By Milton Olupot
MPs from the famine-hit north and north-eastern Uganda yesterday walked out of a meeting called to discuss the situation with disaster preparedness minister Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere.
Women MPs Rose Akol (Bukedea) and Agnes Akiror (Kumi) broke down and wept.
â€œIteso are hard-working people, we are not beggars. We would not be begging you if it was not for the climatic conditions that have failed our crops. People are eating wild leaves and fruits and are now getting infections,â€ Akiror said.
She added that apart from food aid, the health minister also needed to intervene to combat the diseases that have resulted from eating poisonous plants.
Akiror asked Kabwegyere: â€œHow do you brand us as drunkards when the crops have dried in the gardens? We are disappointed with you and we demand an apology from you and the state minister for agriculture.â€
Addressing journalists at the Media Centre in Kampala on Tuesday, agriculture state minister Aggrey Bagiire accused the Iteso of being lazy and of drinking alcohol instead of growing food.
Kabwegyere, who was flanked by Bagiire, called the meeting after he was instructed by the deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga. Kabwegyere had instead wanted to make a statement in Parliament on Tuesday.
Bagiire said the situation on the ground was not as bad as it was portrayed by the MPs. He added that the Government had already dispatched relief food to the hard hit areas, waving a list of dispatches. But the MPs said the supplies were too little to make an impact.
Kabwegyere, however, said there can never be enough food because if the Government has to provide for the 51 districts that need intervention, it would require sh170b. â€œWe may not be adequately delivering, but you know about lack of funds,â€ he said.
Kabwegyere also said due to the land ownership system in northern Uganda, it was difficult for the people to cultivate perennial crops, adding that this has exacerbated the food shortage.
He pleaded with the MPs not to go ahead with their planned boycott of Parliament.
â€œMy plea now is that the sh1.5b should be used to get planting materials and then we pray to nature.â€
Patrick Amuriat and Reagan Okumu accused the Government of dragging its feet when people were dying.
Amuriat said: â€œThe official statement from the Government is that the situation is under control. I find this ridiculous. You canâ€™t say it is not an Ethiopia-like problem, when our people are dying.â€
Amolatar MP Caroline Okao said two people had died in her constituency due to starvation.
â€œYou are saying government does not have money, So should we wait and bury all our people?â€ she asked.
Santos Piro asked the Government to introduce irrigation to mitigate the effect of unpredictable weather.
Kabwegyere, however, said what the MPs said contradicted what he heard from local government officers in the districts. This infuriated the legislators further.
â€œIt is unfair for you to come here and insinuate that we are irresponsible leaders and we donâ€™t know what we are saying. You should be relieved of your duties,â€ Okupa said, to which Kabwegyere responded, â€œIf I resigned today, I donâ€™t think the hunger would end.â€
â€œIt seems we are here for a memorial conference because our people are dying and you are talking arrogantly. We canâ€™t listen to this,â€ Piro said as he walked out together with all the MPs.
Kabwegyere said walking out was escapism.
Meanwhile, Forum for Integrity in Leadership party president Emmanuel Tumusiime yesterday stormed the Members Lounge and wailed while demanding that Kabwegyere resigns over the deaths in Teso.
â€œIt is a shame that people are dying of hunger. It is a disgrace for the minister of disaster preparedness to say that there is no money to buy food for the dying people of Teso,â€ he shouted, attracting the attention of legislators who were having lunch at the canteen.
Tumusiime said: â€œKabwegyere should be in prison. He is responsible for the deaths of the people.â€