Lone wolf: Museveni’s battle with his Cabinet

Saturday April 27 2013

Uganda’s parliament in session. President Yoweri Museveni has accused a section of his Cabinet of soliciting a $200m bribe from a Chinese contractor. Picture: File

President Yoweri Museveni is fighting almost single-handedly to rescue a number of important projects from what he sees as a bureaucracy gone adrift of national priorities. In this, the president is relying on an ever-narrowing circle of trusted aides.

In the face of an economy that is performing below potential, delays in the development of the petroleum sector and a real possibility that donors who support 30 per cent of the national budget may cut off funding altogether in the next financial year, Museveni needs to secure the country’s energy supply to keep manufacturing ticking.

But his efforts to get the 600MW Karuma hydropower station off the ground remain hostage to vested interests, and the president has accused a section of his Cabinet of soliciting a $200 million bribe from Chinese contractor China Water and Electricity Corporation (CWE), which the Inspectorate of Government has recommended should be barred from bidding for the works.

A Cabinet meeting on April 12 endorsed a bilateral deal the president negotiated with China to fund the project and provide a contractor to execute the construction.

After just seven days however, on April 19, Energy Permanent Secretary Kabagambe Kaliisa was served with an interlocutory order stopping implementation of the recommendations of the Inspectorate of Government report.

The order had been sought by the Member of Parliament representing Kabale Municipality, Andrew Baryayanga, who had earlier opposed the IGG’s investigation of the procurement process.


Undeterred by the Solicitor General’s opinion, Mr Baryayanga on April 26 secured a constitutional court order stopping the Ministry of Energy, the Cabinet or the government of Uganda from implementing the recommendations in the IGG’s report or interfering with the final process for the procurement of a contractor for Karuma Hydropower project.

Although an April 23 opinion by the Solicitor General advises Mr Kaliisa to stay put — since the High Court’s order mentions neither the Ministry of Energy nor the Cabinet directive the PS was supposed to implement — the basis on which the order was sought rhymes with an opinion Attorney General Peter Nyombi had circulated on April 11 ahead of the April 12 Cabinet meeting that discussed the Karuma saga.

The EastAfrican has learnt that in that meeting, at which Museveni invited the IGG to present her report, only two ministers — Crispus Kiyonga (Defence) and Local Government’s Adolf Mwesigye — spoke up in support of the president’s position that the report be adopted.
That meeting resulted in an “Action Extract from Minute CT109 (CT2013)” that, among other things, ordered the minister of energy to cancel the procurement process for Karuma in favour of a bilateral arrangement with China.

However, CWE’s supporters were this week understood to have been trying to front China Three Gorges Corporation, CWE’s parent company, to be selected to replace its discredited subsidiary. Besides China Three Gorges not being an EPC contractor, its backdoor selection would be in violation of Ugandan procurement laws, which bar a sanctioned contractor, its associates and subsidiaries from participating in procurements for the duration of the sanction period.

While CWE has issued threats of legal action if its bid is cancelled, Frank Tumwebaze, Minister for the Presidency, defends President Museveni’s action, citing the delays the Karuma project has suffered.

He also argues that while the Attorney General as the chief legal adviser to government is free to give technical guidance on legal issues, these have to fit within the policy guidance given by the president.

Mr Tumwebaze also says the Cabinet’s decision to opt for a bilateral arrangement to implement the Karuma project is provided for by procurement laws and cannot be derailed by threats of legal action from any quarter.

“The president, as the chief guide on national priorities and policy, had to come in and give guidance on the process of Karuma, which had been derailed and delayed by corrupt tendencies. The president chose to take a bilateral approach, because the PPDA act provides exceptions for procurements that come under a bilateral arrangement,” he told The EastAfrican.

According to him, Uganda is free to procure bilaterally and can ask the other party to select a contractor if it feels that it is getting better value for money. The $350 million Entebbe Expressway, which is also being funded by China, is a precedent.

Although Mr Tumwebaze defends President Museveni’s actions as necessary, given the present circumstances where he cannot rely on his bureaucracy, critics see them as typical of the disregard for institutions he has exhibited over his 27-year rule.

“The president has to ensure that policy is executed and the perceived concentration of power around himself actually makes it easier for him to demand accountability from particular centres, as opposed to relying on a swollen and inefficient bureaucracy,” he said in reference to President Museveni’s insistence on vesting power in the energy minister in the new oil laws.