In just five years, government has spent more than Shs 21.7 billion on vehicles for President Museveni and State House staff, budget documents indicate.
After thoroughly analysing the 2017/2018 Ministerial Policy Statement for State House, which breakdowns the entity’s budget allocations and expenditure priorities, The Observer has found that between 2010 and 2015, government bought 192 vehicles, including buses and lorries, for use by the president’s residence.
The State House budget for vehicles is particularly for the president and staff of his residence. It is separate from that of the Office of the President, which has a separate budget and buys its own fleet of cars.
A deeper scrutiny of State House’s inventory found that most cars were bought during the years leading to a general election, an indication that the president bolsters his fleet ahead of election campaigns.
On the campaign trail, Museveni often uses a helicopter to get to various rallies in a single day, and he finds a presidential convoy waiting at each of these venues.
For instance, in the run-up to the 2011 elections, more than Shs 9.2bn was spent on 108 vehicles. This is representative of 42.7 percent of the total sum, which was spent on vehicles over the five-year period.
Of the amount spent ahead of 2011, State House spent more than Shs 2.7bn on nine vehicles for the presidential convoy. The most expensive of the nine vehicles purchased in that period, the records say, were two station wagons costing Shs 200m each.
This figure is more than double the vehicle budget for 2007, the year Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM). In that year, State House spent Shs 1.37bn to add 14 vehicles to its fleet, seven of which were for the presidential convoy.
In 2011, Shs 1.2bn was spent to buy 13 vehicles, half of which were bought on January 13; exactly 35 days to that year’s presidential election. This followed an earlier procurement of a press stage truck at Shs 200m on January 3.
The opposition chief whip, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, who is also the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) spokesperson, told The Observer that the contents of the ministerial statement give credence to a long-held claim by opposition politicians that the president hides some of his campaign budget in the national budget.
“Taxpayers always fund his [Museveni] campaigns. Every single thing that he needs [for] campaigns is funded from the national treasury because his NRM is a state party,” said the Kira municipality MP.
“The pickups he uses as podiums at his campaign rallies are procured using the money allocated to State House,” he said.
In 2012, with the presidential elections out of the way, the government didn’t purchase a single vehicle for State House. The only motorable items procured were two motorcycles, which cost Shs 16m.
In 2013, Shs 1.78bn was spent on 13 vehicles. However, the expenditure shot up dramatically again in 2014, when more than Shs 8.3bn was spent to buy 54 vehicles.
According to the shadow attorney general, Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), the budget could have shot up because of the heightened political activity that year.
It is then that Museveni fell out with his longtime confidant Amama Mbabazi, leading to NRM MPs passing a resolution at Kyankwanzi to cushion Museveni against any internal NRM challenge.
They were later to traverse the country popularizing the resolution that eventually led to the amending of the NRM constitution, giving Museveni more powers, and the subsequent dropping of Mbabazi as the ruling party’s secretary general.
“Uganda’s biggest challenge is the fusion of the person of Museveni, the so-called NRM party and the state of Uganda. Because of the fusion of the three, Museveni and his NRM don’t see the state operating independently from them, that is why they use state resources to finance their activities,” Niwagaba said.
MOST EXPENSIVE VEHICLES
In 2015, the policy statement indicates, State House spent Shs 1.1bn to buy just three vehicles and a tank (for storing either water or fuel). In the entire five years under review, the single most expensive vehicle procured was a pickup truck, which was bought on May 13, 2014 at Shs 1.5bn.
The other item was a station wagon costing Shs 1.4bn, which was bought on October 14, 2010. The policy statement, which is currently before MPs, however, shows some mismatches in the price quotations of some vehicles. For instance, on July 6, 2010, three station wagons were bought but the price variation between them is ten times.
One was purchased at Shs 39.1m while the other two were procured at Shs 3.9m each. On February 7, 2014, the presidency bought four omni-buses, three of which cost Shs 110m each, while another cost Shs 11m.
Having spent Shs 1.5bn to buy a pickup, the presidency claims it purchased another pickup truck on October 14, 2010 for a paltry Shs 32,240. The Observer was unable to speak to any State House official to explain these discrepancies.
Most of the vehicles purchased for the Office of the President are used by the president’s auxiliary staff such as resident district commissioners, presidential advisers, patriotism unit, manifesto implementation unit, and Uganda Media Centre.
According to the Office of the President’s vehicle monitoring report, over the five-year period, government bought 158 cars for RDCs and 60 cars for other units attached to the office.
State House comptroller Lucy Nakyobe did not answer our repeated phone calls while ICT and Information minister, Frank Tumwebaze, who was minister of the presidency at the time, declined to comment.
“Ask the people in charge, please,” Tumwebaze said in an email.
Ssemujju argued that the expenditures point to the fact that Museveni has turned the country into his project.
“It is not clear whether the vehicles we are buying are for Museveni the president, his relatives or NRM because State House has become the headquarters of NRM,” Ssemujju said.
“You are only looking at what was spent on buying vehicles but you need to look at what we spend on his fuel for inland travels and servicing those vehicles. The budget for fuel alone could be at an average of Shs 36bn annually, which shows that Museveni no longer cares about this country,” Ssemujju added.
The executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), Cissy Kagaba, said the vehicles budget is an indication that the leadership misses the country’s priorities.
“It shows the wastage and lack of priority we have because right now the health and agricultural budgets are being cut. Ideal thing would be, other than buying expensive vehicles, money should be used to finance the agricultural, education and health sectors, which benefit a bigger percentage of ordinary Ugandans,” Kagaba said.
“It is ironical that the same government that fails to plan for its people is the same government that is buying expensive vehicles,” she wondered. “How do the vehicles benefit the ordinary Ugandans?”
But Sabiiti Makara, a senior lecture at the department of political science in Makerere University, argued that as a president, Museveni is constitutionally entitled to a well-maintained fleet of vehicles.
“The president has to be secure and that requires him to have brand new vehicles, which are more expensive than the ordinary second-hand ones,” Makara concluded. “That explains the higher figure.”
President Museveni travels in a long convoy that sometimes comprises as many as 20 vehicles, including a water tank and a convenience truck.