UN base saga: Gov’t to spend Shs 1.8bn on lobby teams
• MPs get $200 each to support government position
• Oryem: That’s absolute rubbish
To lobby key world leaders to overturn a resolution relocating the UN regional base from Entebbe to Nairobi, Kenya, the Ministry of ForeignAffairs is going to spend at least $500,000 (Shs 1.85bn) to facilitate government officials to travel to major capitals in Europe and America to speak for Uganda.
According to the state Minister of Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem, the government has decided to beef up the team at Uganda’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York with four additional senior diplomats from the Ministry headquarters.
“I will also be travelling around, Minister Sam Kutesa will also be travelling around, we also expect Parliament to send delegations to Kenya and other African countries to support this process,” Oryem told journalists at Parliament.
“Everything possible is being done, President Museveni himself is making phone calls, contacting his colleagues around the world to support our position,” Oryem said.
This followed a Parliamentary resolution supporting government’s efforts to urge the UN not to relocate its African region base from Entebbe International Airport to Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
Plans to relocate the UN base came to the fore on May 1 after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recommended the closure of the world body’s base at Entebbe in a report to UN’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).
On Wednesday, Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo moved a motion for a resolution of Parliament to urge government to intensify engagement of essential diplomatic channels to convince the UN general assembly to retain the UN regional service centre in Entebbe.
“The UN centre at Entebbe brings in the country an estimated $30m (Shs 111bn) annually, the UN staff use Ugandan hotels, eat Ugandan food and use Ugandan facilities. We therefore need government to fight and retain this centre,” Ssekikubo said.
The motion enjoyed bi-partisan support with the Chief Opposition Whip also Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda the lone voice of dissent in the House.
As MPs debated the motion, questions came up about Kutesa’s inability to travel the US as well as other European countries over his alleged involvement in a $500,000 (Shs 1.8 bn) bribe in exchange for obtaining business advantages for a Chinese energy company.
In response, the Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda told the Housethat Kutesa still enjoyed the political confidence of the appointing authority; President Yoweri Museveni.
“The Hon Minister of Foreign Affairs Ndugu Sam Kutesa is still performing his duties very well, he is now on duty, he is not in the House,” Rugunda said.
Rugunda’s explanation was not convincing enough to the MPs that Oryem took the floor to explain further.
“To the best of my knowledge, there are no criminal summons against Hon Sam Kutesa, there is no warrant of arrest against him nor the cancelling of his visa application to the US or anywhere. Right now, he is in Cairo-Egypt with the President, and has four other planned
foreign travels with the president,” Oryem said.
As Ssekikubo prepared to table his motion, in the Parliamentary corridors, some MPs were receiving incentives of at least $200 (about Shs 740,000) to support the government motion.
It is not clear how many MPs were paid but some opposition MPs confessed having received the money from a female MP who was once a leader in the opposition FDC party.
Interviewed, Oryem rubbished the claim calling it an insult to government.
“That is an insult of the biggest imagination that the government of Uganda bribed any MP to support this motion…rubbish! We did not give even a penny, not even a shilling to anybody to support this motion. The money that the government of Uganda is putting in this process is
to support additional staff to go to New York,” Oryem said.