Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Corruption rears its head

Suspicion and allegations of corruption have surrounded the Ugandan army's failed search-and-destroy mission this past December-March against Joseph Kony, the renegade militia leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

More than a few people have mentioned that the failure of the mission, planned and partially financed by the United States military, could have been tainted by compromised intelligence or corruption.

In order for corruption to make sense, a beneficiary has to exist. Now information in the form of a lawsuit has surfaced linking a member of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's extended family to a lucrative deal at the heart of the military operation.

According to the Kampala newspaper, The Observer, in a story written by
Hussein Bogere this Monday, a hefty portion of the fees paid to a private transport company that took supplies the battle zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo, went directly into a Museveni relative's pocket.

Much has been made in local news media about the high cost of the operation, about $200,000 a day, that sent several thousand Ugandan soldiers into a remote corner of the DRC to chase Kony.

Regardless, the Observer reports that a businessmen who profited from the operation has sued the government in a bid to recover about $2.3 million he claims he is owed for flying army supplies to the Congo.

According documents seen by The Observer, the company, Stream Aviation Ltd, is co-owned by Sami Harouna Eisa and Hiten Sharma. In December 2008 it was contracted by the Uganda army to fly cargo from Kampala to Dungu in northeastern Congo, at $70,000 per flight.

Sami claims his aircrafts made 27 trips which translates into $1,890,000 in outstanding bills, according to the Observer.

Sami claims that the Ugandan Ministry of Defence only paid part of the money, $1.1 million, to one Barnabas Taremwa, after he reached a deal with Hiten Sharma, the co-director of Stream Aviation, the Observer states.

Taremwa is a close relative of Jovia Saleh, the wife of Gen. Salim Saleh, who is the brother of President Museveni, the Observer reports. Saleh, by the way, has been implicated in numerous other questionable dealings, including the pilfering of millions of dollars in gold, diamonds and timber from the Congo when Uganda occupied the eastern Oriental Province from 1998 to 2003.

“He (Taremwa) together with Sharma, forged my signature and obtained $1.3 million from the Ministry in cash. This signature was scanned from a previous document and used with the help of a computer to be placed on the receipts. I never signed for the money,” Sami said, according to the Observer.

Sami reportedly met Taremwa in 2006 through Sharma after they decided to register the company. Sharma told him that Taremwa could get them an Air Operator’s Certificate.

For that, Taremwa was reportedly paid $80,000, but did not deliver, Sami claims. Another time, Sami alleges, Taremwa contracted Stream Aviation to airlift his furniture from Dubai at $50,000 (Shs112 million). “He has never paid for transporting the furniture.”

Underlying this lawsuit is a falling out by Sami and Sharma and allegations that Sharma and Taremwa formed a separate partnership.

Taremwa, meanwhile, told The Observer that he received the payments from the government as the sole representative of Stream Aviation of which Sami is no longer part.

He said Sami was just bitter after the fall out with Stream Aviation. “The people who appointed me are still with me. He is sour-grapping. It’s me on behalf of Stream Aviation and Ministry of Defence who signed the contract,” Taremwa said.

On his part, Sami says he is ready to prove to court that Taremwa, together with the government, colluded to defraud him by withdrawing $1.3m (Shs2.9 billion) from the Ministry of Defence, being cash meant for Stream Aviation.

Sami adds that he is ready to prove that Taremwa is colluding with elements in government to withdraw the remaining balance of $790,000 from the Ministry of Defence to the exclusion of Stream Aviation that carried out the charter services.

While the business dealings are sorted out, one must ask why Taremwa, as a member of the Museveni's extended family, is profiting so hugely from the failed military operation.

Could it be that keeping Kony alive and the LRA as a threat means more profits for the Museveni regime?

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