The ongoing iron sheets scandal, in which relief items intended for the Karamoja Sub-region were diverted to other areas by senior government officials, threatens to derail government efforts to cool the tinderbox.
The House Committee on Presidential Affairs, chaired by Ms Jesca Ababiku (Adjuman Woman), heard on Friday that potential beneficiaries’ rage over missing out on relief items could erupt.
Mr David Lagen (Agago County) told the committee that resentment has driven many people to Sudan to purchase firearms, increasing raids.
The government obtained the iron sheets through a supplementary vote for distribution to vulnerable Karimojong and young warriors, known locally as Karachunas, as a reward for abandoning armed violence.
However, government investigations have revealed that the items ended up in the homes of Ms Mary Goretti Kitutu, Karamoja Affairs Minister, and other senior government officials.
“The biggest issue is that we are first giving out to non-Karachunas while leaving out the Karachunas who are supposed to be the first beneficiaries,” Ms Ababiku explained.
Mr Jacob Oboth, the junior Defence minister who has been named as one of the recipients, revealed that the policy of providing iron sheets to those who surrendered their firearms was based on intelligence.
He went on to say that deviating from the policy was counterproductive.
It was also revealed during the March 31 interface that the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) overlooked the original list of intended beneficiaries developed by the commanding officers. According to reports, the OPM compiled its list, which included several politicians.
“These Karachuans were identified by the UPDF.” They’d hand them a black card to show that this one had returned a gun. The OPM and the Ministry of Karamoja decided to create a parallel list, which they used to identify local leaders. “Even the goats were not given to the Karachunas,” Ms Esther Anyakun, the Nakapiripirit Woman lawmaker and junior Disaster Preparedness minister, revealed.
Mr Oboth, who denies receiving iron sheets intended for Karamoja, admitted that a cost-benefit analysis of the government’s interventions in Karamoja yielded “no results.”
President Museveni camped in the Karamoja Sub-region in the middle of last year, as raids, killings, and cattle rustling reached a peak. Mr Museveni argued that disarming the region was the only sure way to end insecurity.
Mr Kyakulaga, who received 300 pieces, stated, “We had a joint activity, and I spoke to the minister not to ask for Karamoja iron sheets, but as one of the OPM ministers to help me.” My conversation with her lasted less than a minute, and she quickly said, “Send your PA to my PA.” I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to retrieve them. I’d be willing to buy but not to sell.”
“We had a meeting with OPM [officials] as MPs from Karamoja and agreed that some iron sheets procured from the Shs39 billion be given to MPs and LC5s,” Ms Anyakun, who received 5,000 pieces, said. I was alarmed because I work in OPM and had no idea our iron sheets were being diverted. “I don’t feel bad.”
“As we walked out of a meeting, I was called by my colleague Kitutu, and she asked me if I had picked up iron sheets from the store,” Ms Namuyangu explained. It occurred to me that it could be a response to previous requests I had made. She informed me that if I did not choose the iron sheets, others would. I apologise. I’m not sure why [my name] was tarnished… I didn’t expect her to dupe me.”
Mr Kasaija revealed that “someone called my PA and said I’d been assigned 300 iron sheets.” They were delivered to my compound, and this thing blew up as I was preparing to distribute them.”
The Finance Minister stated that he is waiting for “an instruction from the OPM on how to dispose of the iron sheets.” I’m not sure if someone planned to frame us. We are in pain.”
Mr Lugoloobi admitted to receiving 300 iron sheets, which he used to cover the roof of a goat pen.
He went on to say that he was going to breed goats for the community. He, on the other hand, deroofed it and delivered the used pieces to the State House Anti-Corruption Unit, one of the entities looking into the diversion.
“Unfortunately, this happened, and I apologise.” We can talk about how to proceed because it was not on purpose,” he said.
Lawmakers remain sceptical.
Despite their claim to be unaware of the motivation for diverting the roofing materials, the Committee members wondered how such senior members could be unaware of government due processes.
“You requested iron sheets from Disaster and Northern Affairs but were told to go pick them up from the minister of Karamoja Affairs.” Was there anything in your conscience that made you wonder if the person was the right one? Did you inquire?” In response to Ms Namuyangu’s confession, Mr Brahan Ezama (Aringa County) wondered.
“There are systems and processes in place. When it comes to the process, you are implicated. There is no place in this country where you can only conduct business over the phone. “Normally, it is through paperwork,” Mr Albert Lokuru (Tepeth County) said to Mr Kasaija.
The committee has now requested that Prime Minister Robinah Nabbaja appear and explain the shambles in the OPM docket.
It is unclear whether other implicated senior officials, such as Vice President Jessica Alupo and House Speaker Anita Among, who has promised to return what she received, will be summoned as well.
How items were distributed
It was revealed at the Friday meeting that iron sheets were distributed through casual conversations, phone calls, and WhatsApp chats.
Accounting officers must oversee the requisitioning, receipt, and distribution of items following due process. Every process must be documented.
Finance minister Matia Kasaija, junior Finance minister Amos Lugoloobi, Ms Anyakun, Bunyoro Affairs minister Jennifer Namyangu, and Agriculture minister Fred Bwino Kyakulaga, as well as Agnes Kirabo (Central Uganda Youth lawmaker), all admitted to receiving iron sheets. They, on the other hand, maintained their innocence, claiming they were unaware the items were for Karamoja. They were also hesitant to commit to returning the items. They all point to Ms Kitutu’s possible malicious intent to smear their reputations. Mr Oboth even threatened Ms Kitutu with legal action.
“I had no idea or reason to suspect that the iron sheets assigned to me were for the Karamoja region.” I knew the OPM was responding to previous requests I’d made earlier… I can refund it, but before I do, I’m going to sue that person for tarnishing my reputation,” he said.