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Outstanding career in danger of unraveling because of the messy national ID project.

Dr Stephen Kagoda, the Permanent Secretary of the Internal Affairs ministry, appears resigned to fate as the messy national ID project threatens to tarnish his outstanding career record. Surrendering his fate to Parliament, Kagoda told The Observer last week that he is ready to relinquish his position if the MPs so demand. He is accused of contracting German firm Muhlbauer High Tech at the cost of 64 million Euros (Shs 200bn) to produce national identity cards without following the procurement law.

 

“If they have done investigations and that’s what they want to be done, I have no problem with it,” Kagoda said, the unmistakable softness in his voice denoting his resignation.

The government contracted Muhlbauer in 2010 to produce national IDs but the project has made little headway, with only 400 cards produced so far. Now, following a three-week investigation into the messy procurement, members of the Defence and Internal Affairs committee have recommended that Kagoda and the former Internal Affairs minister, Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, be held responsible for violating procurement rules.

“The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) Authority, Auditor General and the Attorney General did admit to the committee that the procurement procedures were avoided in the award of the contract,” said committee chairperson Milton Muwuma (Kigulu South).

We have learnt that among other transgressions, the Permanent Secretary opted for single-source bidding at the behest of State House but without PPDA approval. Kagoda, however, insists that he did what was right under the circumstances.

“I did what I could, and I think if that is what they are saying, let justice prevail,” he said.

Kagoda has appeared before three parliamentary committees – ICT, Defence and Internal Affairs, and Public Accounts (PAC) – and has failed each time to explain why his ministry fought hard to take over the ID project from the ICT ministry that was earlier meant to handle it.

So Kagoda, the MPs say, must carry his cross for money that he probably never touched. When he appeared before the ICT and Defence committees, Kagoda seemed to be in control. At one point, he was heard in the corridors of Parliament telling a colleague that he couldn’t understand why MPs were fussing about the ID project when the contracted company had not declared failure to deliver.

But when he appeared before PAC, Kagoda appeared to have lost it. His calmness had diminished and his typical diplomatic demeanour had given way to shouting as he lost his temper. Even his truthfulness was doubted, prompting the MPs to put him on oath. The committee later ordered his brief detention by the Police, during which he penned a statement in his defence.

“We in the ministry of Internal Affairs did all we could to follow the law. After a contract document had been made, I wrote to PPDA (Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority),” Kagoda started his submission before PAC.

But the lawmakers were not convinced. “Give us documentary evidence showing that you wrote to PPDA asking for a waiver,” PAC chairman Kassiano Wadri (Terego) demanded.

“In my opinion, it’s fair to say that I followed the law. I contacted PPDA,” Kagoda replied.

But MPs insisted on looking at the evidence, which Kagoda couldn’t produce.The PS claimed that he had sought the opinion of PPDA and was granted a waiver to single-source Muhlbauer High Tech, but his evidence to that effect was not forthcoming.

“I know [Kagoda] as a stellar performer, but since you see him flipping the pages, perhaps there is nothing,” said Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga).

Indeed, Kagoda would later admit: “PPDA didn’t give me the green light.”

He now shifted to a more complicated but perhaps more genuine defence – State House.

“Were you under pressure from someone? And who is this?” Wadri asked.

“I will not say that I was under pressure from any source, but I received guidance,” Kagoda replied.

He said he had received guidance from President Museveni and presented the President’s letter to former Internal Affairs minister, Kirunda Kivejinja, as evidence. But some scolded him for tabling a letter that was not addressed to him. Further, Eddie Kwizera (Bufumbira East) had read to the committee President Museveni’s ‘guidance’ to the PS before the contract was signed – that it should follow the law and ensure value for money.

“Don’t disgrace yourself,” said an angry Martin Drito (Madi-Okollo).

“I have high regard for you as a senior technocrat, but here we mean business. Ugandans are yearning for the blood of the corrupt. Have you ever gone to court?” Wadri asked.

“I have never gone to court,” the subdued PS replied.

It is looking obvious that Kagoda succumbed to directives from State House to do what he did. Unfortunately for him, he can’t pin anyone in State House. Even if he was forced to, it probably wouldn’t save him because as PS, he was in charge. As former ministers Syda Bbumba and Khiddu Makubuya were to note to their chagrin, being directed by State House may not be such a good defence after all. And so Kagoda must carry his cross. As he surrendered his fate to Parliament, Kagoda made one last plea: please do not cancel the contract.

“We risk losing out if it is cancelled,” he warned.

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