Information Request leads to recovery of heifers from leaders

In 2018, Nebbi district local government procured 331 Zeb heifers under Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) cattle restocking program. In one of the council meetings, district councilors made a malicious resolution for each councilor to receive a heifer under the pretext of creating a model that compares the survival rates of animals distributed to leaders and the citizens.

In 2019, AFIC trained public officials, civil society actors, journalists and community monitors on access to information and open contracting. These various categories of stakeholders acquired skills on how to request for public information and how the information acquired can be used to advocate for the improved social services delivery. Public officials were reminded of their obligation to share information, both proactively and reactively to the public as stipulated in the Access to Information Act, 2005.

Arising from numerous complaints from the citizens about the leaders’ actions and the criteria used to select other beneficiaries for the Zeb Heifer project, Kennedy Blaimo a community monitor made an information request to the CAO to ascertain the actual beneficiaries, number of animals procured and distributed. The application was not accepted.

During the Nebbi district CSOs’ follow-up meeting in 2019, CSO leaders requested AFIC to seek information from the district leadership about the status of the animals procured ever since Kennedy made the information request. AFIC secured a meeting with the district leadership for which the issue was discussed. It was discovered that the entire process of selection and distribution was not documented.

The open contracting principles that call for disclosure of public procurement information and citizen participation at every stage of procurement and following the leaders’ code of conduct while handling public procurement that was not followed. The Local Government, 1997 provides for a minimum standard of behavior and conduct for leaders while executing government business that was compromised.

In the same meeting, AFIC learned that on January 17th, 2020, Mr. Brown Choothum, an LC5 Councilor intercepted and hijacked eight heifers at Adjara junction as they were being transported to Erussi sub-county headquarters to be distributed to the beneficiaries. The matter was reported to the police and he was arrested and detained at Nebbi Central Police Station (CPS) for allegedly hijacking cattle meant for beneficiaries under the PRDP cattle restocking program. The Nebbi District Chairperson, Mr. Emmanuel Orombi confirmed that he had received a report indicating that two of the animals were sold to non-beneficiaries by the councilor. He also confirmed that the district officials rejected attempts by Mr. Choothum’s father to pay for the hijacked animals because all they wanted to be the animals but not money. It was also discovered that the Councilor had solicited some money from members of the community in exchange for the animals.

According to the OC CID Nebbi CPS Mr. Nicholas Natajja, after the interception, the Councilor was advised to take back the animals which he did not do, prompting his arrest to help police in investigations. Mr. Natajja said Choothum later admitted that he knew the whereabouts of the animals, and all the eight cows were recovered over the weekend and handed over to the rightful beneficiaries.

“Following numerous complaints from the registered beneficiaries who had not received their animals, we had no option but to only arrest the Councilor to help in the recovery process,” Mr. Natajja said.

Mr. Christopher Omara, the Nebbi RDC on his part, said his office would not tolerate leaders who are working to sabotage government programs for selfish gains.

“Such a dubious act by the Councilor is unacceptable. The district shall do whatever it takes to see that such leaders are dealt with under the law to see sanity,” Omara warned. Mr. Brown Choothum was later released on police bond.

Access to information is a powerful tool in the fight against corruption. It serves both the government and its citizens by increasing confidence, through enhanced transparency and accountability. Citizens can use their fundamental rights and hold their leaders accountable for responding to their needs and providing quality services. Community Monitors used their constitutional rights as stipulated in Article 38 Civic Rights and Activities which states that every Ugandan citizen has the right to participate in the affairs of government, individually or through his or her representatives in accordance with the law.  Indeed the people of Nebbi can now benefit from government services like the PRDP cattle restocking program given their vigilance.

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