In Summary

Bone of contention. The matter of State House scholarships has been a bone of contention since 2001. If all concerned had been honest, truthful and responsible, this matter would not have dragged on and on for so long!

There is a saying that in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. So it was with a comment by Ms Nabusayi L Wamboka, published in the Daily Monitor of May 29 titled, “State House scholarships: Beneficiaries are from all regions” which was in response to my Sunday Monitor Opinion of May 27.

Let me at the outset thank the press secretary to Sabalwanyi for agreeing with me that, “Amb Acemah is right to be irked by the report from the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture that protested the distribution of 40 tractors to western Uganda.”

If the good lady had stopped there, I would not have taken time to exercise my right of reply, but I have done so because her rebuttal is disingenuous and laughable.

The matter of State House scholarships has been a bone of contention since 2001. If all concerned had been honest, truthful and responsible, this matter would not have dragged on and on for so long!

Origins of the scandal
The government-owned New Vision newspaper of January 23, 2001, published a story by Felix Wasike titled, “Besigye, Winnie used State funds” which was, I believe, intended to blackmail and silence presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, who had opened the Pandora’s box, so to speak, and exposed a shady and hitherto secret scholarship fund, which was hidden from Ugandans for many years.

According to the New Vision story, State House issued a statement on January 22, 2001, to deny existence of the fund. The statement said, inter alia, that, “presidential candidate Kizza Besigye and his wife Winnie Byanyima benefited from the presidential welfare fund.”

State House was reacting to remarks made by Besigye’s task force that it was operating a shady scholarship scheme which had only benefited students from western Uganda. A statement signed by presidential press secretary Hope Kivengere said, “Hon Byanyima was sponsored for a full Master’s course in Britain, including tuition and subsistence.”
The statement also said that State House had paid tuition for Barnabas Byanyima, brother to Winnie, while he was living with her in Paris, France.

The State House statement continues, “Besigye was thrice assisted to get medical treatment abroad in 1987 and four times in 1988 while he was National Political Commissar.”
Besigye had said that money paid for students studying abroad under the scheme was enough to build five permanent classrooms. The statement said that a friendly group in the United States offered some 20 scholarships to the President.
“One of the beneficiaries is Peter Otema, the son of Mr Louis Otika, a campaign coordinator for Besigye. The young man is now studying at La Roche College having gone there in October last year.”

Ms Kivengere added that, “what Besigye calls a scholarship scheme is assistance the President extends to people and groups under the Presidential Welfare Fund that has existed since independence.” Besigye listed 65 students at Makerere University who were beneficiaries of the scheme.

My interest is, in fact, more in these scholarships whose beneficiaries are predominantly from one sub-region. For a programme which has been fully funded by Ugandan taxpayers for more than 20 years, it is despicable, outrageous and unacceptable!

It is disgusting that the toothless and worthless Parliament of Uganda has been budgeting and allocating billions of shillings annually for this discriminatory and opaque outfit without demanding accountability and full disclosure! How ridiculous and unpatriotic can Uganda’s MPs be? Shame on the Parliament of Uganda which should be disbanded at the earliest opportunity!

To borrow language which was popular among the ruling elites in 1986, the State House scholarship scandal is the mark of a backward and primitive mindset which believes that charity begins and also ends at home! Well, the more things change the more they remain the same. For God and my Country.