NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
June 15, 2007
I am convinced, I did not touch GAVI funds

Former Minister of State for Primary Health, Dr. ALEX KAMUGISHA, was recently detained in Luzira prison together with his colleague Mike Mukula for alleged abuse of office and embezzlement of funds from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
In 'My Prison Life' this week, Dr. Kamugisha tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI why he thinks his arrest was unfair and "untidy", and was intended to embarrass him.

It was never my childhood dream to join politics. As you know, I come from a scientific world. Throughout my school career, I wanted to be a scientist. And that is precisely what happened when I studied medicine and later worked in government hospitals and got involved in administration of health services.

Kamugisha during the interview

I branched into public health; that is basically about public affairs. It is so diverse, so you find yourself involved in activities outside medicine, like social activities and politics.

You cannot separate public health and policy programmes from politics, because politics contributes to the way things are done.
Formerly, doctors wouldn’t be involved in health budgets, they would just wait and see what was given to them. But now they lobby and influence their budget allocations and argue for their rights.

The original thinking that a doctor must put on a jacket and treat patients is an old thinking and did not take us anywhere. That is why doctors have invaded other fields, politics inclusive. They are in Parliament to influence legislations and it has worked.

Doctors are also known for doing a fine job. When you give them work, they do it to the letter, which is what the public wants.
Sometimes people ask me, “You are a doctor, why did you join politics?” But because of my involvement in public health programmes, I had no problem serving in the political world in various capacities. And I have no regrets for that.

In fact, when I look at the contribution of other doctors in other fields other than in the clinic; in Parliament, Cabinet, they have contributed more than they would have done if they had remained in the ward treating patients.

Good manager
The arrest is now history. As you know, for over one year our names - Jim Muhwezi, Mike Mukula, Alex Kamugisha and others - have been in the press. That we were involved in the mismanagement of the Global Fund and GAVI funds.

I don’t like that word, mismanagement, because I am a very good manager. I studied management at the highest level and I can never mismanage resources.

But of course you in the press and others brought the accusation that we were involved in the mismanagement, initially of Global Fund [to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria], and later GAVI funds.

Of course the IGG’s (Inspector General of Government) investigations took place and we started hearing of the various recommendations in the press. One of them and the most recent was that the IGG had completed her investigations and she was recommending that we should be arrested.

But I didn’t take it seriously, partly because I am very convinced that I did not mismanage this fund. My mind is clear on that; I have no doubt about my innocence.

A day or two before the arrest, the newspapers flashed a story saying that all was set for our arrest. I thought anybody who is sane in this modern world would have written summons saying, “Dr. Kamugisha, you are required at the CID [Criminal Investigations Directorate] headquarters”. And I would have gone there because I am a law-abiding person. I had earlier been summoned by the IGG during the Global Fund inquiry and I went there.

Embarrassment
But I think there was a deliberate plan to cause me some embarrassment. That is why I am still concerned about the method of my arrest. It was untidy.

A few minutes to 7a.m. [on May 22, 2007], men knocked on my door and one of my people inside opened for them. I saw them through my window walking in stealthily; those who were in uniform had covered it with either a jacket or an overcoat.

At first I thought they were thieves but thieves normally steal at night. So about eight of them came into my sitting room, but others stayed outside and surrounded my house; about five remained in the compound. Later on, my neighbours told me that many others had besieged the house.

But those who entered identified themselves as being from Entebbe Airport and some from [Police] headquarters.
They said, “You are required at the CID headquarters”.
I said, “But is it necessary for all of you to come here?”
They said they were under instructions.

In fact, someone in the house asked me if they had an arrest warrant but I don’t think they had it. But since they had identified themselves, I complied and said, “Well, we can go”.
They did not handcuff me, they allowed me to dress and prepare myself and even to drive my car to CID.

We reached CID at around 8:30 a.m. When I found there Hon. Mike Mukula, I realised that was part or the beginning of what had been going on in the press (impending arrest).
They kept us doing nothing the whole morning because I understand they were trying to locate Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi who I think had gone out of the country for treatment.

We were in the room of the CID Director with Hon. Mukula, our close relatives and friends, our sureties, and lawyers.
While there, I interacted with my lawyers - Turyakiira and Co. Advocates. They were taking us through the various steps of how events follow, from CID, to court…
None of us -me and Mukula- was timid. You become timid when you know that you are in the wrong.

Finger prints
It was around mid-day that they took statements and finger prints from us. I think the IGG had prepared the charges, so while taking down the statements they read us the charges (abuse of office and mismanagement of GAVI funds) and asked if we understood them. Then they would ask, “Do you agree to the charge?”

I told them I understood the charge but I didn’t agree. After that, we were taken to Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s court at around 2 p.m.
We were now real prisoners, so we did not go in our vehicles. We were taken in police vehicles. We weren’t handcuffed but heavily escorted, which I also think was unnecessary. The entire press was there, so excited, I think it was the news of the day.

In court they read us the charges and remanded us to Luzira. The magistrate (Margaret Tibulya) advised that our matter is only given bail by the High Court which the lawyers knew and were already working on.

Luzira express
[On the way] to Luzira, we were also heavily escorted by the kadenges - 999 Police patrol vehicles that went by-passing other vehicles, roundabouts, disorganising traffic and causing disorder instead of order on the roads.

We reached Luzira at 4 p.m. The radios had been talking about our arrest so all prison staff and inmates knew we were coming.
We surrendered everything: phones, belts and anything metallic to the prison officials immediately we reached Luzira Prison.

