They say it is lonely at the top, they just do not mention exactly what top, it could be at the top of trouble! Such is the situation Mary Goretti Kitutu, the Minister for Karamoja Affairs finds herself in at the moment.
Kitutu on the 23rd of January 2023 was a happy soul, infected by the generosity virus as she waltzed through the walls of Entebbe State House, tipping off fellow ministers that the wind had shaken the mango tree and fruit was scattered all over the place.
From a logical perspective, Kitutu was only registering her name in the good books of the class monitor, no wonder the choice of her good news recipients; The Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, the Government Chief whip, the Vice President and her close relatives.
Kitutu’s pattern of distribution was a masterstroke, for it would ensure she is secure both home and away, and indeed this managed to grant her enough lucky fuel for a few weeks until hell broke loose.
Iron Sheets scandal breaks out
On February 12th a combined force of the Internal Security Organization (ISO), Uganda Police and the State House Anti-Corruption Unit swung into action and arrested the brother, mother and nephew of Minister Kitutu after they were found selling iron sheets meant for relief,
On further checks, another batch of iron sheets was found in the family home. They were consequently arrested.
Fumbling and influence peddling starts
Kitutu’s mother and brother were arrested, however, police officers were quiet on the matter and the people in charge of the operation were also first bullied to remain quiet.
At this point, Kitutu was still wielding power and the calls made could have bought her relief, albeit temporarily. Sure thing, she managed to negotiate the release of her mother citing her feebleness and that she was too old to dance to the loud music.
Shortly thereafter, Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi issued a statement urging that the OPM shall cooperate with investigations regarding the alleged diversion of iron sheets.
The non-committal statement also hinted at the possibility that the iron sheets could be different from those government issued for relief.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja was still willing to throw in her neck for Kitutu, and she started skirting around with explanations stating that the OPM is a home of many affirmative action ministries, hence such ministries procure “various items including iron sheets for specific intervention to address gaps in livelihood and infrastructure in their respective portfolios which items are kept in the same store.”
Nabbanja later in a televised interview insisted that while there is a group of officials that have received iron sheets before, those are not the same iron sheets that were meant for Karamoja.
“It is true the Vice President took iron sheets, aren’t there vulnerable people in Katakwi? I took iron sheets to Kakumiro, are there no vulnerable people in Kakumiro? People are receiving these iron sheets, so let us investigate those that have not reached the people,” she said.
According to Nabbanja then, the iron sheets had been coming from different donors and funders, and different officials have been asking for them so as to support their vulnerable communities.
“People have been taking iron sheets for a long time, in a transparent process through proper assessment, it is not a new thing. We have been distributing iron sheets for quite long. We should not bundle these to the Karamoja issue,” she said.
Muhakanizi jumps out of the wagon
On 13th February, Muhakanzi let the cat out of the bag, confirming that the OPM had received a request from Kitutu for 12,200 pieces of iron sheets.
The iron sheets, Muhakanizi wrote, had been requested by Kitutu’s Private Assistant (PA) via WhatsApp. Muhakanizi’s memo ended with a promise that such an event would not reoccur.
“It is true that we based on the verbal and WhatsApp communication of the PA to the Hon: MKA informed our decision to issue to the above-mentioned beneficiaries because we had no reason to doubt communication from a fellow officer who works directly with the Honorable Minister for Karamoja affair,” he wrote.
“Moving forward, we promise to strengthen due diligence in handling issues from stores so as to prevent the re-occurrence of the above scenarios and any inconveniences it may have caused to the Office of the Prime Minister,”
Cabinet discusses iron sheets, Nabbanja tries one more time
On March 6th, a cabinet meeting waved Nabbanja to sit as she stepped up to explain the Iron Sheets scandal to President Museveni who had probed Kitutu’s deputy Agnes Nandutu.
Museveni who continuously referred to Nandutu and her senior minister as “abeefi” a lugisu word for thieves, wanted to find out the details of this iron sheet scandal and after several volunteered opinions, ordered criminal investigations into the beneficiaries.
