Predicament. According to one account, trouble for the minister started when he offered to help a woman who came accusing Aya Group Chairman Muhammad Hamid of sexual harassment.
A disease that will kill a big man starts as appetite. Last Saturday the State minister for Labour, Mr Herbert Kabafunzaki, probably expected to have an exciting weekend but as we now all know, it turned painful.
The chilly afternoon at a hotel became a turning point in Mr Kabafunzaki’s political life following a humiliating arrest on account that he was raring to receive a hefty bribe from an investor in a case of alleged sexual harassment.
According to one account, trouble for the minister started when he offered to help a woman who came accusing Aya Group chairman Muhammad Hamid of sexual harassment.
In a story aired on NTV Uganda, the woman narrated that two weeks after she had started working at Hilton Hotel in November 2016, Hamid, who runs the hotel, would call her into his office and pretend to be asking for an update on an issue but would then close the door and start molesting her.
The woman approached Mr Kabafunzaki who, among other things, went to Hilton Hotel to inspect the working conditions. The hotel is still under construction but is partially open to patrons.
Mr Kabafunzaki, also Rukiga County MP, thereafter secretly offered to “clear” Aya Group chairman Muhammad Hamid’s image over the alleged sexual harassment of the female staff.
Mr Hamid says the minister promised to clear his image but at a fee.
“He asked us for Shs25 million and said he would call another journalist to clear my name. The minister is the one who arranged that sexual harassment allegation and brought it in the media because the woman first reported an assault case, before changing to sexual harassment,” Mr Hamid told Daily Monitor.
“The minister sent his brother Bruce who talked to us, and later he himself talked to us, saying he needs Shs10 million and another Shs20 million for a lawyer and the media,” Hamid says.
Mr Hamid says that at this point, he reported the matter to President Museveni who told him to go ahead and offer him [Kabafunzaki] the money “so that we can arrest him”.
Mr Hamid then contacted minister Kabafunzaki as advised by the President. The two agreed to meet at 2pm on Saturday at the hotel.
“Before we went there, we made a communication with the President,” Mr Hamid avers.
Armed with an initial installment of Shs5m, the trap was properly set. Mr Hamid went to the Central Police Station and scanned the Shs50, 000 notes before proceeding to the hotel for the mission.
A source at the hotel, who preferred not to be named, said when the minister arrived, he asked for a pineapple drink. As he sipped at his juice, Mr Hamid arrived and joined him. A conversation began.
Mr Hamid laid the Shs5m bundle on the table, but the minister insisted on a higher figure.
Mr Hamid says the minister was asking him for at least Shs25 million, saying he was going to call journalists to clear his name in the media.
As the bargaining was going on, the police detectives and members of the Special Forces Command (SFC) struck. A scuffle ensued but Kabafunzaki was overpowered and arrested. The detectives took notes about the scene while others examined the Shs50,000 denominations as exhibits
“Do you want to assassinate me? If you want to fight we can fight,” the minister reportedly responded during the scuffle with the detectives before he was ordered to calm down. The interrogation began. It took four hours to be concluded.
Upon arrest, sources at the hotel said the minister attempted to speak to the media but he was barred by the arresting officers.
This version of events is based on the accounts of Mr Hamid, police detectives involved in the arrest and some security officers at the hotel who witnessed the incident.
Daily Monitor could not independently verify the claims and Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima did not offer tangible corroboration of the claims.
“That should be left to the investigators because some of these details will be presented in court as evidence,” Mr Kayima said when asked to comment about the currency notes that had been allegedly offered to Kabafunzaki as bribe.
Mr Kayima declined to say where the minister had been taken for custody or when he would be taken to court and what charges the police were considering to place against him.
“We are still investigating him; the process of taking him to court is longer. Once we complete our investigations, we will go to the DPP. We don’t have any reason to violate the law, but it depends on where the lead takes us and how the investigation progresses,” he said.
He did not confirm the involvement of the presidential guard officers in the arrest but did not rule it out either. “I am completely unaware,” it’s all Kayima said.
Maj Chris Magezi, spokesperson of the SFC, denied involvement of SFC personnel.
“We played zero role. We were not involved because it was a police operation,” he insisted.
When pressed further to comment on claims that the President assigned SFC soldiers to trail the minister, Maj Magezi said: “If the President gets such information of civil matters, he refers them to the IGP. ”
A police source said the minister was taken to Nalufenya Police Station in Jinja District, but this claim could not be readily verified.
When he was being bundled into the vehicle upon arrest at the hotel last Saturday, the minister claimed innocence and told the inquisitive journalists: “It is a hoax, I didn’t do anything, and the cameras are there.”
“It is a concoction, I didn’t do anything,” he yelled as the security officers forced him into a police car and sped away.
Commenting on Mr Kabafunzaki’s arrest, senior presidential press secretary Don Wanyama said: “When the President said this is Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo (the era of no-fantasy), this is what he meant. The message is clear, the fight against corruption has been taken to a new high and there are no sacred cows. Once you’re involved, you’ll be arrested irrespective of position. Corrupt government officials have been put on notice.”
Speaking to Daily Monitor, the embattled minister’s lawyer, Mr Kenneth Muhangi, said: “It is really clear that his arrest was stage-managed. He has not been charged with any offence and we are working to secure his release on bond. The minister has been framed but he is confident. He is okay; he looks happy and is not bothered.”
After the arrest of two ministry of Finance officials about two weeks ago on accusations of soliciting bribes from investors, Mr Museveni was quoted saying the implicated Finance officials had been arrested on his initiative.
A State House statement issued thereafter carried Museveni’s vow to punish corrupt government officials.
“…in this ‘Hakuna mchezo’ period of no more jokes. Anybody involved in the act of asking for bribes will be handled harshly under the law,” the President said in the statement.
Later in a stormy cabinet meeting last week, Mr Museveni described the Finance ministry as “a ministry of thieves.”
A furious Museveni narrated to Cabinet how ‘his men’ caught two Finance ministry officials (Mr Charles Ogol, the principal finance officer, and Mr Geoffrey Turyamuhika, a senior economist) red-handed, pocketing $60,000 (about Shs216m) from Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group (U) Company on promise that they would help the investor establish a phosphates plant in Tororo District.
By Ibrahim A Manzil
Daily Monitor (Uganda)