Fallout with an important ally exposes Museveni’s economic crimes
By Edith Wandera
Fallout between President Museveni and his longtime partner in crime, the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has given Ugandans a rare glimpse into the grand larceny that Museveni has engaged in over the years, using security sector spending as a cover.
The expose comes after attempts by Museveni to ingratiate himself to voters by sacrificing his alliance with a criminally inclined rubberstamp parliament boomeranged in his face. Kadaga lost her cool last week after Museveni reneged on a deal under which members of parliament would share Ushs 10 billion from a 304 billion shilling budget that was mid-April irregularly passed by the house for an emergency Covid-19 response.
Making good on her threat to expose the lies behind the so-called classified expenditure, Kadaga’s revelations though veiled confirmed long held suspicions about the copious security budget, which is not backed by any visible outputs. The gist of her revelations was that contrary to what Museveni would like the public and development partners to believe, “classified expenditure” is a euphemism for plain theft. It is another word for scams against the public, because it is Museveni alone who decides what to do with that money once it is approved.
The security budget is not open to audit and although the Auditor General in theory is allowed to “see” how the money has been spent, there is no record of even a classified audit report on military expenditure. According to Ms Kadaga a huge portion of the Ushs 1.695 billion that has so far been passed in supplementary expenditure since January, ends up in Museveni’s pocket.
Some 264 billion of this was appropriated directly for Museveni’s State House. But the figure goes well past a trillion when one factors in allocations to the different security outfits, local governments and government agencies. In any case the parliamentarians knew that the Shs 284 budget presented for the “Covid-19 response” was inflated. In exchange for passing it, they padded it with Shs 20 billion half of which would go to them.
Each MP would walk away with Shs 20 million ostensibly to mount their own covid-19 interventions at constituency level. Trouble started however, when the plan leaked to the media triggering a panicked reaction that saw Museveni try to distance himself from the scandal. He called the parliament evil and insensitive and ordered them to return the money. In a closed meeting with Kadaga, the compromise was that the MPs would spend the monies in coordination with district Covid-19 task forces.
But ever the backstabber and with an eye on an election next January, Museveni backtracked, presenting the MP’s as greedy to the public the next day. The move drew an immediate backlash with the MP’s reacting angrily on their WhatsApp group.
“Theft is sanctioned by NRM! They have stolen billions, but we shall account for 20 million from consolidated fund. I didn’t pick the 200 million courtesy of Yoweri for age limits. Nothing to do with Parliamentary Commission. Yoweri is the [**]. The voters must know!!! He can steal the votes…,” one enraged MP wrote in a series of messages this website saw.
“The most important thing, H.E. has [done] today is discrediting Parliament and knowing that it’s always useful, dumped and reusable,” added another.
“The way to straighten things out is for Parliament to use the remaining term to expose the rot in government. Then people will think again, about who’re the looters of our country,” suggested yet another irate member.
Feeling exposed, Museveni tried to deflect attention from the debate by “donating” Ushs 1.4 million of his nominal 3.6 million net monthly salary, to the Coronavirus relief effort. Despite presiding over donations by ordinary folk whose contributions he spent considerable time reading out, a personal donation was not originally his idea. He was prompted by one of the stage-managed callers, allowed to phone into one of his televised, marathon monologues.
The caller wanted to know why unlike public servants in other African countries, Ugandan civil servants had until that point, not volunteered a pay cut. “Your people normally pay me some little money,” Museveni said in his characteristic condescending manner.” They pay me 3.6 million shillings. NRM takes about 20 per cent. On the other remaining 2.7 million shillings, I will instruct Janet to sign 1.4 million each month to the fund. Janet is the one who receives that money. I never follow up on that,” Museveni said.
If he expected the offer to attract applause, his joke was dead on arrival. Members of his enlightened audience clearly recalled the string of supplementary budgets that have been passed since the start of the year in which State House was allocated Ushs 264 billion. Surely, a man who has that kind of money at his disposal could have put on a better show?
Now anybody familiar with Uganda’s security budget would tell you that it is an opaque sector that is there to facilitate President Museveni’s looting. Despite a heavy charge on the treasury, money spent cannot be seen by its results. It has long been an open hole through Museveni and a select few of his henchmen have enriched themselves while Ugandans fall deeper into poverty.
The last time Uganda made any verifiable military expenditure was in 2018 when the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Arms transfer database shows Uganda spending $9 million on arms procurements. In 2019, only US$ 1 million was spent on arms procurements. So unless Museveni is buying arms under the radar of international watchdogs there is no record to justify the trillions of shillings that he has been charging the budget in the name of “classified defense expenditure”.
Collectively countries in eastern Africa in including Ethiopia spent just US$ 104 million on weapons during 2019. This is not anywhere close to what is attributable to defense procurement in the Ugandan budget. To those in the know however, this is not surprising. It is what Museveni has been doing for the over three decades he’s been in power.
The war against the government by a rag-tag force of bandits in northern Uganda for instance lasted more than 20 years because Museveni kept inflating the troop strength of his army just to embezzle money for himself, and a small inner circle. As MP’s pushback against his latest move however, Museveni is in a fix.
He cannot coerce them into silence because they are fighting for their political lives and they cannot trust him any longer. The food relief programme he was banking on has gone horribly wrong as corrupt officials repackage it for the open market. Anger is swelling in the countryside as hungry residents see food delivered by well-wishers but which never reaches them.
Museveni must be on his knees hoping for divine intervention.