By Mulengera and By John V Sserwaniko
President Museveni has finally cracked the whip on power distributor UMEME. His 7th March letter shows the extent to which the big man is angry and frustrated with the power vending firm whose 20 concession agreement still has some 7 years to go (up to 2025). He is angry as to why the ordinary Ugandan power consumer continues being made to pay highly for electricity and also questions why despite UMEME’s claim to have invested hundreds of US dollars in the distribution network, the electricity technical and commercial losses remain so high.
Museveni, who appears in a hurry to demonstrate the workability and seriousness of his Hakuna Mchezo slogan, categorically directs in his letter that plans to renew UMEME’s concession agreement should immediately be abandoned and cheaper alternatives sought. He also directs IGG Irene Mulyagonja to comprehensively investigate the UMEME cartel that has been exploiting Ugandans through exorbitantly very high power tariffs. Museveni has always been cautious on the UMEME issue and has previously reacted very indifferently to two elaborately very indicting reports calling for a halt of the UMEME concession. One report was authored by a team led by his own brother Gen Salim Saleh on which Parliament based to carry out more comprehensive investigations and recommended stern action against UMEME but it was ignored, greatly exciting UMEME sympathizers like Andrew Mwenda who always defended the UMEME concession deal as one of the very best in the world.
CHANGE OF HEART;
But how come Museveni has all of a sudden acted several years later after overlooking the contents of both the Saleh report and that of MPs? So far the following is what we know as Mulengera news: Three weeks ago, we heard from one of our long time sources and contacts on matters regarding the energy sector and the Museveni State House. Museveni had just fired IGP Kayihura and Gen Tumukunde as Security Minister. “I can see you guys are writing a lot about Generals Kayihura and Tumukunde but this is just curtain raising because there is going to be total overhaul of government. Heads are going to roll everywhere and it’s in cabinet where people are going to weep most,” the source told us. “But before we embark on the impending cabinet reshuffle, I will give you something on UMEME. We have been in very confidential meetings and the President has finally accepted the truth regarding what has gone wrong in the electricity sector involving UMEME, the regulator [ERA] and guys at Energy and Finance ministries.” The source confidently said the President had made up his mind and would soon denounce UMEME. We insisted on some documentation to that effect which the source offered to give but before following up on the promise, the source lost a relative and travelled to the village for burial and had a prolonged stay there but kept promising to be back to Kampala. As we went about verifying, a top official at the Energy ministry told us thus: “What you are saying isn’t entirely untrue but you need to be careful there are many guys who tried to get licensed or those who seek lucrative contracts in this energy sector and when they fail, they run to H/E and being a man of the people, he gives them audience and they sometimes mislead him. So be careful and ensure your source isn’t one of those disgruntled losers.” Just yesterday Tuesday we woke up to a screaming news headline in the New Vision showing the President had finally cracked the whip on UMEME. “Boss did I not tell you? More is coming; people are going to be prosecuted. The President is very bitter,” the source said before (on our prompting) proceeding to share the following story trying to give an insight into how the President finally came to this unambiguous anti-UMEME decision. The source generously shared on who played which role in getting the President act.
THE 6 HEROES:
Gen Salim Saleh: A few years ago, the amiable General to whom many aggrieved Ugandans had cried protesting UMEME exploitative tariffs regime, prompted his brother (M7) to assign him a role to investigate UMEME. Reliable sources say Museveni initially doubted his brother’s capability to investigate such complex things but acquiesced when Hillary Onek, who was the Energy Minister and always overwhelmed by pro-UMEME technocrats at his ministry, urged him on saying Gen Saleh would manage. Onek argued the UMEME backers were deeply entrenched and you needed an equally entrenched official like Saleh to fearlessly crack the whip on them. Onek went on to supervise the workings of Saleh’s inquiry that had Hajji Muyanja Mbabaali (now Bukoto South MP in Lwengo district) and Mzee Bukumuhne, a retired ex-BoU deputy governor. There was also some young man closely related to both Col Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi through marriage. This vastly connected young man was given to Gen Saleh by the President saying “he knows a lot about the energy sector and can help you on all those technical things.” Indeed it turned out the young man was such a very enriching experience because he knew everything and each time the pro-UMEME guys tried to use technical terms to confuse Saleh, this professionally very successfully young man came in handy to neutralize them. In fact there were attempts to withhold information which Saleh required to carry out his assessment exercise. He went to the very root of the contract right from the stage of contracting in 2005/6. It was this young man who help Gen Saleh to identify the Computers that had to be confiscated and forcefully extracted very indicting info relating to the UMEME concession. In the end, Gen Saleh dispatched a team of SFC operatives who stormed the offices of UMEME, ERA the regulator and Energy ministry and forcefully took the computers that the young man insisted had the relevant information. As Energy Minister, Onek was pressurized to call a news conference and denounce the raid by Gen Saleh’s men and he refused. This annoyed one of the former powerful politicians, with whom Museveni has since fallen out, to de-campaign Onek and eventually herd him out of Energy to a less lucrative ministry. In the end Saleh’s team produced a very comprehensive report but for refusing to denounce the President’s brother, Onek paid the ultimate price and lost his juicy post of being energy minister. The Saleh report