bank deposit account for a whole two years!” Ms Kadaga said.

She added, according to one source, that: “What is most shocking and disheartening is that up to now, no action has ever been taken against these individuals. They are still in their offices.”
Ms Kadaga’s press secretary, Mr Sam Obbo, yesterday issued a statement, confirming the statements sources attributed to the Speaker.

He also indicated that one case of the alleged theft of tax payers’ money happened three years ago, but no action was taken.
Mr Obbo’s statement also quoted the Speaker, voicing the House’s frustrations over inordinately delayed or lack of action on specific fraud cases:

“And when the public reads or hears about what’s unearthed by Parliament, they get excited. They expect corrective or punitive action to be taken by us. However, the truth is that our role is to unearth and make recommendations to the Executive and the Judiciary,” the statement reads in part.

A mafia according to Wikipedia, is a type of organised crime syndicate whose primary activities are protected racketeering, arbitrating disputes between criminals, and brokering and enforcing illegal agreements and transactions.

The term gained popularity when Prof Gilbert Bukenya, then vice president, used it in a 2005 interview with this newspaper to describe his enemies and their clandestine activities he said were calculated to bring him down from the political office.

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Explaining the mafia dealings during the Monday meeting, Ms Kadaga reportedly quoted a second case involving civil servants who she said pocketed Shs24b meant for the construction of a road and a bridge in Busoga Sub-region.
She did not name the alleged culprits, but said the cash was pilfered two months ago. No punitive action was taken, the Speaker said.

“Not being the type to give up a good fight, I pursued the issue. Although the road and bridge are going to be constructed — albeit with fresh funds — no action has been taken against the culprit civil servants. The Shs24b is gone,” she said.
Ms Kadaga made the revelation in the presence of Ms Patricia Scotland, the secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and delegates from at least 12 African countries.

She said they would nudge Uganda’s Inspectorate of Government, and other anti-corruption agencies in Africa and the Commonwealth, not to relent in spite of such setbacks and frustrations.
She encouraged Ms Irene Mulyagonja, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), and her counterparts elsewhere, to “engage higher gears and fight the mafia.”

Uganda has a plethora of government organs tasked to fight corruption, the latest addition being the Lt Col Edith Nakalema-led State House Anti-Corruption Unit.
The others include police, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Auditor General and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA).

Ms Kadaga is expected to address a news conference at Parliament today to provide more details on her renewed fight against graft.
In his State-of-the-Nation Address last year, President Museveni questioned the effectiveness of the IGG .
While opening the Commonwelath Anti-corruption agencies’ conference early this week, he said it is infiltrated by wrong elements.

Finance ministry, UNRA respond

Jim Mugunga, Finance spokesperson:
“It is the first time I am hearing of this [mafia accusations]….and it is regrettable because the Ministry of Finance has over the years tightened commitment and disbursement systems to avoid theft of public funds. This is evidenced in the fact that the ministry has often come out as the whistle-blower but also used internal capacities to block dubious transactions.

I have consulted widely within the ministry technical leadership and they were all equally surprised. As a ministry, we avail ourselves to the Speaker to share information relating to the alleged theft so that we undertake a thorough investigation within a prescribed time and publicly report back. Alternatively, we invite the Speaker to avail the information to the IGG or any other oversight investigation agencies to which we commit to fully submit and cooperate.

Mafia is a word that ordinarily mean either a gang or clique. In Uganda it has taken on a life of its own to mean a collection of human beings capable of doing a lot more harm than ordinary… The ministry operates a zero tolerance to corruption policy and hence hires and retains human resource with a proven fit and proper track record. As human error, the ministry HR policies and public service processes eliminates them. This is not unique to our ministry but many in the public and private sector may relate.”

Allan Ssempebwa, UNRA’s media relations manager:
We don’t have such cases. It is the reason am asking for the road name and the list of actual project affected persons. Otherwise, it is a scanty allegation and I would quickly question the motive. These could be extracted from the old Bamugemereire report. A case of using old reports as though it is for current times. We shall respond formally when we receive the concerns from the Speaker’s office.”

Bamugemereire report
The 2016 report by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire found that in the last seven years, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA, before it was restructured) received a total of Shs9 trillion. The money was used to construct only 1,500km of roads in the same period yet was enough to construct at least 5,147km of roads.

Of the Shs9 trillion, at least Shs4 trillion was “misappropriated” in dubious deals notably through collusion between UNRA staff and contractors; flaws in the procurement system; procurement and payment of contracts in foreign currencies, causing pressure on the local currency, premature failure of roads, high construction costs, and delayed implementation of recommendations by the Auditor General.

Investigation: The IGG spokesperson, Ms Munira Ali, IGG yesterday said they are investigating UNRA officials on accusations of corruption and clarified that the on-going investigations are not linked to Bamugemereire report. Some sections of the report were quashed by court after the President asked Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) to follow up.

Although Ms Munira requested for time to dig up information about the two cases Ms Kadaga talked about, the UNRA boss, Ms Allen Kagina asked for specifics of the road projects in question in order to respond properly. However, Mr Sam Obbo said the Speaker will provide the details today morning.