Speaker slams Uganda govt ‘silence’ on UK’s sanctions against her

Speaker Annet Anita Among.

Embattled Uganda’s speaker of parliament Anita Annet Among has slammed the government for its apparent silent response towards the United Kingdom’s sanctions against her over alleged corruption.

On Thursday last week, UK Deputy Foreign Secretary, Andrew Mitchell in a statement said, Among who also doubles as Bukedea Woman MP, together with former Karamoja ministers; Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu will be subjected to travel bans and asset freezes following their involvement in the iron sheets (mabaati) theft scandal.

A number of top government officials including vice president Jessica Alupo, speaker Among and several ministers were fingered as having diverted, for personal gains, iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja sub-region.

However the director of public prosecutions decided to pursue criminal charges against only three ministers; Agnes Nandutu, Mary Goretti Kitutu and Amos Lugoolobi citing a lack of evidence against the other suspects. In a recent cabinet reshuffle, President Yoweri Museveni dropped Nandutu and Kitutu as ministers.

During Friday’s plenary, Among wondered why it has taken the government more than 24 hours to issue a response regarding her sanctions, saying the matter shouldn’t be treated as an ‘attack’ on her as a person but an attack against Uganda’s sovereignty.

She claimed she was being targeted for her pivotal role in the passing of the anti-homosexuality law in 2023 but is ready to carry the cross for the 44 million Ugandans.

However, a number of Ugandans have taken to social media, using the hashtag #NotMyCross and urged her to “carry her own cross” and stop citing the anti-gay law whenever accountability demands come up.

Among said she’s not bothered by the sanctions since she “doesn’t even own a pussy cat in the UK”.

She urged the UK to respect other countries’ values and cultures.

“We are a sovereign country and those who are writing reports, are writing reports because they want to do accountability,” she said.

On the cited iron sheets meant for Karamoja, Among earlier told parliament that they were dropped at her gate, and when she discovered that they were subject to the investigation; she refunded an equal number to the Prime Minister’s office.

Among’s public image and appeal continue to wane rapidly among Ugandans as her tenure as speaker continues to be marred with several corruption scandals, some allegedly directly orchestrated by her or her agents.

In response to the UK sanctions, Chris Obore, director of communication and public affairs said the UK’s basis was premised on wrong information since Among has never been sued, let alone convicted of corruption in Uganda. Obore also wondered why only three individuals were targeted for sanctioning yet many other government officials were implicated. Obore’s response has been criticised by a section of Ugandans as undiplomatic and unwarranted since the matter was now between countries and should be dealt with by Foreign Affairs.

Among however said the reluctance of Foreign Affairs to respond is what forced “undiplomatic” people like Obore to issue statements.

“When you [Foreign Affairs] heard this [sanctions], you ought to have responded instantly. That is what we pay you for. To do the diplomacy before the undiplomatic people come, you should have done your diplomacy and then you come to this house and tell us this is what I have done. Now, you will get an undiplomatic person who will say maybe the person [Andrew Mitchell] who signed this document is himself a [homosexual],” said Among.

There appeared to be bipartisan support for Among as the debate on the matter continued. MPs said the ministry of Foreign Affairs has been sluggish in responding to the statement by Andrew Mitchell. Bugiri Municipality MP, Asuman Basaliwa said the sanctioning of the speaker of parliament is a matter that touches on the diplomatic relations between Uganda and the United Kingdom.

He said it is important the ministry of Foreign Affairs addresses the matter.

However, Basalirwa, who tabled the anti-homosexuality bill as a private member’s bill said the UK has the right to sanction any individual from any country.

“Rt Hon. speaker at the risk of anticipating what is in the statement, the UK has a right to sanction anybody. It is really their right and I don’t think anybody should be concerned or bothered. Let them sanction whoever they want. It is really their sovereign right but what should also happen is that they should respect the sovereign right of other countries because you see, you run a risk,” said Basalirwa.

But rising on a point of procedure, Kira Municipality MP, Ssemujju Nganda wondered whether there was a need for a statement from the ministry of Foreign Affairs given that Among herself had stated that she was not bothered by the sanctions.

“In your communication, you said we have tax bills that are very important as you enumerated. And you did say that for you, you don’t care if they want to freeze, you don’t even have a pussy cat, they can go ahead. If madam speaker that is your conclusion, is there and this is a procedural issue, is there a need for government to issue a statement when one of the persons sanctioned has said she doesn’t care, the matter is not serious? So is there a need for government to again issue a statement if you have closed the matter in that fashion?” said Ssemujju.

Among interjected warning that there is a possibility that all MPs would be sanctioned if something was not done.

“I may be sanctioned today, tomorrow it is going to be you. It is about your country not an Anita. Me, I can go back and be in my village,” said Among.

John Mulimba, minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Affairs told parliament that the government was equally surprised to learn of the sanctions. He said the government seeks to find a rationale for actions taken by the British government in its sanction designation.

“It is with surprise that the ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uganda learnt of a statement issued on the official website of the United Kingdom on 30th April 2024 announcing the imposition of sanctions on “Ugandan politicians charged with corruption.” The case referred to under the UK’s Global and Corruption Sanctions regime concerning two former ministers; the honourable Goretti Kitutu and honourable Agnes Nandutu represents the first time that this is applied with respect to Uganda.

It glosses over the fact that the two cases mentioned had been uncovered by government’s own investigative agencies and are currently being handled under Ugandan courts of law. The two on the charge sheet therefore remain on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The third person mentioned in the sanctions regime is Rt. Hon Annet Anita Among who is none other than the speaker of Uganda who has not been charged by the directorate of public prosecutions in the above-mentioned cases,” said Mulimba.

He said the ministry of Foreign Affairs will engage with the British High Commission in Uganda and the government of the United Kingdom on the matter. He noted that sovereignty remains a cardinal principle in the bilateral relations between the two countries. Tororo North MP, Geoffrey Ekanya said the actions by the UK government could have ramifications for the speaker of parliament who is the current chair of the Commonwealth presiding and speaker’s conference.

“As of now, you coordinate the entire operation. In the UK, the conservative government government does not believe in homosexuality and lesbianism. In the US the republicans don’t believe in it. So this double standards must be rejected and we need to communicate to the people of this country and the world. Therefore I would propose that the minister of Foreign Affairs need to engage at more higher level and we need to express our displeasure as parliament of Uganda,” said Ekanya.

He said due to the sanctions, Uganda should consider withdrawing from the Commonwealth and its institutions. Among is the chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Uganda. She is also the president of the speakers and presiding officers for the 70-member commonwealth parliaments. Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (NUP, Kassanda North), also one of Uganda’s representatives to the Pan-African Parliament said the sanctions were in bad faith.

He said there is an urgent need to see how Uganda can address the standoff caused by the sanctioning speaker who is supposed to represent Uganda at upcoming Commonwealth conferences. Besides, Nsamba said the issue of corruption especially the one on the iron sheets was in his view not well handled.

“It just ended in corridors and it ended like that. Ugandans don’t know who was found guilty, who was not found guilty, and it is just there lingering. And I really want to think that is why those that wanted to get on the speaker used that. Had it been disposed off properly, probably it wouldn’t have been an issue. I keep wondering why the mabaati group was bigger why did they pick on the speaker and the two and not the rest of the group,” said Nsamba.

In sanctioning the legislators, the UK said it is sending a clear message to those who think benefiting at the expense of others is acceptable. “Corruption has consequences and you will be held responsible,” said the statement


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