established that the UMEME contract was illegally entered because of the improper way that some six guys sat and amended the original concession agreement and inserted sections that greatly favored UMEME. This was the committee of eminent persons in the energy sector at that time. As per Sections 16 & 17 of the Electricity Act, this had to be the mandate of ERA the regulator but they were sidelined by the committee of the 6 eminent persons. Saleh’s report considered this irregular and insisted that the absence of the Solicitor General inputting into the amendment process made things even worse. Saleh’s report was challenged by many circles including some World Bank officials who repeatedly questioned his capability to probe such complex matters. On getting the report, Museveni summoned his blue eyed boy Eng Kabagambe Kaliisa (aka Omujwarakondo/the Lord in Bunyoro) for advice and KK (as pals fondly call Kaliisa) trashed the report and advised the President to do the same. Museveni greatly trusted Kaliisa on these matters and he indeed ignored the report. The Saleh report, in which many stakeholders had hopes, was subsequently referred to the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga who in 2014 constituted a committee that probed and came up with a report that only corroborated many of Gen Saleh’s findings. The Parliamentary report proposed kicking out of UMEME but the powerful lobbyists like Mwenda went on rampage calling MPs all sorts of names. Having widely been discredited, the Parliamentary report was also shelved and in absence of well pronounced public support for it, Museveni found it easy to ignore the report. And Isingiro MP Alex Byarugaba now says Ugandans would have suffered less and for a much shorter time if the President had ratified and sanctioned implementation of the Parliamentary report. Even when his report was demonized and shunned, Gen Saleh never gave up his dream to sort out the UMEME menace. He was subjected to a lot of intrigue by the very powerful political class members who happen to be UMEME godfathers but the man from Namukenkera never relented. That way he remained a rallying point of all the anti-UMEME forces in government and his door remained open to all manner of whistle blowers that had info about UMEME. Saleh not only ensured the protection of such whistle blowers but also ensured they accessed Museveni and often as they had something new to report to him. When one of the funders quit, UMEME almost became bankrupt and many feared it would collapse. Its godfathers in government (we now know acting totally without the President’s knowledge) fidgeted on how to find the money to rescue their cash cow (many of them had shares ranging between 3-7% in UMEME through proxy companies) so that it doesn’t collapse. They nervously looked for investors and when they failed, one of them (has since fallen out with Sevo) said ‘but there is money in NSSF’ and that is how the plan was mooted to get NSSF inject colossal sums of money buy shareholding in UMEME. The poor board chair had to find a way out since this was clearly now order on him. This is why NSSF, now the biggest UMEME shareholder, ended up rushing to buy into UMEME and there was no time to secure BOD minuted approval or even the Solicitor General’s no objection. The real powerful guys ganged up on the situation and Gen Saleh tactfully retreated. They got their way; ensuring UMEME survives a very disgraceful collapse. Apparently Gen Saleh planned to strike at an opportune moment someday and he finally has. We are reliably informed that sometime at the beginning of this month, Gen Museveni summoned Gen Saleh and apologized to him having overlooked his earlier report and asked for his active support to finally obliterate UMEME and get better deal for Ugandans.
Now apart from Gen Saleh and his team (Supra), this highly educated bald-headed PhD holder played a very big role. For starters, Sebowa was the ED for regulator ERA for some good years and, being the intellectual he is, he understands the sector pretty well. So when Museveni finally agreed to act, Sebowa is the man Saleh’s people had to bring to him. It’s like this: during the inquest process proceeding Saleh’s report, the committee accepted some submissions from some few witnesses and Sebowa was among them. In fact it’s said his submission is what moved mountains for the Saleh inquiry. “It was detailed and he was willingly available to elaborate on all the points therein each time Saleh required him to do so.
In the end, more than 60% of the final report based on his submission,” said a very knowledgeable source close to Saleh on these electricity things. As ERA ED, Sebowa tried to stand up to the Gang of 6’s insistence on amending the UMEME concession agreement on grounds it was criminal to sideline ERA (whose powers were statutory) and he no doubt paid the very painful price because he even lost his job but this emotionally didn’t break his zeal to oppose UMEME. When MPs probed the same UMEME following on Gen Saleh’s report, Sebowa was among the very knowledgeable witnesses they summoned.
He turned up and boldly gave them everything arguing this is the least he could do for his country. So at the start of the month, as Museveni cautiously prepared to sign the latest letter (it was drafted for him by Saleh’s guys) he was determined to ensure he doesn’t make mistakes he will live to regret even when he is President. He kept calling Saleh’s people to endless consultative meetings and repeatedly insisted there are things he was still not very clear about.
After one of the very final meetings as they left, one of Saleh’s people advised “Your Excellency there is Engineer Frank Sebowa; you may need to hear his views as well.” Museveni reportedly replied: “Ooh that one; where did he go by the way?” The guys assured him he was available and he asked them to put him in touch urgently. Sebowa met Museveni and fearlessly corroborated many of the stuff Saleh’s people had repeatedly been telling him about UMEME. He was moved finally and said “I’m now convinced these people have a case to answer.” He signaled his staffers to share the draft letter with Sebowa who went through it and made useful improvements on the wording of the text where after the big man made more final touches and appended his signature-and thereby igniting the current chaotic anxiety at UMEME.