What you need to know:
Ms Among along with Vice President Jessica Alupo, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja and 22 ministers have been implicated in the iron sheets scandal.
A row is brewing between the Speaker of Parliament and Office of the Prime Minister after it emerged yesterday morning that someone in that office has tried to thwart her attempts to compensate for what she irregularly received in the Karamoja iron sheets scandal.
There were dramatic scenes at both OPM, and at a factory contracted to manufacture the iron sheets as Speaker Anita Among sought to know why the 500 iron sheets she paid for in compensation had not reached OPM stores in Namanve one month down the road.
Early yesterday morning Ms Among dispatched teams to OPM from her office, accompanied by officers from her security detail, with orders to retrieve and physically deliver a letter authorising a company contracted to manufacture the iron sheets to deliver them.
Ms Among along with Vice President Jessica Alupo, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja and 22 ministers have been implicated in the scandal which also has 22 ministers and other officials on the hook.
But on March 13, Ms Among is said to have paid MM Integrated Steel Mill Ltd for 500 iron sheets to replace what had been irregularly given to her. She also reportedly contacted OPM Under-Secretary Geoffrey Sseremba, who promised to clear her.
But unknown to the Speaker, this publication has learnt, the authorisation letter mysteriously went missing after it reportedly left OPM.
And so, no iron sheets were either produced or delivered. This left the Speaker’s public declaration to colleagues during a plenary session in Parliament on March 15, that she had returned the 500 iron sheets, in doubt.
Upon learning of this from her own sources, a shocked Speaker is said to have prompted an exchange through a series of correspondences.
Her spokesperson, Mr Joseph Sabiiti confirmed that the iron sheets were not delivered.
Sources told this publication that at OPM, the Speaker’s team asked Mr Sseremba about the authorisation letter, to which the official reportedly said he had sent it, but couldn’t tell why it didn’t reach the steel company.
The Speaker’s team then asked him to retrieve a copy of the letter dated March 30 and hand it to them so that they could deliver it themselves, which he did. It’s not clear why OPM officials failed to deliver the letter to the manufacturer of the Karamoja iron sheets.
The Speaker’s team then drove to MM Integrated Steel Mills offices located on Mulwana Road, Kampala Industrial Area and handed over the letter to the manager, who promised that they would deliver the iron sheets Thursday morning.
“The Speaker upon realisation that the iron sheets delivered to Bukedea were meant for Karamoja made a conscious decision to replace them. She wrote to OPM informing them of her decision and made payments to the contracted suppliers of the OPM. The iron sheets were supposed to be delivered immediately. When we followed up, the company said they were waiting for authorisation from the OPM to supply them while OPM claimed they had given the required documents,” Mr Sabiiti said in a text message confirming the astonishing development yesterday morning.
“Officers from the Speaker’s office picked a physical copy of the letter and delivered it to the company today and they have since committed to deliver the iron sheets tomorrow (today) morning. This should have happened over a month ago,” Mr Sabiiti said.
This publication has established that the Speaker first paid Shs21,225,000 (Shs42,450 for each iron sheet as per market price for sheets of the same specification). But this was rejected by OPM on grounds that they had a specific steel company that manufactures sheets of particular specifications they want.
MM Integrated Steel Mills allegedly demanded Shs71,000 per sheet, bringing the total cost of the 500 iron sheets to Shs35,500,000, which Speaker Among duly paid.
OPM officials had told Among to pay for 28 size gauge ordinary corrugated galvanised, pre-painted (sand beige) iron sheets at a cost of Shs71,000 per piece.
The Speaker was forced to provide a top-up on Shs14,000,000 to the supplier. It’s not clear how OPM officials sourced the company and how they arrived at the price.
Any minister or MP who wants to return the diverted iron sheets to OPM as directed by the President this week, will have to pay Shs71,000 per piece.
For instance, those who received 2,000 pieces from OPM, they will be required to fork out Shs124 million set against Shs84.9 million for the same gauge and number of iron sheets in the open market.
But when this reporter visited MM Integrated Steel Mills offices, the managers declined to say anything about the price, only insisting that their sheets were made only for OPM.
According to one correspondence between Mr Sseremba and the Speaker, dated March 16, 2023, he acknowledged that they would receive the iron sheets from the supplier and later invite Uganda National Bureau of Standards to verify whether they met specifications.
Mr Sseremba also undertook to notify the police that she had delivered and was in the clear.
“In a separate letter, the head of inventory management unit, Office of the Prime Minister has been notified and advised to receive the items pending testing by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards,” Mr Sseremba’s letter reads in part.
On March 30, Mr Sseremba wrote a letter to the head of sales and marketing at MMI Steel to manufacture only 500 iron sheets for Ms Among to be delivered to only OPM.
It is this letter which is said not to have reached its destination.
Mr Sabiiti said that when they contacted the steel mill to confirm the manufacture, they were told that they hadn’t received any authorisation from OPM.
The Speaker is then said to have again reached out to Mr Sseremba, who allegedly told her that he had indeed sent the authorisation letter but could not tell why it hadn’t reached MM Integrated Steel.
Efforts to speak to Mr Sseremba were futile. His mobile phone was switched off.
Newly appointed OPM spokesperson, Mr Charles Odongtho, said he needed to verify with Mr Sseremba and would get back to us.
An official at the steel mill, who only identified himself as Priyanga, yesterday confirmed that whoever wants them to manufacture similar iron sheets must first get authorisation from OPM.
“You have to contact the Office of the Prime Minister first,” Mr Priyanga said.
In 2022, the government procured 100,000 iron sheets for distribution to reformed warriors (Karachuna) as part of a community empowerment programme designed to aid pacification of the restive Karamoja sub-region.
However, instead of being distributed to intended beneficiaries, thousands of the iron sheets were parcelled out to ministers and members of Parliament.
When the scandal broke, police was directed to carry out criminal investigations into the diversion, leading to the arrest and detention of Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Mary Gorreti Kitutu. Kitutu is on remand and in court facing charges of conspiracy to defraud and causing loss of public property.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions is meanwhile processing several other files as it prepares to charge even more ministers and officials.
On April 3, President Museveni directed whoever took the iron sheets to either reimburse the cost or return them. Accusing them of theft, Mr Museveni also directed that the implicated individuals be handled by police in line with the country’s criminal law, and gave notice that he is going to take political action against them.
Speaker Among to MPs
On March 13, Among told a House plenary session that: ”In my district, I got a call that iron sheets are being brought and when they were taken I said give it to the schools. Little did I know that the iron sheets were meant for another region. But after some analysis and [realising] that the iron sheets were meant for Karamoja, not for Bukedea, I have taken a personal decision as a leader that since it was not allocated to my district … but also the iron sheets were already given out to my constituents, I have decided to buy 500 iron sheets and give it back through my personal assistant to take back to the OPM.
I am doing this for the House. I don’t want to be like I grabbed the iron sheets,” Among who is also Bukedea woman MP said, underling that she did not want to disgrace the institution she heads.