As the trial of suspects in the Shs 50bn financial scam in the Office of the Prime Minister continues, President Museveni has ordered a parallel investigation into what has been described by opposition politicians as an outrageous purchase of a Shs 600m Mercedes Benz for Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.
The money was reportedly part of the donor funds meant to support the recovery of northern Uganda. Museveni announced the investigation while meeting the Acholi Parliamentary group on February 21 at his office, next to Parliament, after the members called for the secession of northern Uganda.
The MPs cited the swindle of the Shs 50bn from the OPM as their source of frustration. The money was meant to support recovery efforts in war-ravaged northern Uganda. President Museveni, according to MPs who attended the meeting, said: "No, it can't be," suggesting that the vehicle could not have cost as much as Shs 600m.
According to the sales agreement between the OPM and Spear Motors, which supplied the car, the cost was put at Shs 350 million, a figure MPs said was "cooked up."
Museveni told the MPs that as far as he knows, PRDP funds were supposed to be utilised by the districts affected by the Lord's Resistance Army insurgency, not to buy vehicles for ministers. Sources told us that it is Aruu MP Odonga Otto who raised the matter.
"Our people are suffering, Your Excellency, and the money which is supposed to help them is being used to buy cars," Otto said.
He was backed by Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar and Reagan Okumu, the Aswa MP, who accused him of lacking the political will to fight corruption.
Another source who also pleaded for anonymity, told this paper: "We raised the issue of Mbabazi's Mercedes Benz which was bought at 600m out of the PRDP money. We were very clear on this issue and we told him that we shall not leave this issue to be swept under the carpet...but Musveni told us that he is going to investigate."
However, what disappointed the MPs is that Museveni was not definitive on when and how the investigation would be carried out. When reports first emerged in May 2012 that PRDP funds had been used to purchase the vehicle, Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the OPM, denied the claims.
"It is not true that funds to purchase the vehicle were diverted from the PRDP. PRDP funds are released directly to districts and other implementing ministries, departments and agencies on the basis of work-plans developed..." Bigirimana wrote in an advert published by daily newspapers on May 23, 2012.
However in November, while appearing before Parliament's Public Accounts committee (PAC), Bigirimana changed his stance.
"The money to buy the cars came from the Crisis Management and Recovery Account [at OPM]. But I have come to learn that the Accountant General got money from the PRDP account and put it on the crisis management account. So, it is the Accountant General who made a mistake," he said.
Museveni's meeting with the MPs was prompted by a bold call by legislators from northern Uganda to secede and form a separate country to be named Nile Republic. According to MPs who attended the meeting, Museveni made it clear he would not entertain secession ideas.
"Uganda is already a very small country. When you form your republic, how will that help you?" Museveni asked the MPs.
The president also reportedly defended Bigirimana, the OPM Permanent Secretary, arguing that he was the whistleblower in the saga.
"Bigirimana should not be touched over PRDP money because he revealed the scam to the government," the president said.
The meeting failed to reach any resolutions; so, the MPs asked for more time to consult and the president agreed to meet them in Rwakitura later this week.