5 March 1999

Uganda: Kutesa Censured

Kampala — The Parliament yesterday censured finance state minister Sam Kutesa for alleged misuse of office and influence-peddling.

One hundred fifty-two MPs voted for his censure, while 94 supported him. Two hundred forty-seven of the 276 MPs voted after a charged debate watched by a fully-packed public gallery.

But Kutesa in an interview after the vote said he will not resign but would let the constitutional process take its course. "If I were to resign, I would not have gone through the censure. I don't think this is the end of the road either in Parliament, politics or private life.

I believe and continue to confess my innocence. "I will wait for the constitutional process to take place and I will accept the appropriate action the President will take. It is not how one falls that matters but how one rises," he said.

Kutesa, clad in a gray suit, blue shirt and a yellow checked tie, hurried out of the Parliament at 7.30 p.m., shortly after deputy Speaker Edward Ssekandi announced the verdict. "There is a world out there and I am going to join it. I have not yet decided my next course of action," Kutesa told the horde of journalists who descended on him when he left the Parliament.

He was whisked away by visibly dejected friends and relatives. The case against Kutesa centred on his alleged misconduct, influence-peddling and conflict of interest in the purchase of Uganda Airlines shares in Entebbe handling services (ENHAS).

Speaking in the debate of the motion, Gulu municipality MP Norbert Mao rubbished Kutesa's defence. "His defence has been evasive, unreliable, a mere explanation with nothing to exonerate him. We have five solid grounds. You cannot miss when you are told to aim and shoot at a mountain. We are talking about an aspect in the report on the privatisation process, in which it was noted that the process has been manipulated and taken by a few, and perhaps this is why the stock exchange has never taken off. We would have loved to declare to him his wealth but Mr. Speaker you would rule us out of order," he said.

Mao added that the Parliament must be seen to root corruption out of the Government. "The President is allegedly surrounded by sharks and crooks, but he must be seen to be taking action to rid his Cabinet of corruption," he said. But Elly Tumwine (UPDF) stood up in protest.

"Mr. Speaker, knowing the character of sharks with their teeth and character of crooks and knowing the people surrounding the President including his cabinet, is he (Mao) in order to say that the President is surrounded by sharks?" Mao relented and replied,

"It was a slip of the tongue. I should have said some sharks." Margaret Zziwa (Woman, Kampala) said members of the public were demanding that justice be done. "The issue of corruption, ENHAS, (Uganda Airlines Corporation), and Sam Kutesa has been a constant question in my constituency. They want an explanation. The pertinent question should not be mixed up with a political philosophy. Was there financial loss? Who caused it? Is it Sam Kutesa, Mutyaba?" Benedict Mutyaba, former UAC general manager protested this.

"Is it in order for Hon. Zziwa to impute that I was responsible for loss of money at UAC when in fact I was here?" he asked. Speaker Edward Ssekandi said, "Refer to no other but Kutesa in this case. Do not threaten or blackmail any member. It is not proper to refer to any other person, including Hon. Mutyaba."

Mutyaba later spoke in Kutesa's defence. "I don't support the censure because Hon. Kutesa did not abuse office in relation to his official position. He did not get into ENHAS and ministry without declaring his interests."

"I submit that this Parliament has no powers to look into a private limited liability company such as ENHAS. Finally Mr. Speaker, we should not bring in local prejudice and a state of suspicion," Mutyaba added.

Just before the motion was put to a vote, Okwiri Rabwoni (Youth, Western), who seconded the censure motion, said, "Honorable members your judgment today will either reinforce the mission of the Parliament or lower the esteem of House in the eyes of the public." Tension and anxiety among the MPs and the gallery rose to a climax during the vote count.

Kutesa kept shifting in his seat and adjusting his jacket. When the verdict was announced, Hope Mwesigye, director of the Gender Resource Centre and former Constituent Assembly delegate, wept. Kutesa becomes the second minister in Museveni's Cabinet to be censured. Brig. Jim Muhwezi, former minister of state for primary education, who was himself censured last year, patted Kutesa on the back as they left the parliament. Muhwezi later told The New Vision that the procedures of censure were still unfair.

"I don't think since the debate started there was sufficient time for MPs to study the evidence and reach a fair conclusion. In Clinton's case there was a full investigation and a thorough report before debate began. There is no way 280 people can dispense justice in just four days," he said.

Most of the members of the public interviewed soon after the censure verdict said they expected it. "Ministers should learn to resign before they are censured," one said.

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