In 2000, while working at the World Bank, I heard that Dr Kizza Besigye would contest for the national presidency in 2001, and I affirmed that he would be my candidate.
Earlier on in 1996, while still working at the Ministry of Finance, I had met Dr. Besigye as we investigated tax fraud in an organisation called Danze.
This organisation was run by high-profile people in government and business moguls. Goods imported by this company would be registered as ‘goods on transit’ yet they were being sold here in Uganda.
The government officials would falsify stamps from exit points like Koboko and Mutukula, claiming the goods had left the country.
When we did the investigation, the Government of Uganda had been defrauded of 152 billion shillings. During this investigation, we even met President Museveni, since we had received information that some of the players were soldiers.
It was only later that we learnt of the President’s involvement in the whole scam, and that Danze had been formed to mobilise money for his 1996 presidential election!
Why support Dr Besigye?
As indicated, during this investigation, I met Dr Besigye who was supposed to give us information about Danze.
Instead, he not only offered us key information about Danze but availed us details of theft in Coffee Marketing Board (CMB).
That time, coffee would disappear from Kampala to Mombasa or in the sea. Interestingly, the trucks, the drivers and the ships would never disappear!
It was Dr Besigye who told us that disappearance of coffee was a Museveni venture meant to cheat the taxpayer. After declarations of disappearance of coffee, the government would pick money from the Treasury to pay farmers.
By then, their methods were not as advanced as today’s, where the Governor BOU is simply ordered to release money.
When Dr Besigye disclosed this information, it dawned on me that there were still some honest people in this country.
A senior official of CMB involved in that scam is currently chairing the board of a bank which was also bought from government at zero price.
You may also recollect that in 1999 Dr Besigye had penned an article, criticising the NRM for veering off the course they had set out to achieve in the Bush War—and for his honesty, he had been threatened with a Court Martial.
So when in 2001 Dr Besigye declared that he was going to run against Mr Museveni, I couldn’t hesitate to support him.
Together with Mr Garuga Musinguzi and others, we mobilized resources to run that campaign. At the end of the race, we “lost”.
Not because we had genuinely lost but because of the combination of factors. Dr Besigye’s candidature frightened Mr Museveni so much that he unleashed all manner of brutality against his opponent.
In western Uganda, voter turn up was 120%.
As the courts later ruled, that particular election was a pack of irregularities. My hope in that election was that Dr Besigye should have won so that I would serve as a civil servant in his regime.
But his loss and the glaring electoral irregularities propelled me into elective politics, if not for anything, at least to make a humble contribution in changing the way our country was being run.
I decided to run for the Budadiri West parliamentary seat, in a race where my opponent mocked me for being “too light”.
He chided me, saying nobody would waste a vote on a person who can’t stand on and break a dry banana leaf! However, at the end of the campaign, I emerged winner.
When I joined Parliament in 2001, I was the only new MP tasked to chair a committee. I was voted Chairperson of National Economy Committee.
It was during this tenure that I discovered how government was using the common person to get loans which would never reach the intended beneficiaries.
This is how, together with the team, we changed the rules, demanding that no loan would be procured unless the intended beneficiaries were aware.
The committee I chaired rejected 11 loan requests we thought were simply going to burden the tax payer. Of course the State never liked this.
Another significant and yet low development in this time was the lifting of presidential term limits in 2005.
Before our colleagues in the NRM did the dishonourable act of amending the Constitution to offer Museveni a life presidency shot, I was approached by State operatives with an offer of Shs 2 billion shillings and a ministerial slot if I could back the “third term” project.
I told them my conscience had no price and I later learnt, this angered the powers that be very much.
It was also in this period that I moved a motion in Parliament against selling Uganda Commercial Bank, arguing that this was a people’s bank. It was a hot debate, but while we lost, we are sure history will one day bail us out.
During this time, Reform Agenda merged with the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) to form Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Our courtship with state violence had begun. For example while in Jinja, popularising PAFO, the government mobilised thugs to attack us. They hit my jaw so badly that I had to undergo serious medical treatment.
In December 2004, FDC was registered and we hit the campaign trail the following year. However, it was a difficult campaign.
Our chief mobiliser, Dr Kizza Besigye, had been arrested on trumped-up charges and he was behind bars. During the nominations, some people were of the view that two sets of signatures be sought so that if Dr. Besigye was denied registration, we would front another candidate.
I was one of the people who objected to this arrangement, because in it, I saw a ploy to condemn our leader to eternal jail.
Our view was that if the worst came to the worst, we would rather not participate in that election than leave Dr Besigye languish in jail eternally.
On realizing that we were unlikely to front another candidate, the Electoral Commission accepted to register Dr. Besigye while in jail.
In in its typical confusion, the government through the Attorney General had indicated that Dr Besigye could not be nominated whereas his junior gave a contrary view—which thankfully was upheld.
More hurdles, however, awaited us. Our chief mobiliser was in jail, or even when he was freed, spent most of his time in court.
Our campaign suffered a shortage of funds.
We were on the verge of humiliation. To salvage the situation, I decided to mortgage my petrol station for 700 million shillings which we used to run the campaign as we sought other support elsewhere.
Unlike in 2001, the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006 were conducted concurrently. Little did I know that as I sought to defend my Budadiri West seat, my actions and decisions in the National Economy committee had hurt President Museveni so much that among others, he had blacklisted me against returning to Parliament.
Others on that list were Hon. Augustine Ruzindana, Maj. (Rtd) John Kazoora, Hon. Jack Sabiiti, Hon. Salaam Musumba among others.
A lot of pressure was exerted on me and fearing that I was going to be killed, both my parents developed low blood pressure and died.
My father died on Jan 19th 2006, and a month later on 14th Feb 2006, my mother also died. Nine days after my mother had died, the people of Budadiri massively voted me back to Parliament.
I got over 40,000 votes as my closet challenger got 4,000 votes.
In the 8th Parliament, the party gave me an opportunity to serve as Chairperson of Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC).
When I assumed leadership of PAC, there was a backlog of uncleared work dating to 2000 but by the end of my tenure, we had cleared that backlog and attended to our own work.
As you know, it was at this time that the anti-corruption fight took a national character as we took many heavyweights to task over stolen money—including causing the imprisonment of a Vice President.
We are proud that we made Ugandans aware of how wide corruption had eaten not just the centre of this government, including its top-most echelons, but also all other units. It is now our duty to ensure we get rid of all these wrong elements.
I am glad that the anti-corruption stance we took in the 8th Parliament is now being fanned by many of my colleagues.
The struggle to root this vice from our midst is critical. We must all do what is within our means to ensure we have a country where public funds are respected and used for the purpose they should.
The author is MP for Bidadiri West and Secretary General for FDC. Part Two will run tomorrow, Sunday, June 24