Just weeks after taking office, some new ministers have gained immediate notice among subordinates for their affection for lavish 4x4 official cars, furniture and executive privilege and are dialing up pressure on accounting officers to provide them.
According to insider ministry sources, Agnes Nandutu, the minister of state in charge of Karamoja Affairs, has rejected an official car bought two years ago at about Shs 650 million. She has asked the accounting officer to buy a new one.
Nandutu, according to sources, claims the ‘old’ car was previously used inappropriately to carry things like charcoal. Nandutu, a former journalist, was catapulted into cabinet and onto the national political stage after losing the NRM primaries in 2020 and later winning the Bududa woman parliamentary seat in the January 2021 general election.
Interviewed for a comment last week, Nandutu declined to speak directly about her request for a new car. She said she was conducting a series of meetings in Karamoja and promised to get back to this reporter but she didn’t.
Judith Nalule Nabakooba, the new minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, reportedly demanded that all carpets, furniture, office fittings installed two years ago, be changed.
The minister, according to insider sources, does not want to use anything previously used by her predecessor, Beti Kamya. Nabakooba, a former Mityana woman MP, lost re-election in the 2021 general election. She moved from the ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to join Lands.
The minister of state for Primary Health Care, Margaret Muhanga and her counterpart in charge of General Duties Hanifah Kawooya are also demanding for brand new official cars. They have rejected their predecessors’ cars.
Former minister of Energy and Mineral Development Mary Goretti Kitutu who is now minister for Karamoja Affairs is demanding a lead car. She used to have one when she was boss at the ministry of energy.
The ministers’ demands come months after government announced departmental budget cuts –shredding expenses on workshops, travel and other none essential items to raise Shs 600 billion to reenergize efforts meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Interviewed for a comment recently, Muhanga said since she arrived at the ministry two weeks ago, she has never seen her official car because it is still in the garage.
“Maybe it is because people see me still using my personal car, that is why they say I rejected the ministry car and I am waiting for a brand new one. But that is not the case, I have been told by ministry officials that they took the car to the garage to be repaired. I am waiting for it,” she said, adding, “Why would I reject a car? I am not a person of positions and titles. I was even surprised to be made a minister. I have never seen the car but my bodyguard told me that it was a wreck with torn chairs, no tires, and broken screens; so, they had to take it for repair and make it a little bit better. But I have not rejected it. If it can move, that is all I need.”
She said she doesn’t need a brand new car because she won’t leave with it when her work at the ministry is finished when she is transferred to another docket or dropped from cabinet.
Muhanga, however, expressed her frustration at the long time it has taken the ministry to return the car. She said she is tired of using her personal car to do government work.
“My car has gone through so much wear and tear. I am always up and about doing government’s work in my own car yet no one pays that mileage. How long does it take for the car to get repaired? It has been in the garage for a long time and I am here still waiting for it to be given to me,” Muhanga said.
Interviewed, Anifa Kawooya said the car she is using is the same car her predecessor Robinah Nabbanja used and she is very comfortable with it.
“All the facilities I am supposed to have were accorded to me on the first day I went to the ministry including the car, which is the very one my predecessor was using. It is a comfortable car and I have no complaints about it. It is not my duty to know whether it will be replaced or not because that has to be done according to the ministry’s budget, which is not my role…,” Kawooya said.
She however, noted that the car has a mechanical problem and broke down while she was at Kololo a few weeks back. She said it was repaired and it is back on the road.
Interviewed for this story, one permanent secretary who declined to be named to speak candidly, said much as a minister is entitled to a car and a driver, he or she is not obliged to make demands for a new one.
“A minister has no right to reject a car, which has been given to him or her because we also give them cars befitting their positions and even if they are used, we make sure they are in good condition before they are given to them. Ministers are given cars with an engine capacity of 4,000cc, which we believe are capable of enabling them carry out their duties,” he said.
He said for a minister to get a new car, it must have been budgeted for and approved by the ministry of Finance. He said all ministers get new cars at the same time, not one at ago.
“The money ought to have been already indicated in the ministry’s budget and then the accounting officer writes to the Prime Minister who clears it and that is when the procurement process starts. Otherwise, if it was not in the budget to buy the car, then the minister has to still use the one available,” he noted.