The Local Government ministry is struggling to calm another parliamentary furore, this time over the purchase of vehicles for 111 district chairpersons.
Parliament put the issue in the spotlight only days after the interdicted Local Government Permanent Secretary Muhanguzi Kashaka was given ten years in prison for failure to deliver bicycles worth Shs 4.6bn to local councils. On Tuesday, MPs argued that the planned procurement of these cars was not approved by Parliament.
The whistle-blower, Mukono Municipality MP and Shadow Minister for Local Government Betty Nambooze Bakireke urged Parliament to compel the ministry to halt the procurement process. The ministry, on July 21, placed an advert on page 38 in the New Vision calling for bids to supply cars. The move, Nambooze said, contravened Article 155(4) of the Constitution.
In its ministerial policy statement before Parliament, the ministry indicates it intends to purchase 111 vehicles for all district chairpersons and six other cars for the ministry headquarters. Adolf Mwesige, the Local Government minister, said his ministry hoped to pay an initial deposit of Shs 4.8bn.
“Mr Speaker, the purchase of the 117 vehicles for both district chairpersons and the ministry is still a proposed subject to be discussed by the committee [on Local Government and Public Service] and be approved by Parliament,” Nambooze said.
“However, contrary to this, the ministry has kick-started the process to procure the said cars by calling for bids for the provision of the said vehicles. It has even assured bidders that they have already allocated funds for this item and issued a calendar for the bid submission,” Nambooze added.
The Observer has established that the procurement process began late in February, this year, after Mwesige hosted the district chairpersons to a dinner at the Chinese embassy on Malcom X avenue, Kololo. The dinner followed a policy consultative conference at Hotel Africana by the Uganda Local Governments Association (ULGA), according to one of the district chairpersons. Mwesige reportedly told the district bosses that the Finance ministry had agreed to fund the Shs 11bn project.
The chief administrative officers (CAOs) are also lined up to get cars later.
At the dinner with Sun Heping, the Chinese ambassador, Foton Motors, a Chinese automobile manufacturer with a showroom near Kampala Meat Packers, was invited to exhibit the vehicles that would be procured.
“It is a Tunland double-cabin truck that is going to be given to each one of us, we had wanted that the vehicles are given to us under the terms of personal ownership but the permanent secretary [Patrick Mutabwiire] said the presidential orders were that the vehicles are district chairpersons’ not individuals’,” the chairperson said.
Mwesige promised that the vehicles would be delivered between October and November this year. The vehicles are four-wheel trucks with an engine capacity of 2776cc, according to the manufacturer’s website, www.foton-global.com. According to our source, the Chinese, during the dinner, told the LC-V chairpersons that each truck would cost $20,000 (Shs 53.2m), which brings the total cost of the 117 cars to Shs 6.22bn.
“The call for bids is just to hoodwink the public because they have already identified the supplier; they are only doing this as a formality,” Nambooze charged.
The junior minister for Local Government, Alex Onzima, told the House that the money being used to procure the vehicles was part of the vote on account that Parliament approved recently.
Former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nathan Nandala-Mafabi (Budadiri West) however, said: “If we are to talk about the vote on account, it is 30 per cent of the Shs 4.8bn, but the ministry is using all the money in its budget for this item, and a scrutiny of the advert shows that the government is trying to borrow money without the approval of Parliament.” Several opposition MPs demanded that the ministry recalls the advert and the process halted.
“This is how we lost billions in the LC bicycles’ scandal, I don’t want to imagine that some people in the ministry would wish to join their colleague Mr Kashaka in Luzira,” Nambooze said.
During the Local Government and Public Service committee meeting on Wednesday, Adolf Mwesige informed the committee by telephone that the process had been halted. The committee, however, asked him to put that in writing.
“This is a query that we have noted as a committee and in the meantime, we have written to the minister and the PS to give us an explanation in writing, ahead of their appearance before the committee on August 5,” Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, the committee chairperson, said on Thursday.
Contacted yesterday, PS Mutabwire said through an SMS: “the purchase of 111 vehicles was budgeted and I initiated the procurement. Any problem with that…?
He said that by initiating the procurement process, he was aiming at saving time because by the time the budget will be approved later this year, he will have lost some considerable time.
“By Parliament passing the vote on account, I have the authority to initiate procurement and wait to sign contracts when the budget has been fully approved,” Mutabwire said.
He also defends the dinner at the Chinese embassy that he said was hosted in the spirit of the China-Africa Friendship association which is chaired by Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi.
“If Foton motors hosted district chairpersons to a dinner, does that constitute a breach in procurement? I can only be held for actions of breaching the law and as far as I am concerned, I have not breached any law,” Mutabwire added.
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