Aren’t Tumwebaze, Opondo lying to us?

The mounting heat of the electioneering has pushed presidential candidates and their supporters to make accusations and counter-accusations against each other.

In that mix, some candidates and their spin-doctors are concocting lies or twisting the facts in a calculated scheme to white-wash their side and undermine their opponents.

In politics, that is acceptable but the information must correct.

My attention was particularly drawn by government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo’s response to Dr Kizza Besigye’s accusation that President Museveni and his confidants turned the 20-year LRA northern insurgency into a business and prolonged it to continue profiteering. (The Observer, December 2-3, 2015).

I don’t know whether Besigye’s assertion is correct or wrong and will not venture into its authenticity.

However, in the attempt to rebut Besigye’s claims, Opondo made one blatant falsehood on the junk military helicopters that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) bought from Belarus in 1997 to fight the LRA rebels.

Opondo is either ignorant of the particulars of the junk chopper deal or he is deliberately withholding the truth for political expedience.

Opondo told Besigye to take responsibility for the prolonged LRA war on account that when he was the chief of logistics and engineering (CLE) in the UPDF, he was given money to buy fighter helicopters but bought junk aircraft.

First of all, Dr Besigye could not have received the money for the helicopters because CLEs do not handle financial transactions in the UPDF. It is handled by the permanent secretary.

The government paid for the MI-24 attack helicopters using promissory notes in Bank of Uganda.

The payment was approved by the then permanent secretary of ministry of Defence, Dr Ben Mbonye, as is the procedure and the Central Bank wired the money through the defunct International Credit Bank.

I have this information because I attended proceedings of the Justice Sebutinde Commission which investigated the purchase of the junk helicopters.

During the commission’s inquiry in June 2002, it was instead found that Gen Salim Saleh, a confidant and brother to President Museveni, was liable for the chopper fiasco.

Gen Saleh was overseer of the Ministry of Defence in 1997 when the chopper deal was initiated. Because of their firepower, the MI-24 helicopters were expected to wipe out the LRA and end insecurity in northern Uganda. But this did not happen.

Gen Saleh personally admitted before the commission that Mr Emma Katto, owner of Consolidated Sales Corporation (CSC) which supplied the junk choppers, had promised to give him a commission (bribe) of 15 per cent on each helicopter if he facilitated the deal, which was inflated from $1.5m to $3m per chopper probably to cater for the bribes along the transaction chain.

Justice Julia Sebutinde flatly told Saleh that the “commission” he was referring to was a bribe because he was not a commission agent.

During the commission’s interview with President Museveni at State House over the deal, he personally told Justice Sebutinde that Gen Saleh had “confessed” to him about the bribe and that he had aised him to take the bribe but use it “properly to fight the LRA”.

When the first two choppers were delivered at Entebbe airbase, the pilots refused to fly them because they were defective, not having been overhauled as per the contract.

As a result, the choppers remained idle at the airbase as the LRA continued to wreak havoc in the north.

On the contrary, during the proceedings, the commission received a report which Besigye had submitted to the Ministry of Defence, upon his return from inspecting the choppers in Belarus before shipment to Entebbe.

In the report, Besigye warned the Defence to stop dealing with the CSC group because one of them Max Waterman was wanted by Interpol in Belarus.

Despite this warning, the Defence ministry officials proceeded with the transaction.

The commission recommended that the CSC local director Katto be prosecuted and he was indeed taken to court but the State brought his supposed co-accused to testify in his favour and he was acquitted.

Probably Opondo could ask himself why an overseer of Defence would seek to earn from a deal in such a manner that could jeopardise national security.

Opondo may also ask himself why, upon knowing that some people wanted to profiteer from the deal, allowed them to go ahead with their scheme.

As we move towards the climax of the campaign euphoria, we need to probe politicians’ claims. It is our cardinal responsibility as citizens.

Two weeks ago, the Minister for Kampala Frank Tumwebaze defended the existence of Resident District Commissioners (RDCs).

He was ridiculing a promise by one of the presidential candidates to scrap RDCs if he is elected because they are a waste of taxpayer’s money. (see “Besigye, Mbabazi on rhetoric,” New Vision November 18).

Tumwebaze argued RDCs play a crucial supervisory and monitoring role to detect early anomalies or inefficiencies in service delivery at district level to enable the central government take timely interventions.

However, on the same day the State House Health Monitoring Unit report was published, showing that managers and health workers in government hospitals especially health centres in districts, work only three days in a month.

These are the defectsinefficiencies in service delivery which Mr Tumwebaze says RDCs are monitoring.

But people are not getting treatment in government hospitals because the medical staff don’t work and RDCs are not aware.

The State House report of 201314 give credence that RDCs are of little relevance to Ugandans.

In light of that indictment, one wonders whether Mr Tumwebaze honestly believes RDCs are important in the service delivery chain or it’s just politics.



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