Uganda detains Karamoja minister, brother over iron sheets theft
Uganda’s Karamoja Affairs Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu and her brother, Michael Naboya Kitutu, who are facing investigations over a scandal involving the theft of iron sheets, have been remanded at Luzira Prison in Kampala where they will spend the Easter weekend.
Kituutu, several ministers, government officials and MPs are accused of sharing out iron sheets that were meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja. In March this year, Uganda’s criminal investigations directorate launched a probe on 22 ministers, 31 MPs and 13 chief administrative officers over involvement in the diversion of nearly 10,000 iron sheets.
Kituutu, who remained silent when she appeared before Uganda’s parliamentary committee investigating the matter, remained silent even when she appeared before the criminal investigations officers and state house officials before she was sent to the anti-corruption court on Thursday afternoon where her last-minute attempts to secure bail fell flat and she was taken to prison until April 12 when she returns to court for her bail hearing.
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“I am sending the minister and her brother to jail on charges of causing loss of public property, corruption and conspiracy to defraud the government,” the presiding Chief Magistrate Joan Aciro said, adding that she needed sufficient time to scrutinize the bail application by the two.
“I have heard and understood the charge. It is not true, and I am not guilty,” Ms Kitutu responded when the charges were read out to her.
The charge sheet says the minister and others caused a loss of public property between June 2022 and January 2023 by diverting 9,000 pre-painted iron sheets intended for the Karamoja empowerment programme. It is also alleged that the minister diverted 5,500 iron sheets.
In December 2021, Uganda’s parliament passed a supplementary budget of $1 million to support various programmes in Karamoja, which included the purchase of 100,000 iron sheets.
The offer of iron sheets was part of luring the Karamojong cattle rustlers, especially the youth, out of the vice by encouraging them to build houses and have permanent residences. Uganda’s government reasoned that living in such homesteads would discourage the youth from engaging in cattle rustling.
Several officials involved
The country learnt about the iron sheets scandal after state house investigators in February uncovered the diversion of the iron sheets and other relief items meant for Karamoja. Caught and arrested with the items were relatives of Ms Kitutu, including her brother and mother.
The Karamoja-bound iron sheets were picked from the stores of the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda, shared out among ministers and other government officials, including the country’s Vice President Jessica Alupo, Premier Robinah Nabbanja and Speaker of Parliament Anita Among who has since returned them.
Several Ugandan cabinet ministers, among them First Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga and Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, have publicly acknowledged receiving the iron sheets but said they never asked for them, while State Minister for Finance Amos Lugoloobi went ahead to remove the iron sheets from the animal shed he had roofed using them.
Whereas Kitutu apologised to the country after the glaring discovery of her involvement in the scandal, she rejected calls for her resignation and maintained her innocence.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, whose 37-year-rule has been riddled with corruption and embezzlement of public funds as well as accusations of little focus on fighting the vice despite having institutions to fight it, was reportedly angry and ordered the country’s authorities to investigate and bring the culprits to book.
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