By Joel Ogwang
The works and transport minister Eng. James Byandala has accused the ‘mafia’ in government of masterminding a smear campaign to get him sacked from the Cabinet.
The minister is under Police investigation over his role in the award of a sh165b contract to upgrade the 74km Mukono-Ky etume-Katosi /Kisoga Nyenga road to a company that claimed to be Eutaw Construction Company from Aberdeen, in the US.
However, Eutaw officials in Mississippi have since denied signing any contract in Uganda and have disowned the Uganda directors, including Apolo Senkeeto, who claimed to be the country representative.
Investigations by the Inspectorate of Government have revealed that sh24.7b was paid by the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to a “ghost” company based on forged bid securities.
The IGG faulted Byandala for instructing Ssebbugga Kimeze, the acting executive director of UNRA, to award the contract before concluding due diligence on the company.
However, addressing reporters yesterday soon after opening a mandatory marine training of ferry masters, mechanics and inspectors at Kyambogo training centre, Byandala said ministers envied what he has done during his short term in office.
“There is a clique of my fellow ministers who think I should be out of office,” the visibly charged, but usually calm Byandala, said.
“When I became a minister, they (the ministers) thought I couldn’t perform, but they now envy what government has achieved since I took over. They have held meetings in Kampala and they are recruiting my people and promising them a lot of money to furnish their mischief.”
Byandala denied any wrongdoing. “I know what they(the ministers) are doing, but I am not scared. Why should I be? I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Asked if he would offer to resign over the allegations and if he had raised his concerns before the Cabinet, he said; “I can’t resign for doing nothing wrong. I am innocent and, with time, the truth shall set me free. In Cabinet, we discuss serious issues affecting the nation, not stupid things like this (allegation)!”
Byandala, also the Katikamu North MP, refused to name the alleged ministers when pressed further.
When contacted for a comment, Ofwono Opondo, the Uganda Media Center executive director and government spokesperson, acknowledged that Byandala’s short tenure had resulted in improved roads.
“In the three years of Byandala (as the works and transport minister) we have seen fast growth of roads. He is doing a good job that someone can’t cheat him of,” Opondo stated.
However, Opondo challenged the minister to name the mafia he alleges want him out of office.
“But for him to make that claim, let him be man enough and name them, in what ways they are involved in mafia activities and what he is blocking them from getting.Otherwise mere allegations may end up like (former Vice-President) Bukenya who claimed a mafia wanted him out only to be found at fault.”
Byandala also said the procurement of the contractor started in 2010 when he was still chairman of the parliamentary physical infrastructure committee. He said his predecessors were involved in the negotiations including travelling to the US for due diligence.
“I wasn’t a minister at the time, but when the procurement started, contractors were vetted and Eutaw was one of them,” he said.
“When I became a minister in 2011, Eutaw was already pre-qualified but, if they want me out of office, they will not succeed because I am used to successfully resisting fights.”