16 June 2017

Uganda: Museveni Blames Corrupt Officials for Dott Debacle

Photo: The Observer
President Museveni commissioning road construction equipment.

President Museveni has written to the executive director of Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), Allen Kagina, to formally rescind his April 21, 2017 order stopping the authority from dealing with road construction firm Dott Services.

In a memo dated May 29, 2017, a copy of which The Observer has obtained, Museveni also explains why he decided to overturn his initial decision. The president says when he issued the ban, he was acting to stem "obstructive activities" by Dott Services, which threatened a road project in Kanungu district.

"Through one of our political contacts, I am told that Dott Services withdrew their legal case on 3rd May, 2017 about Kanungu-Rukungiri road from court. That is what I wanted for now," he wrote.

Dott Services had sued after it alleged that the tender for the road had been unfairly awarded to another firm. But Museveni explained that following the withdrawal of the case, he would bury the hatchet with the controversial company.

"If, indeed, they withdrew that case and will not disturb any other remedial actions on Kanungu road or any other road, then I now rescind my Executive Order, subject to the advice of the Attorney General," the president added.

The communication confirms the story we broke last month (See: Museveni makes U-turn over Dott Services ban, The Observer, May 26, 2017).

The story said Museveni had been advised to reverse the decision after the Attorney General, William Byaruhanga, stated in his legal counsel that the order was "unconstitutional" and could be challenged in courts of law.

According to our sources, Byaruhanga told the president that the constitution does not grant him power to give executive orders, warning that government could be sued.

The attorney general proposed that in the new constitutional amendments being lined up, a provision for such orders could be included. Museveni also suggests that there could have been an element of corruption that shaped the company's decision, saying, "It is possible that Dott Services were lured by our corrupt officials into those mistakes."

The president also suggests that he eventually found out that his hands could be tied by the fact that Dott Services, which he describes as "a group that came from India," was working on a number of crucial infrastructure projects.

"They are doing a lot of projects, including [the 4.4-megawatt] Nyagak Power Station. The continued application of the executive order will jeopardize all these projects," Museveni explains.

In the memo, which is copied to the vice president, the prime minister and to the minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Museveni also bemoans the practice by road contractors to delay road construction projects in a bid to profit from them.

"The roads of Uganda are not for the sole purpose of giving contracts to private companies," he writes. "No company, therefore, has a right to delay the construction of our roads because of working for profits. No company has a right to work with our corrupt officials to subvert our road programmes.

Museveni, however, does not prescribe any action against companies found guilty of the practice. Intriguingly, however, Museveni's letter was not copied to the attorney general, whose decision made him rescind the controversial ban order.

The head of corporate communications at Unra, Mark Ssali, did not return our calls but an insider source at the authority told us that they had seen the memo.

"The boss [Kagina] is still reviewing it," our source said. The source, however, doubted whether Dott Services had withdrawn the case.

The Observer was also unable to get a comment from the chief executive officer of Dott Services, Venugopal Rao. An aide said yesterday that his boss was attending a series of meetings and would get back to us. By press time, he had not.

REPORT FINDINGS

An angry Museveni issued the first order after High Court Judge Stephen Musota nullified the findings of the Unra commission of inquiry report. The findings were contained in 1,300-page report by the commission of inquiry into UNRA's road projects. The report documented massive fraud in the national roads agency since its inception in 2008 to 2015, noting that up to Shs 4 trillion could have been lost in shady deals.

It is the second time in the last couple of weeks that President Museveni is retracting his statements. In a strongly-worded letter to the IGG early this month, Museveni claimed that two Chinese diplomats were involved in the sale of ivory in Uganda.

After the government of China protested, the government, through the ministry of Foreign Affairs, apologized and retracted the claims.

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