Kampala — President Museveni has directed the Finance Ministry to immediately buy escort vehicles for all the 456 MPs while the army will provide them with "sharp shooters" to protect them from what he called "terrorists."
He ordered Finance minister Matia Kasaija to immediately set aside money to acquire a fleet of escort vehicles for MPs which will be boosted by marksmen from the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF).
"MPs have been singled out for intimidation and possibly attack. I have decided to protect MPs as we wait for the putting in place of these security measures. MPs already have some police guards. Those will stay with them. I will, however, add two elements; the sharp-shooters of the army and follow-pickups that will be used by these against small arms bullets," Mr Museveni said in the letter to Mr Kasaija.
"I therefore direct you to immediately acquire a fleet of new 4-wheel drive pick-ups with open carriage beds. Provide additional money for these vehicles quickly. The army will use them to guard the MPs and when the new systems are put in place, these vehicles will be given to army officers as part of the UPDF fleet," he added.
Mr Museveni said the UPDF sharp-shooters will get personal body armour and helmets that are bullet proof. He concluded telling Mr Kasaija: "Act fast. I thank you and I expect speed."
His letter is copied to the Vice President, Mr Edward Ssekandi, the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen David Muhoozi, the Minister of Defence, Mr Adolf Mwesige, and Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the Secretary to the Treasury.
In his June 20 letter, Mr Museveni stated that crimes like the killings of six Muslim sheikhs, State prosecutor Joan Kagezi, the kidnap and murder of Susan Magara and the killing of Assistant Inspector General of Police Felix Kaweesi "were committed with the possible collusion of the police."
In many of the killings, the officials under attack have been seated with their bodyguards in the same car. This, perhaps, is why the President has chosen a separate vehicle for bodyguards.
The legislators started raising alarm bells over their security in December last year following the passing of the contentious Constitution Amendment Bill that amended Article 102(b) and removed age limit on the presidency to allow Mr Museveni contest for reelection as many times as he wishes.
Fears over MPs' safety were heightened when Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga was gunned down in Kawanda suburb in Wakiso on June 8, 2018.
His murder followed a wave of high-profile assassinations and killings which sent the country into a state of trepidation, prompting Mr Museveni to unveil a 12-security master plan that he touted as the magic bullet to the spiral in crime.
When MPs met Mr Museveni on June 28 to discuss escalating insecurity in the country, they voiced skepticism about guards from the Counter-Terrorism Police and requested for army escorts instead.
Finance ministry spokesperson Jim Mugunga declined to comment on where the Treasury will get the money to enforce Mr Museveni's directives on MPs' security. He referred all inquiries on the matter to Mr Kasaija.
Some car dealers we talked to say on average, such vehicles cost $46,000 (about Shs173 million), implying that the government will have to fork out Shs78.8 billion
Mr Kasaija could not be reached for a comment as he did not pick up our calls.
Butambala MP Muwanga Kivumbi, however, expressed worry on what implications such heavy deployment of military guards around Parliament will create for the country.
"That kind of security is bad for the economy and will ultimately affect investor confidence. Imagine Parliament Avenue with 500 lead cars with snipers! Which investor would like to invest in such a country? Security measures should not only deal with the hardware issues but must also address the software issues. Those measures will create pandemonium in the country," Mr Kivumbi said.
His Igara West counterpart Raphael Magyezi differed and welcomed the military guards, saying they will boost MPs' security.
"I think I have every hope in the President to secure the MPs and every Ugandan if it is what it takes because these wonderful cars which we have are closed. And if you have soldiers seated inside, it is a death trap. The point that the President is making as a head of security to ensure that there is a pick up for MPs, the soldiers seated outside there, they are able to respond whenever they see something," he said.
The Parliament's Director of Communication and Public Affairs, Mr Chris Obore, did not pick up our calls.
INCREASING COST OF PROTECTION
According to a recent Daily Monitor investigation, in just seven years, the strength of the Very Important Person Protection Unit (VIPPU) has grown from 1,746 officers to 3,500-4,500. The VIPPU is supposed to protect people entitled by law to close police protection such as the Speaker of Parliament, ministers, diplomats, judges, senior security officers and top managers of government agencies.
Another police unit whose numbers are increasing is the Presidential Protection Group (PPG) that protects the Vice President, Prime Minister, relatives of the First Family and specific individuals close to the presidency.
The PPG now protects people such as Ms Jennifer Musisi, the executive director for Kampala Capital City Authority, and Ms Allen Kagina, the executive director for Uganda National Roads Authority, Mr Bryan White, a city socialite, and Ms Persis Namuganza, the State Minister for Lands. The two major units make up more than 10 per cent of the entire police force strength to secure a privileged few.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima says many, who are given police guards, are entitled because of their status and the office they hold.
The numbers of police personnel guarding each head of institutions, like Uganda Revenue Authority, UNRA, KCCA and Chief Justice ranges from 15 to 30 officers.
There are close to 80 judicial officers entitled to police protection and they are given a total of about 560 and 600 police officers a day to secure their lives and property.
It is nearly the same police strength deployed to police districts of Arua, Masaka and Hoima combined that have a total population of 1.5m people.
About 10 years ago, the Commissioner General of Prisons, Governor Bank of Uganda, deputy Inspector General of Police, head of Kampala City Council (now KCCA), Director of Public Prosecutions, ministers and police directors, each travelled with only one close bodyguard and no escort cars.
But since the 2010 terror attacks in Kampala and a string of assassinations of government employees, the officials entitled to security were given more police numbers at the expense of security of the general public.
In 2011, the then Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Andrew Felix Kaweesi even widened the scope by attaching officers from General Duties that are supposed to protect the general community to business people.
The former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, put the number of officers, who had been illegally deployed to guard business people and the famous in Kampala Metropolitan Police, to half the strength of that territorial command, which was then around 4,000 to 5,000 officers.
Lately, police are providing similar services to a section of people, who are not entitled to them, such as MPs, some political party leaders, business people, religious leaders, artistes, among others.
Mr Kayima says people in this category write to the IGP detailing reasons why they should be given police bodyguards.
The recipient pays Shs24,000 for each officer per day. For escort duties that doesn't go beyond eight hours, the recipient pays Shs12,000.
By Andrew Bagala