Why Museveni wants the judiciary to turn a blind eye to his creepy fingers
By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
After taking control of all arms of the state, Museveni has now turned his attention to the judiciary, which he sees as the last impediment to his scheme of extracting maximum value and shortchanging Ugandans at every opportunity.
Addressing the 22 Annual Conference this week, Museveni repeated his call for the judiciary to give the executive some slack, especially in commercial matters involving large projects, whose allocation is always contentious. Giving the example of the US$ 600 million Tororo Phosphate Project – which at some point was stopped by the courts after one of the parties was shortchanged – Museveni argued that delays to projects caused by petitions to court “impose a huge cost on the economy”.
The courts should therefore stop entertaining them!, said the ruler.
Largely seen as an example of a boy crying wolf however, several commentators observed that Museveni was simply asking the courts to cover his tracks for him since he is the primary source of disputes revolved around those very projects.
Museveni has turned State House into a clearinghouse for procurement of major civil works where whoever offers the biggest cut to him, or his family and inner circle carries the day. It is indicative of the alarming trend where the Ugandan Presidency has been turned into a looting machine, seasoned observers say.
“This would be funny if it was not so ridiculous, and given the grave implications,” said a Kampala advocate. This is one of the attorneys that has represented clients that lost major contracts after Museveni overrode procurement agencies to personally appoint contractors.
“What Museveni is saying in reality is a call on the judiciary to abdicate on its responsibility to play arbiter,” added that attorney. That would effectively leave the victims of his meddling with all avenues for redress closed.
Museveni should spare Ugandans the drama, and simply declare his personal interests in those so called national projects, said yet another commentator.
The president’s hand can be traced in almost all major mis-procurements of recent times. The Tororo Phosphate Project that he used as an example was initially conceived, and concessioned to Madhvani International to develop. However, as Madhvani went about putting together the finances for implementation, in walked one Min Fang a Chinese businesswoman.
She took a couple of other Chinese to State House and in the blink of an eye Museveni had overturned the Ministry of Energy and Minerals’ earlier allocation of rights to Madhvani International. Ms Fang, the proprietor of the popular Chinese restaurant Fang-Fang in Kampala, would however later be shortchanged when her Chinese cabal reneged on their agreement to pay her a commission on the deal.
That is what prompted the court action, something Museveni is complicit in because he is the one who entertained a group that had no rights in the first place.
A similar pattern has played out in other mega projects, wherever Museveni smells money. Up to now Ugandans don’t know when, if at all their country will ever be connected to the regional standard gauge railway system that has made progress in Kenya and Tanzania. The lack of progress on Uganda’s side is thanks to Museveni’s meddling.
In 2006 the Ministry of Works had entered an MoU with Chinese firm China Civil Engineering Construction Company CCECC. The latter was to upgrade the existing meter-gauge railway to Standard Gauge, and to develop new limbs connecting with Uganda’s neighbours to the South and West.
All was going well until Museveni got wind of the deal. In no time, he had taken charge of all procurement, dismissed CCECC before bringing in another Chinese outfit that inflated the cost of the project by billions of dollars. Today the project is stuck because the Chinese funders are pushing for s downward revision of the costs.
Museveni’s megalomania knows no bounds.
Now he wants his SGR to go northwest, to the border with the DRC even when there are no corresponding plans on the other side to develop similar infrastructure. Meanwhile the southern leg that would have created a regional loop by connecting with the Tanzanian system was abandoned without explanation.
Some observers however see another sinister motive in Museveni’s assault on the judiciary. For years, the head of state has been throwing jibes at the judges, accusing them of abetting insecurity because they release “criminals”; people that according to Museveni are not mere suspects until proven guilty. He has in the past ordered that suspects in grave offences (except corruption) should be denied bail.
But the courts know the extent of the rot in Museveni’s government, and believe freeing a guilty suspect is the lesser evil than denying an innocent man freedom on the basis of trumped up charges.
There have been cases of people that have been charged with fictitious murders so that their property could be grabbed while they languished in jail on lengthy remand orders.
The other risk is that adopting Museveni’s preferred approach would finish the job of burying an already corrupt and inefficient justice system.