KAMPALA. Ministry of Finance employees who witnessed the arrest of two of their senior colleagues that the President has accused of pocketing bribes from investors, have described the Monday episode as “one of a dramatic scene only seen in a detective movie.”
According to eye-witnesses, at about 3pm on Monday, a group of seemingly “mean-looking security men” disembarked and immediately sealed off all exit avenues at the Ministry of Finance headquarters.
Some appeared clad in police uniforms and others in plain clothes as business suddenly grounded to a standstill as visitors and staff entering the Ministry of Finance building on Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road in Kampala, were caught in the muddle.
Others who tried to exit the building were blocked from inside and were left puzzled during the operation that lasted nearly three hours.
For fear of infiltration, the President according to State House sources, did not involve many people in the plot to trap the two senior officials, Mr Charles Ogol, the principal finance officer, and Mr Geoffrey Turyamuhika, a senior economist who had reportedly asked for a bribe.
When the President received the complaint from yet-to-be identified investors, he asked them [investors] to comply with the two officers but asked them to give him all the information that could lead to the arrest of the two men. The President is said to have immediately notified the Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura about the mission with stern instructions to ensure the suspects are “caught red-handed.”
The investors, according to officials in the Ministry of Finance, gave unspecified amounts of dollars to the two suspects who work in the Aid Liaison Department of the ministry.
But before they left the office, security operatives cut off the premises, rounded up the suspects, handcuffed them and impounded the dollars as exhibits.
“It was like a detective movie,” one of the sources in the ministry of Finance said of the Monday drama.
As soon as the IGP got the confirmation from his men, he called the President to deliver “the good news” and planned to have a face-to-face meeting at State House the next day.
But the meeting, according to sources, was choreographed in the prism of “public relations” since the two men (Kayihura and the President) had previously discussed the nitty-gritty of what has been dubbed, operation Kisanja hakuna mchezo.
However, because of the significance of the operation, it’s not yet clear whether Finance minister Matia Kasaija, his deputies and Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, knew about it.
When contacted yesterday to comment on claims that the Ministry had turned into “a den of thieves” picking bribes from investors, he simply said “that’s a police matter” and declined to elaborate.
Realising that the news of the arrest was spreading like wildfire, the Finance ministry spokesperson, Mr Jim Mugunga, issued an impromptu statement, confirming the news.
The statement read: “This is to inform the general public that during the afternoon of Monday, March 28, 2017, police conducted an operation at the Ministry of Finance offices….two members of staff were apprehended and are currently in detention in relation to an ongoing investigation.”
He added: “Since the incident, however, access to and from our offices, which had been temporarily limited, was restored and normal services continue unhampered….as a Ministry, we remain committed to uphold the highest level of service and professionalism and will cooperate with the police in this matter that affects the two members of staff to its logical conclusion.”
In the afternoon, State House issued a statement indicating that President Museveni had met the IGP and congratulated the security forces for successfully arresting Mr Ogol and Mr Turyamuhika, “who were involved in the act of taking bribes from investors.”
“I have told you, in this ‘Hakuna mchezo’ period of no more jokes. Anybody involved in the act of asking for bribes will be handled harshly under the law,” remarked the President.
In the meeting with the IGP at State House Entebbe, Mr Museveni reportedly noted that taking bribes has become a habit in Public Service and particularly Ministry of Finance, and Economic Planning. He said people, such as the two officers who have been arrested, and who take bribes, do not care about the country but only themselves.
Confirming the narrative from the sources, the President reiterated that the two officials from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning who have been arrested, will appear in court for trial very soon because they were caught red-handed.
Warned. Speaking at the commissioning of Riham factory in Kawempe Division, Kampala last week, the President lashed out at such workers likening them to ‘rebels’ he fought in the early 1980s that led him into power in 1986. He said: “… industries like this one owned by this young man (Hariss International Ltd, director, Mr Yasser Ahmed) add value to local and imported raw materials and create jobs. There are some civil servants who solicit for bribes from investors and end up blocking such investments. So join me and we fight these fellows who are denying you jobs,” he said. “There are government workers who delay development work. In the new government, that will not be there. Before, we had a few educated workers and would not dismiss these people but today that has changed,” a statement by the Presidential Press Unit quoted Mr Museveni as saying at the Labour Day celebrations held at Duhaga Senior Secondary School in Hoima District on May 1, 2016.
Facts. “I have some information about government people who have been asking for favours from investors and this must stop or else people will be embarrassed. What I am talking about are facts and it is a great shame… You should not ask for favours from investors to pay school fees for your children or do this and that. If you have problems, call a clan meeting and solve it as a family but not through corruption,” Mr Museveni said as he closed a two-day Cabinet Retreat on September 2, 2016.
“Why don’t we start with the big fish? These are small fish. To make meaning of the action, they should start with the big ones. There are many reports, like those who ‘ate’ kilometres of roads in the Uganda National Roads Authority report. This report implicated big people in the government but the corrupt have never been tried.”
Cissy Kagaba, the head of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda