TOTAL CHAOS AS PARLIAMENT JOURNALISTS SHARE MILLIONS NOT TO REPORT MPS’ SHS40M
By Mulengera Reporters
It’s increasingly becoming clear that the NRM MPs used the frightened state President Museveni was in, after Parliament passed a resolution condemning him last week, to successfully squeeze financial concessions from him. In the end, according to NTV & NBS reporting, they have each received Shs40m partly to enable them refund the Shs20m (Kadaga had initially given them) as directed by Gen Museveni. According to NTV Uganda, some of the money is also consideration for the role they played in ensuring 317 votes were cast in favor of the lifting of age limit in the Constitution way back in December 2017.
Coordinated at Kati-Kati restaurant in Lugogo, owned by NRM strongman Singh Katongole, the payouts allegedly started Thursday night and NTV reports that Bukooli Central MP Solomon Silwanyi, who until recently deputized GCW Ruth Nankabirwa for the NRM caucus chair, was central in the dishing out of the money. The rumor started that very Thursday night as individual legislators picked their share. Then Friday afternoon, some of the excluded MPs (Theodore Sekikubo, Gonzaga Sewungu, Gerald Karuhanga and Monica Amoding) convened a news conference at Parliament to confirm that their other colleagues had been receiving the money through Thursday night and the same continued on Friday. Whereas Amoding called it “scandalous and morally reprehensible to condemn MPs receiving Shs20m only to turn round and give them Shs40m,” Gerald Karuhanga vowed to refer the matter to Court to ensure whoever was involved gets decisively exposed and humiliated through judicial processes.
Sekikubo said there was plenty of discrimination in the way the cash list beneficiaries was drawn up because some of the 317 MPs that voted to scrap age limit (he wasn’t one of them) were excluded because of their participation in defending Kadaga while endorsing Semujju Ibrahim Nganda’s motion to condemn Gen Museveni last week. Sewungu, who as opposition DP Chief Whip inevitably interacts with many MPs including NRM ones, corroborated this by claiming that those excluded include Busoga MPs who recently came out defending Kadaga while publicly contradicting Gen Museveni’s criticisms of the legislature (made as part of his COVID19 address).
Semujju Nganda has this Saturday morning used the Capital Gang program to disclose that the NRM MPs rode on the discomfort his earlier motion condemning Museveni had created onto the President to squeeze the man from Rwakitura to pay their balance that remained on the age limit transaction of 2017. He says the Shs40m offer has exposed the fact that Gen Museveni wasn’t genuine in his televised condemnation of the Shs10bn MPs had shared. Museveni said the self-allocation by the legislature was “morally reprehensible” but Nganda, supported by Abdul Katuntu and moderator Oscar Semweya Musoke, says the Shs40m payout is even more scandalous.
Katuntu says this proves that Gen Museveni’s problem with the Shs20m per MPs was not that it was being insensitive to millions of Ugandans who are starving (as he argued on TV) but that he was only bitter because it wasn’t him that legislators were grateful to as the giver of the money. “It’s very clear now nobody else should be source of money in this country but that one person only. It’s the reason the Speaker was being targeted for bashing,” said a more restrained Katuntu without directly mentioning Gen Museveni’s name.
GCW Ruth Nankabirwa says the Shs40m claim is being originated by opposition legislators and some NRM rebel MPs who are envious and want to demonize the ruling party and make it look bad before the public. She says the opposition MPs have nugu [envy] on the NRM caucus leadership because of this week’s motion that they ruling party leadership MPs moved paying tribute to Gen Museveni. She adds they were able to undo the damage the opposition’s earlier motion of condemnation had caused to Gen Museveni.
Nganda says the NRM caucus leaders used the renewed animosity between Parliament and Executive to cry out to Gen Museveni that they are too indebted to the extent they can’t even find the Shs20m they are required to surrender to the district taskforces as per his own directive. Speaking on the same Capital Gang, the government spokesman Ofwono Opondo (who has been very outspoken against the Shs20m MPs shared earlier) responded to Nganda and Katuntu by saying the Shs40m must have come from the NRM party leadership and not the taxpayers’ coffers as was the case with the Shs10bn MPs shared earlier. “I’m hearing about it the way everyone else has heard but that must be money from the NRM party and not the taxpayer unlike the Shs10bn we have been criticizing these same MPs about,” said Opondo who was unusually guarded and unwilling to talk much prompting Semweya to mockingly pin him “today bwana OO you don’t look good at all.”
Opondo equally had a hard time defending the waiver Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa gave permitting businessman Ben Kavuya and a few other people to fly into the country inspite of the President’s directive prohibiting returning of Ugandans from abroad during this Coronavirus lockdown. Kampala Minister Betty Amongi, who had come to discuss planned changes in the city’s public transport, found herself backing Opondo in defending the Kutesa exceptions favoring Kavuya. It was a heated exchange during which Nganda admitted that Amongi (his campus OG) had excelled defending the NRM which he claimed is currently the hardest organization to defend (despite being a new entrant).
