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The 304 billion Heist

Rebecca Kadaga’s bra was itching and she needed relief after a long day.

Passing a hand through the open collar of her official garb and the suit beneath it, she pushed the left strap off her shoulder and did the same with the right strap.

She reached for the hooks and unclasped the damn thing, deftly pulling it out of and off her bust. Partially relieved, she disrobed, took off the ceremonial wig and kicked off her shoes.

Sighing audibly and blowing air through her cheeks, she slumped into her favourite office couch to clear her mind.

Her toes curled up as they enjoyed the wafting breeze of the aircon quietly pushing cool air across the ornate Speaker’s Chamber.

This ritual is as old as her tenure at the helm of the House and so most of her aides have seen her do it countless times.

There’s no awkwardness about it.

Except for tonight, the Speaker did not ask her handler for her famed cup of sugarless black tea with seaweed.

Before drifting off into a nap, Kadaga ordered her staff to go home as she wanted some silence to allow her work some extra hours when she awoke.

It was not unheard of for her to push late into the night at her desk, but the crime that was going to be committed in this hallowed room tonight was so grave that there couldn’t be a trace or a witness of any sort.

The young women and male staffer said goodnight and were soon riding the elevator to the ground floor.

“Where is Right Honourable?” her driver who was pacing about in the parking lot inquired from the Speaker’s staff. “She said she still has some things to work on.”

“Oh okay.”

The sun had long disappeared behind April’s grey clouds and dusk had settled all over Kampala’s skyline.

Like clockwork, the mercury lamps across the perimeter of the country’s legislature were at full beam, illuminating the majesty of the building as the flags twirled lazily in the night’s draughts.

A police constable was dozing in the quarter guard, even though FM 90’s Soul Train show was playing on his portable radio.

The still and quiet was disrupted by the wail of sirens from a fast-moving fleet of jet-black SUVs with orange spinning lights hoisted to their roofs. Only one person made these rare night trips to Parliament. He knew who it was and quickly pushed the button that lifted the barrier.

The racing herd sped past the entrance and while all six cars methodically dropped out of the convoy formation, Yoweri Museveni’s official S600 Merc rolled forward and came to a halt at the steps of the National Assembly.

As the president ambled out of the luxury sedan, all uniformed bodies in the parking lot instinctively stood at attention and saluted their Commander-in-Chief. Civilians gawked and in hushed tones wondered what had brought Museveni to Parliament at this odd hour.

The frame of a lady in a flowing kitenge alighted from the right side of the car but it wasn’t the First Lady. This person was significantly of a lesser height than Janet.

As she followed the president up the marble staircase, her facial features and modest haircut revealed her identity: Justine Lumumba Kasule.

With a bodyguard in tow, the duo walked through the deserted lobby of the House and waited at the bank of elevators. A chime was heard and a few seconds later, the president, his party’s Secretary-General and bodyguard were at the Speaker’s office.

The bodyguard dutifully pulled and held the massive teak wood door open, letting Museveni and Lumumba in. After shutting it, he remained outside, on guard.

“Good evening your Excellency,” a hurriedly dressed Speaker cooed, her hair slightly dishevelled by the nap.

“Oh Becky, sorry to keep you waitingyi…let’s deal with the other matter.”

“Here is the paperwork, Mr President; we managed to find a total of 304 billion.”

Museveni flinched slightly and held the sheet of paper high up as if to see it better. After a momentary stammer, he asked: “…but Speaker, this amount is too high and if it comes out in the media, we might look bad…nearly half a billion!”

“I have taken care of that already…my parliamentary communications office has talked to the editors of major outlets and the story that will come out is that each MP has received twenty million to help them fight the virus in their constituencies.”

Museveni’s caution turned into glee and he muttered “very good,” below his breath.

Justin watched in attentive silence and let the two do the talking.

“So, government won’t look bad…it will be my MPs, Kin Kariisa’s N-A-B group, KCCA, Ochola, Nabakooba, Adolf Mwesigye and the CDF in the hot seat, even though we are going to get the biggest share.”

Poring over the figures on the sheet, each one of the three politicians knew that the media spin would be the easier part.

The question was how to reallocate hundreds of billions on the floor of the House without whipping up a storm on the eve of Good Friday, especially with a hungry and irritable population that has not earned in the two weeks of lockdown.

Justine spoke up for the first time in the past half hour.

“Remember, on the last day of the togikwaatako fight, we outwitted the Opposition by leaving the amendment out of the Order Paper and listing it for debate at the last moment.”

“Anha, so what are you saying?” Museveni growled, a bit impatiently.

“Mr. President, if the Opposition, NGOs and the media don’t know that we are going to pass budgetary reallocations of such a huge amount, they will not prepare ahead of time…I chatted with Nankabirwa on our way here and she has assured me that she has whipped our caucus to attend and vo…”

Museveni cut in before she could finish: “But my people have told me that these two boys, Muwanga Kivumbi and the other cheeky one of Ntungamo, Karuhanga, want to present their minority report opposing us.”

“Sir,” Kadaga offered, “I will put the question to the House and the ayes will have it—I will not accept debate or presentations in case the usual suspects want to oppose.”

“Oh, very good,” he said as he stifled a yawn, apparently tired.

“So do you want me to call Rugunda to table the motion or you will do it?”

“Your Excellency I’ll phone him early tomorrow…you know he sleeps very early and must already be in bed.”

He rose to leave and said, “that is alright—I’ll be following from Nakasero—we need every coin we can get for next year.”

Justine and Rebecca rose in deference to the departing Old Man and pecked each other as they whispered in their native Lusoga: “tenduka bulungi.”

The SG followed Museveni out the door for the ride back to the party’s Plot 22 along Kyadondo Road where she had left her monstrous Landcruiser.

The Speaker dialed her driver’s number and asked him to come up and help carry a few things to the car.

She gathered the contents of her leather portfolio, stacked the pile with her iPad and diary and quickly staffed the bra into her Givenchy quilted handbag.

With her feet, she searched the oriental carpet below to find her shoes and after turning off her desk lamp, got up.

As Rebecca made her way out of the office and reached for the master switch to the lights and aircon, she heard the driver’s footfalls as he paced down the hallway towards her.

Moments later, the Speaker and her driver alighted from the elevator. Half a dozen radios squawked and beeped, ordering the platoon of armed escorts to standby for departure.

The dozing constable at the checkpoint let out a curse, irritated by this third interruption to his sleep and pushed the button that lifted the barrier.

Kadaga sat and the door was shut for her, followed by a brisk salute.

It occurred to her that after all these years of VIP treatment, one cannot really get used to these perks and privileges. For an instant, as the motorcade sped through empty streets, her thoughts wandered off and flashed back to childhood moments in a hamlet in Kamuli.

She wondered where her playmates had all gone and what they were doing with their lives. Hopefully, she would trace some of them over the long Easter break.

But not even this walk down memory lane could shake off the heavy sense of guilt which lingered every time she pondered the gravity of what she, the Secretary-General and the President had just conspired to do. 304 whooping billion to fight the virus, eh?‍♀️?!

She consoled herself and resolved to go through with it.

After all, Jesus was going to be crucified the day after tomorrow and every sinner, herself included, would be pardoned. Didn’t the Son of God forgive his merciless crucifiers and a robber like Kadaga just before he said, ‘it is finished’?

Her seared conscience steeled her callous determination. The country’s Number Three decided not to worry too much since Ugandans have short memories.

They would clamour on Twitter for a few days and move on to the next distraction.

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Written by Karamagi Andrew (2)

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