Built in 1947, Luzira is an old prison. It is very congested, several structures need to be renovated or replaced. But Luzira is manned by disciplined, orderly staff.

After [entry], they gave us some counselling on what to expect and how we should conduct ourselves and the routine to be observed.
They told us, “While you are here, you are a prisoner, don’t worry, you are neither the first nor the last to be here. Even those who have sent you here will either be here one time or have been here, so feel at home.”

After the counselling, they took us to a room in a dormitory. We found there about 14 inmates, of course they knew us, we are public figures and they were kind to us.

But the room wasn’t spacious, it was just floor. You had to look for where to put your mattress and lie. It is a congested dormitory with minimum ventilation; the toilets are filthy and grossly dilapidated.
It was locked all the time but fortunately it had continuous running water so you could bathe or wash your clothes at any time.

While in the room, we charted about current affairs, people would tell us the nature of their offences, whether they are on remand or convicted.

Two people in my dormitory were charged with abuse of office; others it was a land issue, others I think had borrowed money and failed to pay back.

There were also some who felt unfairly accused and being politically victimised. People in different wards had various offences. I was shown a ward where they (inmates) were all on charges of rape and defilement.

But there are many people who have been in Luzira for 3, 4 to 5 years without appearing in court, partly because their cases can only be tried by the High Court and there is a shortage of judges.

Prison food
I think because of the bad practices, like food poisoning that has previously been experienced, including in schools, they (Luzira Prison) don’t encourage cooked food coming from outside, which I think is a good idea.

For us we adapted very quickly and ate whatever was provided- posho and beans. Our room also had power (electricity) but it was switched off at around 10p.m. for us to sleep. For me I slept that night. Like I told you, I knew I was in prison, full stop. So I slept until the following day.

Let me tell you, as soon as you are in that place you need to change your mindset from the old world to the new world, and adapt to the new situation. For me I adapted immediately.

While at CID, my family had brought me a mattress and blanket. They don’t allow bed sheets because they fear people can use them to strangle themselves. I woke up at 6.00a.m. There were no major activities. We took breakfast, black tea with sugar.

There was no manual work, so we went to complete our registration exercise where we were given numbers. I was given 950, while Hon. Mukula was 949.

We virtually spent the whole day receiving visitors up to around 5p.m. when we went to our dormitories and slept. So there was no time for leisure.

The following day we came to work on our bail applications but it failed [because Justice Margaret Oguli Oumo who was supposed to hear our bail application pulled out of the case.] So we went back and returned to court the following day.

Leaving Luzira
They wanted us to leave Luzira in a Police patrol 999 vehicle but I and Mukula refused. Why did they want to give us special treatment? We insisted on going in a prison bus with other prisoners. It was granted and we came to the High Court.

Our bail process was finalised at around 2 p.m. when Justice [Moses] Mukiibi accepted the conditions my lawyer gave to grant me bail-advanced age and health conditions. I suffer from high blood pressure.
After bail was granted, I was a free man; my entire family was there with a vehicle, so my children drove me home.

But the arrest grossly affected my family. My children resented it. They even refused to go to school until I got back. My relatives were also upset. But many friends sent me messages of sympathy, consolation and prayer.

I thank God the arrest took place two months after the death of my mother. If she was still living, I wouldn’t have found her alive from Luzira. She would have collapsed on hearing the news of my arrest, but fortunately God had already taken her. And she was a woman who was ever listening to the radio, so by the time she died she was hearing about all these things.

IGG report
Up to now I haven’t seen that report but I am told the IGG gave it to the President. I went for interview during the compilation of that report but the fact that she hasn’t found it fit to send it to me … I will just handle it the way it has been done. I also can’t go to State House to ask for it.

The communication I have [about the charges] is what I read in newspapers and the charge sheet that the judge read to me.
Of course I can’t be happy at being arrested; I would be telling you a lie if I told you that I am happy. I am disappointed. But in spite of the untidy way I was arrested, I am happy the process has started towards ending this matter.

I have no doubt that through the courts this matter will be sorted out and shelved once and for all. Even the Global Fund thing, I want it handled and [concluded]. I don’t want to apportion blame, the courts will tell us whom to blame, may be I am to blame.

But I know myself, I know what I did. At an appropriate time I will explain it to those who are interested but now that matter is before court, I will not discuss it in detail.

I knew what I was doing, I got positive results, and my job was appreciated. But of course the world has never been fair. That is why even Jesus was killed for no offence.

He came to this world, healed many people of incurable diseases, saved human life but in spite of all that, he was arrested like we were arrested, convicted and killed. Jesus was innocent but he died; that is why I say the world is not fair. You do something good and instead of being appreciated, people just curse you.

Crazy world
The way the world judges issues puzzles me. People either ignore good things that have been done or misjudge them. Then you wonder, what is wrong with the world? This world is crazy! You do something you are convinced is good but someone judges it wrongly.

This arrest should have been done more tidily and neatly than it was. These are some of the things that need to be perfected. The difference [from this and previous governments] is that from my home they took me to CID, court and to Luzira; but in the past (Amin’s regime), when they picked you from home, that would be the end.

May be that is the improvement from the past which we need to perfect by stopping these kinds of arrests and summon people to relevant authorities.

I am sure anybody in his [right] mind knows that Dr. Kamugisha doesn’t even have a spear in his house, so why send armed people to arrest me? First use summons, when some one refuses then use other measures.

I will stick to my political party - NRM - to clean up such messes. This one you can only clean it through the same party. I will tell my party, ‘Please there are certain things you need to clean up, like methods of arrest’. Arrests should be there but they shouldn’t be primitive.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com