Those who have visited the bowels of State House at Entebbe or Nakasero tell glowing stories of piles after piles of cash securely stashed in there.
Entrance is highly restricted. Lanky mean-looking fellows – keep close guard of these mega-size coffers. For those who have been lucky to drop in either as fumigants, electricians and sometimes helping hands with counting (big money is counted via weighing scales or estimated in bundles), or packaging for dispatch to different missions, the experience is overwhelming.
Once in, one is welcomed by the compelling fragrance of new bills. Like freshly cut wood. Either recently shipped from Bank of Uganda – the budget allocation of State House donations – or brought in by cheerful fellas looking for or appreciating favours from the president.
Our loquacious chroniclers tell stories of overwhelming spread-out rooms of cash in all forms: local and regional currencies, the US Dollar, the Pound Sterling, Francs, Riyals, the Ruble, and Euros. Even the highly restricted Chinese RMB, I am told, is plentiful behind those walls.
Bundles of cash are meticulously lined up like books in a library. My mind drifted back to these State House money fables when the president offered my mentor, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, Shs 500 million to support church projects.
For those who may not know, the archbishop and I come from neighbouring villages in Kyampisi sub-county, Mukono district.
The archbishop is one of our village heroes. My parents settled here in the early 1990s, and we were lucky to become neighbours with the archbishop’s family. I studied at Bishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga secondary school, Kyabakadde.
While Bishop of Kasana-Luwero diocese, Lwanga immensely contributed towards building this secondary school – which would be named after him. In the late 1990s, as one of the stars of the school (I was football team captain, and chairman of debating club), we looked to Bishop Lwanga for inspiration – and he offered a great deal of it!
During mass – and bishop often visited and led them – I was often selected to read the day’s scripture. To this day, Archbishop Lwanga remains a major source of inspiration. So, when he was offered money amidst claims the church he leads was suspected of subversive activities, my mind started racing.
It raced not because I would visit and remind him of our shared village roots and ask for some money, but I was tense of fear that my archbishop could be fleeced of this money.
Our president is on record saying most of his handlers are thieves. (Recall he had started moving with his money in sacks so as to give it out on the spot, cutting out handlers.
But we are told handlers made duplicate sacks which they filled with smaller bills!) Since donations are rarely wired through banks – often given out in sacks, vans, or envelopes depending on the amount – I started wondering from whose desk was the archbishop’s money going to come.
I need to explain this thing about money desks at State House: for presidential donations, there are two desks – both manned by women Maj Gen Proscovia Nalweyiso or Lucy Nakyoobe.
Nakyoobe is the official State House comptroller and responsible for dishing out official government donations.
But handlers do not like her desk since all monies departing it have to be signed for. Political offers, like the one my archbishop was receiving, may not necessarily be signed for.
This makes Nalweyiso – although her position in State House is not properly defined – the most popular teller as her monies are free of encumbrances. Once the president makes an offer, the beneficiary is given an intermediary to lead them to Nalweyiso who takes their details and offers to contact them when the delivery is ready.
Please do not harass her with phone call reminders. When Nalweyiso’s go-betweens contact you to deliver the package, they act like ghosts.
They may ask to find you at City Square at 10pm, but later change to Sheraton hotel parking yard. Interlocutors narrate that these God-blessed intermediaries, convinced it will take you years to see the president again, choose to deliver either half or quarter of the sum the president promised.
This was the basis of my worry. But while I grieved, I chastened myself with the thought that being the archbishop, Lwanga had a direct line to the president.
The author is a PhD fellow, Makerere Institute of Social Research.