The State Minister for Planning, Mr Amos Lugoloobi, has in a surprise move removed the iron sheets he had received from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and used to roof a shed for animals on his farm, calling them “evil”.
The Ntenjeru North MP had reportedly received up to 600 iron sheets said to be part of relief material that the government procured through the OPM for vulnerable populations in Karamoja, Teso, Northern Uganda, Luweero Triangle, Bunyoro sub-regions.
Minister Lugoloobi yesterday admitted that he had used some of the G28 corrugated pre-painted iron sheets he received to roof a shed for his goats on his farm located in Misanga Village, Bbaale Sub-county in Kayunga District.
“I have realised that these iron sheets are evil and I no longer need them. Let me remove it so that I buy other iron sheets and re-roof my shed so that no one can lay claim that I owe them anything on my property,” he said after ordering workers to pluck off the sheets.
Heavily armed security personnel cordoned off the farm and blocked access to it, with the minister saying he did not want strangers and journalists to access the premises to witness the de-roofing.
“How much are the 600 iron sheets I received? This is too little money because I have been donating iron sheets, which I have been buying using my personal money to schools, churches, mosques and other community projects,” he said, adding, “I have removed them (the iron sheets) and now let me walk in peace because some people who don’t like me have misinterpreted this whole matter.”
It remained unclear whether the removed iron sheets would be sold or donated to other users and if not, who would pay for the loss of government property.
The minister, who has reportedly recorded a statement with investigators at State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) that unearthed the alleged misallocation of the roofing materials, is among nearly a dozen Cabinet colleagues and high-profile citizens expected to assist with ongoing investigations.
Besides SHACU, the allegations are also being probed by the Ombudsman, Parliament and the Office of the Auditor General. The former has since announced it will inquire into procurement and distribution of government relief dating back to 2021.
The latest scandal, which has ensnared minister Lugoloobi and others, became public after SHACU detectives arrested members of Karamoja Affairs Minister Goretti Kitutu’s family in the village on allegations of selling the labelled iron sheets.
Karamoja Parliamentary Group members last week formally notified the Clerk to Parliament of their intention to commence a censure process against her, but applied brakes on the move pending an outcome of ongoing investigation by the House that they believe will further incriminate the minister.
Ms Kitutu has publicly said nothing about the snowballing scandal for which Parliament Speaker Anita Among yesterday asked her to carry her own cross as the line minister.
Ms Agnes Nanduttu, the State minister for Karamoja Affairs, has also been adversely named for taking home relief items meant for the vulnerable in a region she politically co-oversees on behalf of the government.
In an interview yesterday, minister Lugoloobi said he did not break into a house to steal the iron sheets, and “I am now consulting on where I can put” the iron sheets removed from the animal shed “because they are evil”.
He did not disclose who he was consulting, how long the consultations would take or why he was consulting in the first place.
The MP, serving his third term, promised to continue with efforts to “empower” his constituents.
“In Nsotoka Parish, Kayunga Sub-county, we have a model goat breeding project under State House Poverty Alleviation [Programme]. To avoid people from other areas complaining, I need to buy goats for other parishes; that’s how I started that breeding project. Under the project, when one gets a goat and it produces, he gives the kid to another person,” he said.
He explained that the goat project for which he constructed a shed roofed with OPM-labelled iron sheets, was a viable enterprise for natives who had suffered a lot because coffee and banana, the main cash groups in the area, are no longer profitable.
He denied any wrongdoing and accused his critics of bias.
“If I have any case to answer, they should tell me. So I have a case to answer because I did something good for my people?” he asked, claiming the shed he set on his firm was to breed goats he planned to dole out to others for multiplication.
In presentations to the parliamentary committee over two days, Karamoja leaders accused otherwise ineligible individuals of being insensitive to the plight of the Karimojong from whom they took the little the government gave, leaving the suffering citizens helpless.
They said goats, relief food and iron sheets meant for the vulnerable were diverted or under-supplied and demanded that heads of masterminds must roll.
The Karamoja Affairs ministry, like other regional ministerial dockets, sits under the OPM, leaving the latter in the spotlight.
OPM is responsible for superintending the coordination and delivery of government services, which is why at yesterday Parliament sitting, Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju asked how its officials could chaperon business in the House when adversely named over relief for Karamoja.
In an interview preceding the parliamentary debate, minister Lugoloobi suggested that it is common for people to seek and get affirmative action items from OPM.
He said he had used personal money to buy iron sheets for institutions such as Nsotoka Islamic Secondary School, Kibuzi Primary School, St John’s Busaale Secondary School, and Mugema Primary School in Kayunga District. He, however, did not explain why he this time round he opted for free items when he had means to buy.
Although the minister had removed the iron sheets from his structure, a section of leaders in Kayunga District have asked him to resign from his ministerial post.
Mr Michael Malinga, the Kitimbwa Sub-county chairperson, said the minister’s action is “unfortunate” and he “should not even wait to be censured by Parliament … What he did was very bad”.
Mr Robert Kigundu, the mayor of Kangulumita Town in Kayunga District, said the accusations against the minister have tainted the image of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, to which they both subscribe, which can cost it support.
He, however, commended Mr Lugoloobi for taking responsibility.
“Leaders should be accountable and transparent. I hail him for admitting that he took the iron sheets and for explaining what he used them for. We lack such leaders who admit what they have done,” Mr Kigundu said.
But Kayunga District chairman Andrew Muwonge said he was aware that the minister had donated some of the iron sheets he received from OPM to flood victims in Kyedikyo village in Galilaaya Sub-county.