As his incarceration entered its 43rd day, former junior Health minister and Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula got some good news. President Museveni handed Shs 100m to his legal team to help secure his freedom.
Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi confirmed the development over the weekend, describing the money as Museveni’s contribution to his friend.
“Yes, I can confirm that the money was paid,” Mirundi said.
Mukula was on January 18 convicted and sentenced to four years in jail for embezzling Shs 210m from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi). An estimated Shs 1.6bn was lost in the Gavi scam. Mukula maintains he is innocent and has appealed against both the conviction and the sentence.
President Museveni has been under pressure to come to the rescue of his former minister, who is also NRM vice chairperson for eastern Uganda, with delegations from his home region of Teso lobbying for his freedom. Mukula’s supporters accuse the government of targeting their man after he expressed interest in standing for the presidency. Keen not to be seen as insensitive, and yet maintaining that he can’t influence the judiciary, Museveni promised to pay Mukula’s legal fees.
During a meeting at his Rwakitura home on January 24, Museveni told visiting Teso leaders that he would pay Mukula’s legal fees. However, he refused to agree with the delegation, led by the Teso cultural leader - the Emorimor - that he should influence the judicial process to get Mukula out of jail. The president told them that he had fought in the bush to restore democracy and rule of law and would, therefore, be the last person to seek to undermine the judiciary.
After a magistrate in the Anti-Corruption division of the High court found Mukula guilty, some circles spoke of a political witch-hunt and selective prosecution, especially given that his former colleagues in the ministry of Health, Jim Muhwezi and Alex Kamugisha, with whom he was accused of embezzlement, were acquitted of the charges.
The fact that his acquitted former colleagues, including former State House aide, Alice Kaboyo, who pleaded guilty and was fined, hail from western Uganda, the president’s home region, has fuelled the politicisation of the case. That Mukula has hinted on standing for president in the past has not helped either.
When the scandal came to light, Mukula said he had given the money he is accused of stealing to the First Lady for a project on HIV/Aids. However, according to the court proceedings, only Shs 53m of the Shs 263m went to Mrs Janet Museveni, and it was reportedly accounted for.Mukula said he refunded the remaining Shs 210m but the magistrate found he had done that in piecemeal.
The Gavi donated $4.3m to Uganda in 2004 as a reward for surpassing the national immunisation targets in 2002.