The East African reports: “$740M fighter jets scam sneaks under the radar.”
In a deal reminiscent of previous purchases of military hardware in which the army bypassed civilian oversight, the Ministry of Defence and Bank of Uganda are in the news again following revelations that on the express instructions of President Yoweri Museveni, the ministry withdrew money from the central bank without due parliamentary approval, to buy six fighter jets and other military equipment from Russia worth $740 million.
It also emerged that this money is from the supplementary budget and that part of it — over $400 million — has already been spent. Hence government only wants parliament to rubberstamp the acquisition.
The deal marks a return to the late 1990s, when under the cover of classified expenditure, the country lost $6 million after shadowy middlemen sold the Uganda People’s Defence Forces attack helicopters that could not fly.
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As usual, the president is once again on hand to let Defence off the hook.
On the night of March 24, Museveni met the National Resistance Movement parliamentary caucus at State House Entebbe and told the legislators to support the $740 million supplementary expenditure.
Although he did not mention the country the jets were bought from, the Daily Monitor reported last week that Russian defence websites claimed that Uganda and Algeria had gone shopping in the Russian capital.
It further revealed that the two countries paid a joint price of $1.2 billion for 22 jets — Uganda’s being only six.
Hence each of Uganda’s jets should have cost $54.5 million, translating into a total of $327 million.
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The army also bought some 90 tanks from Bulgaria, only 10 of which proved operational.
The purchase earlier of another set of MiG jet fighters also followed a similar pattern: They arrived with one wing, had no spare parts nor bomb loading capacity.
Public policy analysts argue that these dubious procurements are not just bad luck hounding Uganda’s military.
Rather, they say, defence spending is the conduit through which public finances are channelled to fund politics.
In the meantime, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports that the drought and increasing food prices leave 5 million people at risk of hunger in the greater Horn of Africa region:
The World Food Program – WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran has expressed fears that drought coupled by rising food prices could drive some 5 million people into hunger in the Horn of Africa sub-region.
Sheeran said the number of hungry people in the Horn of Africa was growing and WFP aims to assist 5.2 million people as drought, rising food and fuel prices and conflict take their toll.
“More and more people need help in the Horn and we’re now on high alert over the impact of the March to May long rains. The drought began with the failure of the October to December short rains last year in eastern parts of the Horn of Africa, pushing an additional 1.4 million people into hunger,” said Sheeran.
The World Food Program is also warning that the number of people in need of assistance may increase if the current long rains – from March to May – are poor.
Sheeran who is in Nairobi on a fact finding mission noted that farmers in producing areas that have abundant supplies are selling their produce to WFP so that it can be used to help the poorest in drought-stricken areas.
In 2010 WFP bought food worth a total of US$139 million in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Food prices have started rising in areas that relied on the failed short rains for food production, with increases for maize of 25 percent to 120 percent in some remote parts of the Horn.
Cereal prices in the region over the next six months are expected to increase by 40 to 50 percent.