Ugandan Court Charges Government Minister With Corruption

Ugandan Court Charges Government Minister With Corruption

07 Apr 2023 ( VOA News )

Activists in Uganda are welcoming the rare prosecution of a government minister on corruption charges but are skeptical that other high-level officials will be charged in the scandal.

Karamoja Affairs Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu was charged Thursday with fraud and causing loss of public property in the theft of thousands of metal roofing sheets meant for poor residents in her community. She will remain in jail over the holiday weekend and was expected to remain in custody until her next court appearance Wednesday.

Uganda’s public prosecutor said other ministers implicated in the scheme would be held accountable.

The prosecutor’s office said Kitutu, her younger brother and Joshua Abaho, a senior assistant secretary in the same ministry who was reported to be on the run, had diverted roofing meant for beneficiaries under the Karamoja community empowerment program. Karamoja is the least developed part of Uganda, with hundreds of thousands still living in mud-thatched houses known as manyattas.

The prosecution of government ministers for corruption is rare in Uganda, where theft and misuse of public funds and materials is routine. As investigations into the scandal continue, nine other ministers, including executive members of the government such as the vice president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister, are potential suspects.

Marlon Agaba, with the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda, told VOA he doubted the remaining ministers would be held accountable.

‘Sacrificial lamb’

“In a way, she has been given in as a sacrificial lamb,” Agaba said of Kitutu. “That doesn’t take away her culpability. It has happened before, where probably one person or two are taken to court and the others go away scot-free. So to me, it’s not surprising at all. But we also need to know that, yes, she has been taken to court, [but] it’s not time for rejoicing yet, because in the country where we are, we don’t have a history of convicting actually the ministers.”

The vice president and the prime minister have publicly stated that Kitutu gave them the roofing sheets. Agaba said those were flimsy excuses.

“If you’re a prime minister or a speaker or whatever and the minister of Karamoja is giving you iron sheets, you think those iron sheets are coming from where?” he said. “They knew that these iron sheets were for the people of Karamoja. Because even information came out showing that they even discussed on WhatsApp and other platforms and agreed how they were going to share these iron sheets.”

The Committee on Presidential Affairs in Uganda’s parliament is conducting a separate probe. Legislator Jacob Karubanga told VOA those who benefited from the diverted roofing sheets should not have received what belonged to Karamoja.

“If anybody diverted iron sheets meant for a particular group, that was wrong,” he said. “But to what extent it is wrong is the problem. Because on the other hand, those who received the iron sheets, in any case, are also vulnerable. But it was not meant for those particular vulnerables who received them. [The sheets that Kitutu gave out] should have been delivered to the originally identified vulnerables in Karamoja.”

Jacquelyn Okui, spokesperson for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the case was getting the attention it deserved. When asked by VOA if Kitutu was being used as a scapegoat in the scandal. Okui said, “No, it’s just a process. You see, the iron sheets scandal is, I would say, like a big elephant. So it’s been decided that it be handled piecemeal. There are other cases filed for other suspects, which are still being investigated.”