Museveni argued that there was no reason why parliament would be involving itself in the scandal, urging that the issue was a police matter and whoever is behind it should be arrested.
Defence wall around Kitutu develops cracks
Following the President’s directives, the defence wall around Kitutu started breaking away, leaving her exposed.
Minister Amos Lugolobi dashed back to his home and pulled down the iron sheets from his pig shade, calling them “evil”.
Minister Kasaijja claimed he was not aware of how the iron sheets got to his compound, in fact, he was very surprised to find them.
“First of all, I never applied for those iron sheets. Never. I did not apply for them. I did not ask ‘Please, give me.’ Yes, I got it. Someone says ‘Honorable Kasaija, the Office of the Prime Minister is donating iron sheets for you’. Donating, yes and we have some papers which I will bring you [as evidence]. So, the next thing I see the iron sheets have been delivered. Even now there is a bundle of 300. I did not know how it came into my compound,” Kasaijja vowed.
The Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among self-confessed and took a decision to refund the 500 pieces of iron sheets.
“I have always said I got a call that iron sheets have been brought; after further analysis and considering that iron sheets were made for Karamoja and not Bukedea, I have taken a personal decision as a leader to buy 500 iron sheets and give them back. I have sent my personal assistant to give back the iron sheets,” Among said.
Vice President Jessica Alupo categorically stated that she has never made a request for iron sheets. She expressed shock on finding out that she had been listed among those who stole the iron sheets but she “remained calm”.
She expressed displeasure that the iron sheets had been used to tarnish people’s names including her own.
The 3rd Prime Minister Rukia Isanga Nakadama also confessed to having received the iron sheets after a verbal request from Minister Kitutu but insisted she would not return them.
The government chief whip Hamson Obua also called the media to distance himself from the iron sheets, he said he had been offered the iron sheets verbally by Kitutu in the corridors of State House Entebbe after a cabinet meeting.
“I wish to categorically state that I have never participated in any alleged mismanagement of relief items meant for the Karamoja sub-region, neither did I solicit nor request for,” Obua said.
When the matter was placed in Minister Otafiire’s way, he spiked it off, commenting that anyone must be “out of their mind” to bundle him up with iron sheet thieves.
Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa quickly sent a comment to UBC TV during a talk show in which panellists mentioned him alongside people who received iron sheets, in the message Tayebwa urged the panelists to desist from dragging him in “such matters”.
Security Minister Jim Muhwezi dismissed the talk involving him in the iron sheet scandal as “RUBISH” while the Deputy Attorney General said he was not that “cheap”.
Efforts to drag in another 30 legislators alleged to have received the iron sheets were futile, as each of them feigned ignorance.
Kitutu left alone and frightened
With everyone falling off the iron sheets, Minister Kitutu was left exposed, alone and very frightened.
While appearing before the Presidential Affairs Committee, she apologized for misappropriating the iron sheets. This being her last throw of the die to relief, she thought it would result in a super six, alas, she had dug into quicksand.
“This statement is being made in my capacity as Minister for Karamoja Affairs on the matter of iron sheets procured under my Ministry. Without proper guidance, some iron sheets meant for the Karamoja region were given outside the region in response to requests. This could have been an oversight but now that guidance has been given, this will not recur,” she stated.
Only that for Kitutu she was now moving on thin glass, everyone had disowned her, she now stands to fight a battle alone, it does not make sense anymore whom she includes as they jump out of it as soon as they land.
Spend the Easter in jail
Coincidentally, Kitutu is walking the path of Jesus Christ, except as possibly one of the thieves that were crucified side by side with Jesus.
Good Friday is here, and she was crucified by the Director of Public Prosecutions, will she resurrect? Kitutu will now walk a lonely road to Calvary, laden with a corrupt cross and betrayals of those with whom she shared the last iron sheets supper, she has chosen silence to save them of their sin for they also agree they did not know what they were doing.