- Testimony. The Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to President Museveni, Ms Molly Kamukama, yesterday testified before the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters. Commission Lead Counsel Ebert Byenkya and his deputy, John Bosco Suuza, interrogated her. Ephraim Kasozi & Jalira Namyalo bring you highlights of the proceedings.
Byenkya: [Introduces the session and Ms Molly Kamukama as the first witness of the day]. Can you stand up and take oath?
Byenkya: Please, state your name in full?
Kamukama: My name is Nawe Molly Kamukama
Byenkya: How old are you?
Byenkya: What do you do for a living?
Kamukama: I work as a permanent secretary in the private Office of the President, which gives me the title of the Principal Private Secretary to the President.
Byenkya: And how long have you been doing this?
Kamukama: I was appointed in November 2016 as a permanent secretary.
Byenkya: You were invited here because we are conducting investigations into the operations of the Uganda Land Fund and it turned out that you had done some correspondences in relation to the Fund.
Byenkya: It has come up in different situations but among the witnesses we interviewed was the Minister for Lands, Ms Betty Amongi, and as we were discussing payments from the Land Fund and their criteria for making payments, she had a category called presidential directives. What do you know about this situation where there are presidential directives in respect of the Land Fund, whether you are aware the President makes directives of any sort?
Kamukama: My lord, part of my job is that I receive correspondences from the public, government agencies, ministries and departments. Some of them are petitioning the President on matters such as land encroachment from any area in the country. I cannot take such a letter to the President because it is just a claim and the President is not in his ordinary duties engaged in land matters. What I do is direct it to the line ministry. This because whereas it is a petition to the President, in essence, it is a petition to government, so it has to go to where there are technically competent people employed by government to answer to it. The ministry is requested to attend to it and manage. They are supposed to go on the ground, evaluate and see within the law what decision to make. And because it comes from the President, we require that whichever decision they will have made, they return to us to inform the President. Sometimes a matter can be on lands but it has a security component, may be somebody says people are threatening his life, so where life is threatened, you are not going to write only to the Lands ministry, you also have to write to the minister of Security to ensure that life is protected. That is how those letters come about and I am always telling them to attend and manage appropriately.
Byenkya: From your explanation, your letters are referrals of a petition of an issue?
Byenkya: And they are not directives?
Kamukama: Directives are written as such, by the way. For the directives to be written either by the President or myself, all the issues relating to that matter will have come to light. That means a directive is a decision in itself. It would be written, saying: “I direct you to do A, B, C…,” because the facts are clear either to the President or to myself. But normally directives are written as such and I am sure in your course of work, you will meet them.
Byenkya: So, if the President was making a directive, the title would be directive, it would not be a request?
Kamukama: The content in that letter would clearly state that it is a directive.
Byenkya: For comparison, Kamukama, I have a letter that the President wrote to the minister of Finance, Mr Matia Kasaija. May be you just look at it and have an idea what we should interpret that to be. It relates to the Land Fund as well [hands her the letter].
Kamukama: This is a letter from the President and I do not think I can really answer for him.
Byenkya: No, I just want you to interpret; is that a directive in your opinion?
Kamukama: I mean, a directive, don’t you see that statement on the last line?
Byenkya: Just read the statement
Kamukama: The statement reads, “I direct you to pay…”
Byenkya: So that would typically be how the President will do it.
Kamukama: Yes, because if you look through the content, he has already put the facts and he knows them.
Byenkya: In the letters you wrote, would you use similar language?
Kamukama: I would not because I would not be having facts on that matter because it is a claim from the public or department. When you say management, part of management is investigation, evaluation and all those things. Until that is done and clear to all government officials that these are the real facts, you cannot direct.
Byenkya: I wanted you to look at this letter written by Ms Amongi and read a couple of paragraphs and indicate the date.
Kamukama: (reads) November 23, 2016 addressed to the Chairperson of Uganda Land Commission
Byenkya: Read the title and the first paragraph.
Kamukama: (reads); The title is urgent payment for land compensation.
I refer to my earlier letter dated November 15 and taken into account the need for urgent compensation for the following beneficiaries for the Land Fund and reviewed my earlier position and allow the accounting officer ULC to pay the underlisted people for the available land fund resource for this quarter.
