20 December 2012

Uganda: Cabinet Outraged Over Nebanda Probe Blunders

As Ugandans grappled with pain and rage over the confusion surrounding the sudden death of MP Cerinah Nebanda, President Yoweri Museveni chaired an angry Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, which called for various people to be punished.

The Observer has learnt that the ministers' rage was directed at MPs Chris Baryomunsi (NRM, Kinkiizi East) and Medard Bitekyerezo (NRM, Mbarara municipality), Parliament as an institution, and the private pathologist from Mulago hospital. Well-placed cabinet sources have told us that ministers were angry that medical doctors Baryomunsi and Bitekyerezo joined the team conducting the postmortem on Nebanda's body.

They reportedly argued that by joining the process, the two MPs risked mixing a political matter and a professional one. Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek, however, told journalists at Uganda Media Centre yesterday that the MPs were allowed into the post mortem room by the police pathologist out of political pressure. He said the MPs had threatened to reject the results if the postmortem was done in their absence.

"The police pathologist allowed them as observers and not as pathologists. The MPs voluntarily escorted the samples to the government analytical laboratory," Onek said.

Nebanda was pronounced dead at Mukwaya General clinic in Nsambya, in Kampala, last Friday and Baryomunsi and Bitekyerezo immediately got involved in trying to establish the cause of her death. MPs also hired Dr Sylvester Onzivua, to join the autopsy team, something that the police have been uneasy about. Onzivua was subsequently arrested at Entebbe airport and security personnel confiscated medical specimens he was taking to South Africa for further tests.

But ministers fumed that by insisting on being represented in the postmortem process, Parliament was literally usurping the role of the executive. The inquiry, they said, was the role of the police which was part of the executive. They reportedly called MPs' interest in the process "nonsense".

It is understood that Cabinet resolved that the NRM Caucus should find a way to punish Baryomunsi and Bitekyerezo, who are members of the ruling party. Health Minister Christine Ondoa, sources told us, was asked to punish Dr Onzivua for allowing politicians into the autopsy room at Mulago hospital.

When asked about the impending punishments, Dr Baryomunsi said he was innocent.

"Death is not a party issue. For us we were tasked by the Parliament of Uganda to find out the truth of what happened to Hon Nebanda," he said. "I have no regrets whatsoever of participating in this because I was doing everything in good faith and to protect the rights of Nebanda who is right now lifeless."

He dismissed claims that Parliament had usurped the executive's role, saying everything done was agreed upon by the police. Dr Bitekyerezo concurred, saying: "I'm doing everything to establish what killed the young girl and as a professional, I am summoned to duty to do something for the justice of the voiceless."

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