Ministers Onek, Ecweru linked to bogus sh8b Bududa land deal

The presidential affairs committee of Parliament has named ministers Hilary Onek and Musa Ecweru in a sh8b botched land deal which has made it impossible to relocate over 90,000 people imperiled by landslides in the Mt. Elgon region. Onek is the Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, while Ecweru is Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness.

In the report presented to the House on Wednesday by committee chairperson, Jessica Ababiku (Adjumani Woman MP), lawmakers want fellow legislator Wamakuyu Mudimi (Elgon County) prosecuted over “fraud”.

In dealing with Wamakuyu whom they accuse of pocketing sh6.9b by selling to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) over 2,000 acres of land under contestation, the committee recommended that he be handled with an iron fist over despicable conduct which

“brought the image of Parliament into disrepute”.

From brazen flouting of procurement rules, misinformation by public officers bent on getting a slice of the sh8b, buying land at more than 100 times its market value, to Mudimi being in cahoot with what the committee described as “a criminal syndicate” (selling land belonging to third parties under the watch of Onek and Ecweru), the report paints a sordid intricate web of fraud.

The report also calls for the prosecution of many technocrats from OPM, including permanent secretary Gertrude Guwatudde, Rose Nakabugo — the then acting commissioner disaster preparedness and transaction advisor and one Richard Masereje, for giving the green light for the purchase of land in a wetland. In the end, the report calls for Onek and Ecweru to “take responsibility for the loss of sh8b” and Mudimi and his wife, Beatrice Gimono, to be prosecuted and have sh6.9b recovered from them.

 But how did Onek, Ecweru and Mudimi get into the cross hairs of an inquest by Parliament which might have serious implications on their political careers? The Government decided to explore the possibility of buying land to resettle 20,000 households in landslideprone areas, following a 2010 monstrous landslide in Bududa district that claimed over 350 lives.

Cabinet approved the allocation of sh8b in three successive financial years, beginning with 2013/14. The OPM called for those with sizeable chunks of land in Bulambuli, deal which attracted many individuals and entities. Among the entities that claimed to have land, the report indicates, were M/S Simu Oil Company Ltd represented by Gimono.

The report indicates that M/S Simu Oil Company Ltd sold 1,688 acres of land at sh2.5m per acre totalling to sh4.2b. The irony in this deal, which was executed by Guwatudde and Nakabugo, on behalf of OPM, was that the land sold by M/S Simu Company Ltd belonged to Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU), which had given Gimono powers of attorney to sell the same.

The report indicates that Mudimi took centre stage in the sale of the land and the proceeds were never remitted to BCU. Currently, the contestation of this land is the subject of a civil suit in Mbale High Court.

Another plot of land with an acreage of 918 acres, belonging to Fr Godfrey Manana, Fr Andrew Mutubusi and Fr Patrick Watikha was purchased at sh2.7b, with each acre going for sh3m. The report indicates that Mudimi represented the three proprietors. However, the land was similarly under contestation with the committee faulting OPM technocrats, led by Guwatudde for dealing with Mudimi whose reputation MPs claim had been sullied over his alleged fraudulent conduct in the M/S Simu land deal. The report similarly faults OPM technocrats for purchasing land at grossly inflated prices indicating that: “To date, the market price of land within Bunambutye subcounty ranges between of sh800,000 and sh1.5m per acre.” In the wake of the flash floods that killed close to 40 people in October in the Elgon region, the issue of resettling people in landslide prone areas assumed a renewed urgency. However, as indicated by the report, the Government might have purchased ‘air’ and the 20,000 families in landslide-prone areas remain condemned. Parliament is set to debate the report.

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Lukwago Joseph grew up in a newspaper family, and rumor has it that instead of playing the guitar in his infancy, his parents put a reporter’s notebook and a pen next to him shortly after he turned born eight years. Before becoming editor of UGANDANZ, Lukwago was a parliament news editor for WBS TV. He joined UGANDANZ in July 2018, A few months after the company launched. Lukwago also spent five years as a freelance reporter, where he covered reporting for the highest bidder, intelligence, foreign policy, and Ugandan police. Lukwago graduated from Makerere University in 2008 with a B.A. in Journalism and worked on his college newspaper.