8 December 2013

Uganda: 'Mps Given Cash to Kill Umeme Report'

The ruling National Resistance Movement was last week rocked by allegations that several MPs had been compromised in order to fail a committee report that recommended expulsion of the power distributor Umeme

The Observer has learnt that Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was tasked to investigate, after an NRM legislator told a caucus meeting on Thursday that some MPs were paid Shs 5m to fight the report that wants Umeme's contract cancelled.

An ad hoc committee chaired by West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth Oboth investigated and recommended that Umeme's contract with government should be cancelled because it is unfair to Ugandans. In its report, the committee refers to the contract as a "raw deal". The MPs also allege exaggerated levels of losses and investments and generous working capital allowance.

The source of the money allegedly paid to the MPs had not been independently established by press time, but the allegations will put more pressure on both the government and Umeme. Cabinet recently resolved that all efforts should be made to ditch the MPs' report, amid reports that cancelling the contract would be too costly and too disruptive for the economy.

Umeme has also benefitted from the support of commentators such as media entrepreneur Andrew Mwenda, who has argued that rather than being punished, Umeme should be rewarded for surpassing its targets.

But the MPs' committee report is up for debate in Parliament soon, and many MPs reportedly support the committee's position, a source familiar with the campaign says.

The Observer has learnt that Kyankwanzi Woman MP Ann Maria Nankabirwa told Thursday's NRM special caucus meeting, chaired by the Ndorwa West MP and caucus deputy chairperson, David Bahati, that some MPs received cash inducements to fight the report.

The caucus meeting had been called at the President's office at Parliament to find "an NRM common position" to the controversial report.

A source at the caucus meeting quoted Nankabirwa as saying:

"Members I have been informed that up to 33 members from here have been bribed to throw away the report which we painfully laboured to make.

"They were given Shs 3m and are waiting to get Shs 2m after they successfully throw out the report," she allegedly said.

Nankabirwa said the MPs got the money at Protea hotel in Kampala. It is not clear who gave the money. But in the past, the government has, with a curious sense of timing, wired money into MPs' accounts during times of contentious issues in the House.

In late 2004, with a vote impending on the abolition of Constitutional presidential terms limits, MPs received Shs 5m each allegedly for monitoring government projects. Many MPs took the money, but some rejected it. Parliament abolished the term limits.

A source says that when Nankabirwa dropped the bombshell, she was heckled by some NRM MPs. She reportedly named names which included two youthful MPs. In response, the meeting asked Nankabirwa to

substantiate her claims with proof.

On failing to produce any proof, the Chairman Bahati declared her claim a "lie" which was "baseless."

Interviewed for this story at the weekend, government Chief Whip and caucus chairperson Justine Kasule Lumumba confirmed that "the accusation of Shs 5m bribe was raised in the meeting, but it had no backing."

One MP said the meeting asked the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi to investigate Nankabirwa's claims.

"Honorable Nankabirwa said that she knew of MPs who were bribed... but she failed to substantiate her claims since she wasn't in position to produce evidence... We asked Prime Minister (Mbabazi) to investigate the whole issue then he will give us a report some time later."

The same MP told The Observer that Mbabazi told the MPs that it would be risky if Umeme's contract was terminated. He reportedly said that Uganda is "considered to be a fertile land for investors."

"If we terminate the Umeme contract, it will be very unfortunate because investors will be scared away," he reportedly said.

The Observer has reliably learnt that the abrupt caucus meeting resolved not to support the committee's recommendation to "terminate" Umeme's contract at the urging of the prime minister.

"We all took a decision not to terminate the Umeme contract that after listening to the Prime Minister," an MP told this writer on Friday.

The caucus meeting, however, agreed to urge Umeme to "revisit" the agreement so that Ugandans would "benefit" from their power.

"We are going to revisit the agreement to the advantage of the country because we know that both government and Umeme are willing to sit and resolve these issues," the MP said.

We also understand, that the meeting agreed to punish all the technical persons who played a role in guiding the line minister at the time who signed the agreement between Umeme and the government.

"The technical persons who guided the minister before signing the agreement are to be held liable because they misled the minister to sign a contract whose terms are very hard to be revisited in case of any problem," a source told us.

Contacted at the weekend, whistleblower MP Nankabirwa declined to discuss her comments.

"All issues discussed within the caucus are limited to members of NRM who attended the caucus. I can't discuss them in the press," she said.

We were also told that the prime minister and the leader of government business in parliament Amama Mbabazi told the caucus that he met the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and requested her to defer debate on the report to a future session but she flatly refused.

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