In a revealing testimony to a Parliamentary committee investigating the controversial Shs 6 billion cash reward to 42 senior government officials, President Museveni said he has had to endure ever since “he discovered oil in 2006”, according to a source.
Behind closed doors on Wednesday at State House, Entebbe, Museveni testified before Parliament’s committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) that is investigating the cash reward, which was christened the “presidential handshake.”
Museveni told MPs that the issue they were investigating was not a small one because ever since the discovery of oil in 2006, it has been a source of big fights which drew in several African presidents. He named South Africa’s Jacob Zuma whom he said had sent an agent to lobby that Museveni accepts the passing of the upstream and midstream oil laws in Parliament.
“There has been a big war since the discovery of oil in 1996; people have been fighting over industrialisation and tax collection, this is where Zuma sent me an agent to convince me to accept some of these issues,” a source quotes Museveni as having said.
Museveni also indirectly named his former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, among the people who were involved in the fights. Museveni veiled Mbabazi’s name under a tagline of “Katuntu’s Kanungu friends.”
Museveni also blamed Nakaseke MP Syda Bbumba, who he said signed a waiver to Energy Africa (Tullow Oil) as energy minister in 2001, which caused the country a loss of $157m (Shs 549.5bn).
Before he opened up to the committee, Museveni first chased out his press unit led by Don Innocent Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, who had earlier also asked the nine journalists present out of State House and back to Kampala. Parliament’s press unit led by Mohammed Katamba was also not allowed into the meeting room.
Before Museveni ordered his press unit out, he had confirmed to the committee that he indeed wrote a letter authorizing the bonus payment with an intention of appreciating the officials for winning the country $434m (Shs 15.1 trillion).
The payments, which were made in August 2016, stemmed from their contribution to a 2014 tax arbitration case against Heritage Oil and Gas.
“Those girls, [Doris] Akol and [Allen] Kagina and their group are economic freedom fighters who did a job and, to me, the intention was to appreciate them; where the money came from, and the process [of paying it] was the work of technical people,” Museveni reportedly told the MPs.
“I wonder why the attorney general never advised me because that is why he is there [in the position],” he added.
Had he been well advised, Museveni said, he would have got the money from his donations budget, rather than the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) budget.
Museveni made the statement after committee chairman Abdu Katuntu had offered a brief on the background of the probe. The Bugweri MP told Museveni that much as URA had won $9m (Shs 31.5bn) in court awards for cases that the tax body won both locally and in London, six years on, it had not filed court documents to claim the payments.
Museveni was also “shocked” to learn that the money was spent without the approval of the URA board of directors and was never sanctioned by the ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, as required by law.
Katuntu also told Museveni that the Shs 6bn had been included in URA’s budget for the next financial year but Parliament’s Budget committee had declined to approve it.
Museveni also expressed shock that URA had failed to account for Shs 5.8bn of the Shs 56bn that is indicated in the auditor general’s report as having been spent on the case. He was also shocked that provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, which requires oil revenues to be transferred to the Petroleum Fund, were not followed.
“In fact, you are opening my eyes with this information. I have not been briefed on the oil revenue,” Museveni reportedly said.
The meeting had been scheduled for 10am but the MPs waited in one of State House’s holding rooms till about 1pm, when Museveni showed up after presiding over a cabinet meeting at his office on Parliamentary buildings.
Several MPs that spoke to The Observer said the session was interactive and, at some intervals, Museveni cheekily threw barbs at opposition MPs in the group.
After a giving a two-hour testimony, Museveni asked Katuntu to reschedule the meeting because he had to receive the visiting Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbagoso.
He had suggested that the MPs wait until he was through with Obiang’s welcome ceremonies, but the legislators couldn’t wait and rescheduled the meeting for yesterday (Thursday) at 4pm.
Interviewed, Katuntu confirmed the committee’s return to State House but declined to delve into details of their Wednesday’s engagement.
“I have an obligation to tell you [the media] but I won’t tell you piecemeal [information],” Katuntu said. “Wait until after [Thursday’s meeting]; I will address you,”