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Iron sheets saga: Kitutu faces 10 years in jail over corruption

by Editorial Team
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By Charles Etukuri and Michael Odeng

Karamoja affairs minister Mary Goretti Kitutu is staring at spending 10 years in jail after being charged with four counts of loss of public property, corruption, receiving stolen goods and conspiracy to defraud.

Kitutu was on April 6, 2023, afternoon charged alongside her personal assistant, Joshua Abaho, who is also the senior assistant secretary in the ministry and her brother, Michael Naboya Kitutu.  

Kitutu, Naboya and Abaho appeared before the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala and were charged under the Anti-Corruption Act 2009, which stipulates the punishment for the corruption offences committed. 

A person convicted of an offence under sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, and 13 is liable, on conviction, to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or a fine not exceeding 240 currency points, or both.  

This would mean Kitutu, together with her co-accused, are each to pay sh4,800,000 in addition to the sentence. 

If convicted, Kitutu would be barred from holding any public office for 10 years. Under Article 80 (e) of the 1995 Constitution, she would also be barred from being an MP if found guilty.  

Kitutu arrived at the court at around 12:15pm while covering her face and her vehicle parked right at the holding cells, where she was ushered in pending her arraignment in court.  

On the loss of public property contrary to Section 10 (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, the state alleges that Kitutu, between June 2022 and January 2023, at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) stores in Namanve, Mukono district caused a loss of public property in the form of 9,000 pre-painted iron sheets (gauge 28). 

They allege that by diverting the said iron sheets from the intended purpose of benefitting the Karamoja Community Development Programme (KCEP) to her own benefit and to the benefit of third parties, there is reason to believe that such an act would result in the loss of the said public property.  

Abaho was charged with corruption, contrary to Section 2 of the Anti-corruption Act. The state alleged that Abaho, from June 2022 at the OPM stores in Namanve, Mukono district, being a public official in the position of senior assistant secretary in the Karamoja affairs ministry, diverted 9,000 pre-painted iron sheets meant for KCEP, for purposes unrelated to those for which they were intended and for the benefit of third parties, which he received by virtue of his position for purpose of custody and distribution.  

On the second count of corruption under Section 2 of the Anti-Corruption Act, the state alleged that Abaho, during the month of January 2023 at the OPM stores being a public official, diverted 5,500 pre-painted iron sheets which were meant for KCEP for purposes unrelated to those of which they were intended, and for the benefit of third parties which he received by virtue of his position for purposes of custody and distribution.

Naboya was charged with receiving stolen items, contrary to Section 314 of the Penal Code Act with the state alleging that between the month of June 2022 and January 2023 at Situmi village, Bukhawekha sub-county, Namisindwa district, he received 100 pre-coasted iron sheets of gauge 28 marked OPM-Uganda having reason to believe the same to have been feloniously obtained.  

Kitutu and Abaho were also jointly charged with conspiracy to defraud contrary to Section 309 of the Penal Code Act with the state alleging that between the month of June 2022 and January 2023, they conspired together by deceit to defraud beneficiaries under the KCEP of 9,000 pre-painted iron sheets of gauge 28.  

Only environment state minister Beatrice Anywar stood by Kitutu. Anywar brought her a changing dress and was also allowed to meet her in the cells.  

In court, a lanky, mean-looking Police officer stood by the minister throughout the session. 

The arrest

Kitutu was arrested on Tuesday in Parliament while appearing before the presidential affairs committee that is also probing the matter and handed over to the CID.  

She was then taken to Kibuli, where the joint team of CID and State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) were waiting for her. This was after Kitutu snubbed the summonses that had been served to her by Police.

When she appeared before CID, Kitutu declined to speak to the detectives, forcing the Police to detain her. At about 10:45pm, a decision was made to drive Kitutu to Kira Division Police headquarters in Kira municipality where she spent two days.  

On Wednesday, detectives carried out a search at the minister’s home and also hoped that she would lead them to another venue in Bulindo and Kayunga, where it is alleged she was keeping other iron sheets, but she declined.  

Detectives had hoped that Kitutu would explain why she allocated herself the iron sheets she had requested claiming they were being taken to the vulnerable in Karamoja. 

She was also supposed to explain how other ministers accessed the iron sheets that had been released to the OPM stores and were supposed to be delivered to Karamoja. 

The detectives also hoped to establish why the iron sheets were not delivered and who gave the directive of the distribution to the ministers.

Kitutu was also supposed to explain how the iron sheets ended up in Namisindwa at the homes of her mother and brother, only for them to start selling them.  

Her file was then sent to the Directorate of Public Prosecution, which recommended that Kitutu be charged alongside her brother, Michael Nabwoya, who was arrested on February 12.  

New Vision breaks story

On February 13, 2023, New Vision broke the story of the arrest of Kitutu’s relatives, including her mother Cotilda Kitutu, a resident of Situumi in Bukhaweka sub-county, her brother Nabwoya and nephew, Julius Wabule, all residents of Namisindwa.  

The trio were arrested after they reportedly sold iron sheets to detectives from SHACU who posed as clients.  

Following the expose’ OPM permanent secretary Keith Muhakanizi convened a meeting to try to get to the bottom of the matter.  

Report on the iron sheets

A subsequent report from the inventory section at the OPM detailed how the iron sheets that were meant for Karamoja were released and shared with the ministers.  

The report states that on January 25, 2023, the stores unit at the OPM received authorisation from the undersecretary to release 12,200 G28 corrugated pre-painted iron sheets.  

“The stores unit thereafter received phone calls from the office of the Minister for Karamoja affairs through her personal assistant and senior assistant secretary at the ministry informing us that he will be sending beneficiaries of the 12,200 iron sheets to pick their consignment and that he will be guiding on the distribution from time to time,” the reports states.  

In the report, the senior inventory management officer said: “It is true we based on verbal and WhatsApp communication of Abaho, who is the personal assistant to Kitutu to inform our decision to issue to the ministers because we had no reason to doubt the communication from a fellow officer who works directly with the Minister for Karamoja Affairs,” the report indicated.  

Kitutu becomes the first minister under the current President Yoweri Museveni Cabinet to be arrested over abuse of office. 

President Museveni reportedly sanctioned the investigations during a Cabinet meeting on March 6, 2023, and also met some of the affected ministers who explained their side of the story.  

Prison speaks out  

On Thursday, Uganda Prisons Service spokesperson Frank Baine said Kitutu would not be accorded any special treatment in case she is convicted.  

“If she was sent to prison, we would not accord her any special status. Is she the first politician we have kept? We have had a former vice-president (Gilbert Bukenya) and leaders of Opposition. There is no special treatment we would accord her,” Baine said.  

This story appeared in New Vision of April 7, 2023

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