By Henry Gombya
Ugandans are waking up this morning with a possibility that there is at long last, ‘fundamental changes’, as promised 25 years ago by President Museveni when first taking oath of office, in the way their country is being run. Change is definitely on the way following the sudden stepping down from office of the country’s Foreign Minister who is due in court this morning (Thursday) to answer charges of abuse of office and causing financial loss to the country.
Mr Sam Kuteesa (middle in photo), until yesterday one of the most high-ranking Uganda government officials, was forced to step down from office after the country’s Ninth parliament argued him and other co-defendants to relinquish office while they defend themselves in court. He was followed by the country’s Government Chief Whip Engineer John Nasasira (right)who has been a member of the Yoweri Museveni cabinet for the last 25 years and a junior Labour Minister Mwesigwa Rukutana (left). The trio were indicted by a Uganda anti-corruption court for a role they allegedly played in a UgShs14 billion (approx. US$4,877,980.79) tender for repairing Speke Resort Munyonyo which accommodated commonwealth heads of state and government during their 2007 summit. The three join former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya who was remanded in custody last week following an appearance on similar charges of abusing his office. He has since been released on bail.
Many Ugandans are baffled as to why all of a sudden Uganda’s legislative assembly has discovered powers from the back of a sitting-room coach after years in which they have seemed to rubber-stamp any directive given by President Museveni. Some of the MPs in this Ninth parliament are still smarting from accusations by parliamentarians from several other countries that they accepted bribes that led to the removal of term limits from the Ugandan constitution, a move that has enabled President Museveni to continue standing for office every time a general election is called.
Museveni’s arm-twisting of the parliamentarians had removed him from being highly respected by the West to being seen as yet another of those many African leaders who cling to power despite having reached their sale-by dates. He also stopped from being called at one time ‘the darling of the west’ to being ignored by certain world leaders wherever they have met him.
Criminal summons were issued to Kuteesa, Nasaasira and Rukutana by Kampala Chief Magistrate Irene Akankwasa whose status as a reputable judge is being watched by those in her profession worldwide. That high-ranking government officials like Kuteesa and Bukenya can now be hauled before courts of law without any interference from government is quite unprecedented and is a strong signal that perhaps after 25 years in power, Museveni may be now thinking about his legacy.
Another top fellow in the Museveni government who is also due to give Judge Akankwasa a visit soon, is current Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. Parliament has already called upon him to step down too as he is investigated by police and the courts. In Ugandan-speak, these are fellows one never imagined they would face a court of law at any time. It now looks that President Museveni, who a few months ago on a state visit to Rwanda told his hosts that most Ugandans are ‘thieves’, has abandoned the ‘thieving ministers’.
In the recent past, one of Uganda’s so-called ‘untouchables’, Jim Muhwezi berated a high court judge who questioned his involvement in the alleged embezzlement of UgShs1.6 billion from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) fund. Muhwezi, a former Health Minister, was one of the 25 officers Museveni claims to have started the bush war that brought him to power, appeared before a Global Fund Commission whose judge, James Ogoola demanded that he (Muhwezi) apologize for his ministry’s mismanagement of the Global Fund. Muhwezi then attacked Ogoola saying that he was one of those people who were hiding under their beds when the rest were fighting to overthrow the Obote and Okello regimes.
A statement issued and signed by Kuteesa, Nasaasira and Rukutana said: “Tomorrow [Thursday] we are appearing before court to answer to charges of causing financial loss arising out of official duties Chogm (sic). We shall definitely take the opportunity to plead our innocence and demonstrate that we are not guilty of the offences charged (sic). In order to allow for the due process of the court which we highly believe in, and in the interest of the party [to] which we belong and the government which we serve, we have deemed it prudent and desirable to seek leave from our appointing authority so as to step aside until the matter is concluded.”
This is the first time that a serving cabinet minister in Uganda has ever stepped down from office without being dismissed or replaced by the President. It augurs well for the ruling National Resistance Movement whose 25 years in power have been mired in charges of high corruption among its senior officials. It now remains to be seen whether their places in cabinet are filled up with others. Kuteesa is an in-law of President Museveni. His son is married to one of Museveni’s three daughters.