By Michael Odeng
The Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala is on May 3, 2023, set to hear a bail application filed by embattled Karamoja affairs state minister Agnes Nandutu.
Nandutu, the Bududa district woman MP, is battling charges of dealing with suspect property for allegedly diverting iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people of the Karamoja region.
Under section 21A (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, the offence elicits a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, upon conviction.
High Court Judge, Jane Okuo Kajuga, will hear the bail application on May 3, 2023, when Nandutu is expected to return to court.
Through her lawyers Charles Nandaah Wamukoota and John Nalela, Nandutu seeks to be released on bail on medical grounds. Nandutu says she is suffering from severe venous insufficiency, a life-threatening disease that can cause sudden blood clot formation.
Nandutu is said to have received 2,000 iron sheets. The batch she reportedly returned to the Office of the Prime Minister is said to have been short of 383 iron sheets.
Nandutu is the first to be committed to the High Court to face trial in the iron sheets scandal although she is the third minister to be charged and remanded to Luzira Prison over the same.
Others are Karamoja affairs minister Mary Goretti Kitutu, and the finance state minister for planning, Amos Lugoloobi.
Kitutu is battling two counts of loss of public property and conspiracy to defraud. The offence of loss of public property elicits a 10-year jail term on conviction while conspiracy to defraud attracts three years imprisonment. However, Lugoloobi is facing two counts of dealing with suspect property.
Others charged include Kitutu’s brother Micheal Naboya Kitutu and her personal assistant Joshua Abaho. Naboya is accused of receiving stolen property while Abaho is accused of corruption.
The prosecution alleges that Nandutu between the months of June and July 2022, at the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) stores in Namanve, and in Kkola Cell, Bulwanyi Parish, Mukono district, dealt with 2000 pre-painted iron sheets of gauge 28 marked “Office of the Prime Minister”, by receiving and holding the items, which she had reason to believe were acquired as a result of loss of public property, an offence under Section 10 (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2009.
The Ministry of Karamoja Affairs in 2021 received a supplementary budget of sh39.94b meant for disarmament and community empowerment program. The money was to be used to procure goats and iron sheets for the reformed youth warriors known as karachunas and other vulnerable groups like the elderly and women in Karamoja sub-region.
Subsequently, the supplementary budget was released and paid into the OPM single treasurer account in Bank of Uganda. The government first released sh5b on February 25, 2022, to cater for the disarmament exercise in Karamoja sub-region.
The government also released sh10b in March 2022 and another sh24.94b on April 22, 2022, respectively.
Consequently, the OPM identified and procured two companies – MM Integrated Steel Mills Uganda Limited and Roofings Group, to supply pre-painted iron sheets to be used under the disarmament and community empowerment program.
Iron sheets supplied
Court documents indicate that MM Integrated Steel Mills supplied the OPM with 10,000 pre-painted iron sheets at sh689.9m while Roofings Group 85,044 pre-painted galvanised iron sheets of gauge 28 at sh6.47b. The iron sheets were delivered to the OPM stores at Namanve.
According to the indictment, on June 8, 2022, Kitutu’s personal assistant Abaho wrote an internal memo to the undersecretary Geofrey Seremba, requesting for release of 10,000 pre-painted iron sheets for Moroto at the official launch of the distribution of the items including iron sheets by President Yoweri Museveni at Naitakwae grounds in Moroto district.
Seremba, however, according to prosecution, approved the request and forwarded it to the senior inventory management officer, Fredrick Kalema, to process and release 10,000 iron sheets.
However, Abaho purportedly picked 1,000 iron sheets instead of 10,000, which he transported to the official launch in Moroto.
The prosecution alleges that Kitutu in June 2022, called Nandutu on phone and informed her that she had given her 2,000 iron sheets purportedly to help the victims of landslides whose houses had been swept away.
According to prosecution, Nandutu accepted the offer and confirmed the availability of the iron sheets with Abaho. It is alleged that Nandutu on June 23, 2022, availed sh750,000 for transport and sent her political assistant, Evelyn Bazibu, to the OPM stores in Namanve to pick the iron sheets, which she did, and signed a voucher acknowledging receipt of iron sheets.
The iron sheets were reportedly released from the stores by the OPM assistant inventory management officer, Osbert Arinaitwe.
Prosecution states that security operatives later recovered 1, 617 iron sheets from Nandutu’s farm, located in Mukono district. However, the state alleges that Nandutu failed to account for the whereabouts of the 383 missing iron sheets.