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A tower of Babel and Museveni’s creeping assault on state institutions

Museveni hasn't at all been happy with BoU governor Tumusiime Mutebile (right) playing his oversight role by refusing to give consent for money to be printed in Uganda. Museveni could use the ongoing currency scandal to push Mutebile out.

Charles Kamya Sentamu

What many commentators are missing about the currency crisis is that it serves Museveni’s grand scheme of “cadrelization” of the Central Bank, thereby diverting yet another national institution into his endless corrupt purposes.

Senior reporter Charles Kamya Sentamu delivers a damning report in the first installation of a 2-Part report.

Assuming there was anybody orchestrating the drama surrounding the procurement of currency notes by the Bank of Uganda, one would give him credit for a mission well executed. For the past week Ugandans have been intrigued by reports that an official order for printing of new currency notes worth Ushs 378 billion had been illegally varied and an additional Ushs 90 billion printed and shipped to unknown individuals in the country.

The smoking gun was an extra five cargo pallets that arrived in Entebbe on an aircraft that officially should have only 20 pallets on board.

In the official narrative the cargo in the surplus pallets belonged to a couple of crony capitalists, and some institutions including the USAID, the UN and Uganda’s own Ministry of Health. The latter has since distanced itself from the shipment.

Although internal investigations into the breach had been going on since the controversial consignment was delivered in late April, the scandal only came to the public domain after a June 2, 2019 letter written to President Museveni by BoU Governor Tumusiime Mutebile, somehow leaked, triggering off panicked reactions.

Museveni dispatched his paratrooper “State House Anti-Corruption Unit” led by Lt. Col Edith Nakalema to probe the ‘matter’. For whatever reason Nakalema decided to bring the police on board. And that is when the drama started.

Soon after Nakalema and the police criminal investigation department carted away eight officials for interrogation. Searches were conducted at the suspects’ homes and – according to police – documentation pertaining to the spurious printing of excess currency, but no money itself, were recovered.

In a sudden change in the storylines however, both BoU and the State House sting unit said the investigation was not about ‘logistical anomalies’ in ferrying the consignment. Police on its part has stuck to their line of investigating unauthorized printing of currency.

It has raised a hell of a public stink. Why such an investigation would involve dramatic arrests of public servants might as well be a case of first shooting and then aiming later. But the damage is already done. In the absence of a credible explanation – as the spokespersons of the different government agencies clash – the integrity of the Ugandan shilling is on the line. To keen observers of the Ugandan state, however, the current corruption-stinking chaos may not be random, but fits into a grand scheme of things.

Ever since Museveni assumed power, he has never seen institutions as partners in managing affairs of the state but rather adversaries to be disabled, or in extreme cases eliminated altogether. It fits a recognizable pattern.

Some time during 2016 for instance, a decision was taken to revamp the government printer – Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation (UPPC) in Entebbe. A multi-million dollar plan was crafted to upgrade the facility into a modern security printer that could produce ID, passports and other high security documents locally.

Without international bidding, Veridos Identity Solutions, a German security printer was somehow pulled out of the woodwork as the company UPPC had selected for its technical partner. The suspicious deal ran into a roadblock, however, when the paperwork was brought to the finance ministry to sign.

Along the way Museveni had decided to sneak in an additional provision: the printing of Ugandan currency. The Bank of Uganda led by Tumusiime Mutebile opposed and succeeded in stopping the deal in its tracks, citing risks to the integrity of the national currency through either leakages of printed currency or materials used in its manufacture to unauthorized people.

After nearly three years of haggling, Museveni finally relented, and a deal with Veridos, minus the currency printing provision, was signed and flagged off by the finance ministry towards the end of 2018. However, anybody who knows Museveni well will tell you that the man never gives up on his goals, especially the more crooked ones.

Whatever the truth in the current storm over unauthorized printing of currency, the saga helps him to secure public support for a raid on the central bank that many consider long overdue. Barring the World Bank and IMF, there is likely to be minimal opposition if he chose to fire some people.

The stage is set for Museveni to launch an assault on the nation’s guardian of fiscal stability in ways that even the most jaded Ugandan will find shocking.

We bring you the second installation of this report tomorrow.