Some NRM MPs like Micheal Tumusiime of Mbarara Municipality have reached out to eminent city law firms like KAA seeking legal advice and opinion on the possibility of circumventing parliamentary immunity and dragging the Sekikubos to court over what they consider untrue and defamatory utterances made during their Friday news conference. They are considering the same for the media houses, like NBS and NTV, which have prominently reported about the Shs40m. This is how one MP tearfully made his case in a phone chat with Mulengera News this Saturday morning: “Why are we being mistreated like this by these peddlers of fake news in the opposition and rebel MPs as if it’s a crime to support President Museveni and be loyal to him as a party chairman? Why would some of us be in hiding, unable to even live in our homes because we fear money lenders if we indeed had Shs40m? These reports have put us in more problems because voters started calling presenting their problems as soon as they saw it on the TV news last night. Why would many colleagues be this morning crowding that Indian Raj’s offices at Raja Chambers to borrow the Shs20m which the Clerk to Parliament has actually guaranteed if we indeed had that Shs40m? Which sort of fools could we be as NRM MPs to go on provoking the public sharing Shs40m when we saw the resentment mere Shs20m caused? Where is the logic and common sense in all these allegations?”
The same MP, who is also a leader in the NRM caucus, declined to be quoted and also denied being aware of another close to Shs50m the media fraternity leaders are alleged to have received to mobilize their colleagues not to prominently publicize the Shs40m rumor. “I’m telling you my brother we are all angry, bitter and disappointed with our colleagues Sekikubo and others. Many of us are just at home choking on anger because I don’t know what could happen if I’m to stumble on a man like Sekikubo or even that ka-lady Monica Amoding.”
THE UPPA CHAOS
As all this happens, many social media users have observed general lack of appetite by majority media practitioners based at Parliament to report about the defiant news conference the Sekikubos convened purporting to blow the whistle over the Shs40m. Numbering over 200, these media practitioners unite under Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) for which Vision Group’s Moses Mulondo is the reigning President. Especially those practicing with online platforms have in the past been keen about such payouts benefiting legislators. On this occasion, there has been remarkable and conspicuous silence not only about the rumored Shs40m but also about the utterances the ruble-rousing MPs made at their Friday news conference.
The huge coincidence about this is that that same Thursday night as the rumors of legislators picking Shs40m started flying around, individual journalists began hearing from some of their UPPA leaders saying: “We have lobbied for you some money to go through this period but the requirement is that we strictly share it in total silence. No talking. No writing about it.” And indeed, as promised, mobile money began being sent on individual UPPA members’ phone numbers Friday afternoon and some continued receiving theirs as late as Saturday afternoon. Someone would ring an individual recipient saying: “I’m calling on behalf of the administration of UPPA and I have been directed to send you this money on your mobile money line.”
On receiving their share, individual grateful scribes would instantly post “thanks received” on a whatsapp forum called “Press Plenary [created by Nakasi Racheal].” Some of the administrators of this group include Moses Mulondo, Nakasi and a one Nsubuga. Tusiime Apollo, an influential scribe working with Ps Joseph Serwadda’s Dream Media based in Ndeeba, was very instrumental in this logistical operation aimed at deescalating things to ensure that scribes, practicing under UPPA, don’t characteristically cause as much trouble blowing up things like they have done on previous occasions regarding MPs getting controversial cash bailouts.
As of this Saturday afternoon, some scribes hadn’t received theirs and raised the red flag, a thing that must have caused extreme discomfort to the UPPA leadership. Some have continued to quietly grumble that the Shs100,000-200,000 being sent to them via mobile money was mere peanuts compared to what they suspect their leaders to have received from the donor who remains officially undisclosed (as the asking of many questions continues to be discouraged as the UPPA cash bonanza intensifies).
Some have threatened to protest by splitting away from UPPA to form their own splinter group if the leadership finally doesn’t come clean by transparently declaring how much was exactly received, from whom and for how many members. “The truth is we are over 300 journalists registered to practice journalism at Parliament but many on that listing are dormant names. For example some desk editors were initially registered as part of those accredited to cover Parliament but they are not active yet our suspicion is that whoever allocated and released that money must have intended it to benefit all the members numbering around 300. That is why it’s important that the executive comes clean on how much was allocated and who was meant to receive or not,” says one of the disgruntled UPPA members who feels she was allocated very little compared to the amount she suspects must have been allocated.
There are also some extremist UPPA members who are quietly grumbling wondering why Herbert Zziwa went ahead to prominently file the Sekikubo story for his NTV well knowing UPPA, on whose executive he serves, had reached some understanding to deny the alleged Shs40m story the anticipated prominence. “That can only show the extent of polarisis over this issue because there is no way Herbert Zziwa will continue serving comfortably if he is going to be criticized by colleagues for merely doing his job. Don’t be surprised when cracks deepen and such guys join the splinter group to show dissatisfaction with the UPPA majority executive position of going slow on that story,” says one of the dissatisfied members.
Below we share some of the whatsapp messages submitted to the “Press Plenary” whatsapp forum as members acknowledged receipt of the controversial cash that was wired via their mobile phones:
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