Byenkya: I want you to look at the columns and read out.
Kamukama: The authority to pay?
Byenkya: Yes, start the name and the authority to pay.
Kamukama: I see they have said letter by PPS to the President .
Byenkya: Yes, first read them out for the record and then we discuss it.
Kamukama: Letter by PPS to H.E the President for three of them.
Byenkya: Why I am bringing it to your attention is that this is the way your letters have been misinterpreted and applied.
Byenkya: Well, in this case by the Minister for Lands. She is the author of that letter.
Kamukama: You should crosscheck the letters I wrote and see if they relate to this matter. I write to the minister or the permanent secretary for their attention and management. How they choose to manage, operate, they have the laws. I would not know what laws are governing the Land Fund; I do not know what criteria they use, how they go about their business. It cannot be that they are using just my letters. My duty is to bring it to their attention to act because even when this person is petitioning the President, it is about land and the land matters go to the ministry who are most suitable to do the work.
Byenkya: What concerns us is that when you write these letters, you also appreciate that they could be used in all sorts of ways and they could be used to appear to give the endorsement of the President’s office to a claim.
Kamukama: These letters are not only directed to ministry of Lands; they are directed to all government ministries and agencies and the Attorney General because in our ordinary work, we receive about 300 letters in a day. All those matters come from the public and they need to be attended to. Sometimes they come from a different ministry and they raise it to the President. So before it goes to the President, it has to be evaluated by all the concerned relevant bodies. By the way, when I get reports from ministries, I read through and brief the President who will sometimes direct me to write a Cabinet paper so that it moves to inform the policy.
Byenkya: This is why it is important for us to have this kind of discussion because I think you will appreciate that your letters carry the authority of the Office of the President. So, we do not want them to be misunderstood or misapplied.
Kamukama: I do not know what they use it for because every ministry has their terminology, which they use in their work. I also get letters from the ministers as an accounting officer and we use those letters and they are eventually paid but you pay within the law.
Byenkya: I agree that you should not abandon your mandate as an accounting officer but do you think in this case, your letters, the way you write them, do you think it is proper for somebody to categorise them as authority to pay?
Kamukama: I do not know what they categorise as authority to pay because for me, my issue is that I would have raised the matter with you. So the management of that matter is up to you and eventually when you make your informed decision as an accounting officer, then you brief the President because those letters are actually addressed to him. For all of us who are working and handling, we are handling them on his behalf. So he has to be informed.
Byenkya: Why I put a mark on those particular payments is because they have one common story you might have heard about by now if you have been following the proceedings of the commission. We had a witness called Richard Buzibira (lawyer), do you know him by any chance?
Byenkya: Buzibira was supposed to be an attorney of various people and received Shs13 billion from the land fund. These particular three names I marked use your letter being used as authority to pay; they are all payments which actually went to Buzibira and formed part of this Shs13 billion…. Buzibira gets to the land fund and gets paid and one of the things that he gets armed with is this letter from PPS to the President… The point is, we think these payments are not proper, when you look at the trend, pattern, frequency and amount, it seems to be a big scheme. This is why I want I wanted us to discuss for these letters flying out and people using them as an excuse to pay.
Kamukama: When you say letters are flying around, letters cannot fly around, no. these are serious matters. Somebody has written to the President; that cannot be a fly around document.
Byenkya: It was a kind of phrase to show that they are just so many.
Kamukama: Yes, there are so many letters and all of them require attention because they need a service from the government and they petitioned the overall boss of the Republic of Uganda. So, the relevant ministries, agencies and departments must look into those matters and investigate how true it is. If we receive such a petition as the Office of the President and keep quiet, what will happen to the petitioner? If you release such a document to the President, the answer you are going to get is ‘what do you want me to do with this? Where are the facts?’. That is why I write to the relevant ministries and actually sometimes it is the legal department that does the writing.
Byenkya: My final question to you would be; are there any lessons to learn because people with questionable claims got paid and in billions? Is there a way we can make sure that the authority of the President is not misunderstood or misused?
Kamukama: I think the authority of the President is known but I think what we need as a way forward is that more safeguards should be provided so that there are more stringent approvals on these payments so that more eyes can look at the claim, including Cabinet, because at the end of it all, the President and Cabinet members are answerable to the public.
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