Two senior officials of the ruling party have joined the growing chorus of internal voices who agree that regime excesses have intensified public disgust at the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
A week ago, deputy secretary general Richard Todwong put his party on notice at a meeting convened by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) in Entebbe.
“Corruption, nepotism and greed are things that are making Ugandans more disgusted at the leadership of our party in government,” Todwong said.
The Entebbe meeting was the latest effort by IRCU to get a long-promised national dialogue back on track. Previous attempts to get the process going had fallen flat amidst feelings of distrust between parties.
“I am speaking to you because I know you are my shield, and I have to be honest, my church told me to be very honest; I have told this to the president – I am not scared of calling a spade a spade,” Todwong told the religious leaders.
“If we don’t restrain [ourselves], if we don’t control our greed on how we use public resources; how we steal with impunity, then Ugandans will push us out of power and that will be another transition,” he said.
He observed that “the hills of Kampala are expanding with buildings” yet “the schools [and] health centres are shrinking”.
“Where do people get this money from? And who are the owners of these structures we see? Commissioners, directors, ministers, permanent secretaries… so people get disgusted,” he added.
Interviewed for this story, Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for Information, Communications and Technology and National Guidance, said cabinet has not formally heard from Todwong. He said cabinet will respond after hearing from the former minister.
Todwong is a ranking NRM official, sitting below Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary general, and national treasurer Rose Namayanja Nsereke. His position gives him access to NRM’s second highest decision-making organ, the Central Executive Committee (CEC). It is not clear whether his comments reflect frustration in CEC.
Interviewed two days after the Entebbe meeting, Todwong told The Observer he is “not courting any controversy … but we need to be accountable to the community, and talk about the things that affect our people”.
In a separate interview, the executive director of the government’s information clearing house, the Uganda Media Centre, lauded Todwong.
Ofwono Opondo, who also wears the hat of NRM deputy spokesman, said: “There is nothing strange in what he is saying. The truth of the matter is supervision in government is weak, if not absent - even in NRM, supervision is not there.”
He said many in government are operating a “fraud policy” to steal public resources.
“NRM has failed to supervise the government, and if we in the NRM and government don’t raise these issues, then we shall cede ground to opposition propaganda,” Opondo said.
The spokesman’s proposal for closer supervision, however, presents a problem because as Todwong said: “There is no structure; no institutionalised arrangement for the party to check government.”
“The relationship between the party and government has to be streamlined. If we are to check government, we want to know which point of entry we should use. Is it through the Office of the Prime Minister or Office of the President because that is where the manifesto implementation unit is?” he said.
Things are so bad that the party secretariat itself is caught up in squabbling over money. The NRM’s electoral commission chairman, Tanga Odoi, and Lumumba have a running quarrel in the media over these resources.
Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo has welcomed the growing realisation inside the party that what he and his fellow so-called ‘NRM rebel MPs’ have been saying rings true.
“We raised the issues he is talking about and we were ignored. We did everything internally but they fought us. We came out after realising that sense had failed to meet sense,” Ssekikubo said.
Dokolo South MP Felix Okot Ogong who was once chair of the NRM parliamentary caucus and state minister for youth and children affairs, is one of the most recent critical NRM voices. In lauding Todwong, Ogong said he is watching to see whether the party will also brand him a rebel.
“When we spoke out, they called us rebels; so, is he now another rebel? But what I know, he stated facts just to correct the party and what we are stating today is to correct the party,” Ogong said.
“The party should stop fighting people who say the truth, you saw how they fought, have been fighting us that I even lost my sugar; over 100 containers of sugar because of my stand,” he added.
Manjiya MP John Baptist Nambeshe, said the best alternative for Todwong is to abandon the ship.
“He should not think that he can advise them from within…They chased us from the caucus because they don’t like ideas that seem to be competing with what they want,” Nambeshe said.