Uganda: Politicians implicated in Global Fund scam excluded from gov't

24 May 2006
Uganda's former health minister and his two deputies - all of whom are accused of mismanagement of foreign grants to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - have been left out of President Yoweri Museveni's new cabinet.

A list of proposed cabinet members submitted to the Ugandan parliament for approval on Tuesday did not include the names of former minister Jim Muhwezi, Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha. The president, who won a third term of office in a February poll, gave no reason for their exclusion. Observers, however, said the move is linked to Uganda's Global Fund scandal.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria temporarily suspended all grants to Uganda in August 2005, citing "serious mismanagement" of the funds. It lifted the suspension in November 2005, following assurances by the government that it would look into the management of the money.

There has been public outrage over the manner in which the health ministry handled the funds, which amounted to more than US$200 million. Museveni appointed a judicial commission of inquiry that unearthed alleged interference by Muhwezi in the administration of the funds. His two deputies were also accused of involvement in various scams that a judge described as "a pile of filth".

Ugandans in Kampala, the capital, welcomed the president's decision to exclude the men from his new cabinet. "The move by the president answered an outcry for their dismissal. It is only the hope of everybody that there is commitment to fight corruption in government," said veteran lawyer Henry Kala.

Godfrey Kaparu, who drives a 'boda boda', or motorcycle taxi, said, "Jim [Muhwezi], as the high officer in charge of the ministry, had to take responsibility."

Beatrice Were, one of the first Ugandans to declare her HIV-positive status publicly and the founder of a grassroots women's nongovernmental organisation, said she interpreted the exclusion as "sign of commitment by the government to fight corruption."

In a surprise move, Museveni has included his controversial brother and retired army general Caleb Akandwanaho - a.k.a Salim Saleh - as well as his former ally and childhood friend Eriya Kategaya, who had become one of his fiercest critics.

Museveni has come under increasing donor pressure to implement good governance and take control of corruption.