Uganda denies used UK aid cash for presidential jet

KAMPALA Fri Jun 17, 2011 6:36pm BST

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni speaks at the presentation of the Government Budget for the year 2011/2012 at the Serena conference center in the capital Kampala, June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Edward Echwalu

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni speaks at the presentation of the Government Budget for the year 2011/2012 at the Serena conference center in the capital Kampala, June 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Edward Echwalu

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda on Friday denied reports that it had used British aid meant to help alleviate poverty to buy a $48 million (29 million pound) luxury jet for President Yoweri Museveni.

The Daily Mail newspaper reported that Lord Ashcroft said he had uncovered the use of aid money from Britain to buy the plane.

"The UK needs to be very careful before giving budgetary support to avoid extravagance such as this. It is simply a joke," Ashcroft was quoted as saying. "We must make sure these things do not happen again."

A spokesman for Museveni -- who has been in power for 25 years and is coming under growing fire for what many see as an increasingly autocratic style of leadership -- told Reuters the claims were untrue.

"We don't need British money to buy jets," Tamale Mirundi said. "That money was approved by parliament and British aid money is not approved through the Ugandan parliament."

"Let them bring us the evidence," he said.

The Uganda office of Britain's Department for International Development was not immediately available for comment.

The jet was bought in 2008 amid fierce criticism from the Ugandan public and media who deemed it a pointless extravagance in a country where 30 percent of people live on less than a dollar a day.

At the time, the government said its purchase would be funded from central bank coffers, cash from the sale of the president's existing seven-year-old jet and a loan from HSBC bank.

Britain donated about $113 million to Uganda in 2008-09.

Museveni was hailed as part of a new generation of African leaders who would turn their backs on extravagance when he came to power and attacked other leaders on the continent for their largesse.

He famously denounced as "pathetic spectacles" presidents who jetted to United Nations conventions in luxury aircraft while their people walked "barefoot."

Mirundi said Museveni needed a plane to protect his security. "European politicians and media are arrogant to call Museveni a dictator. How many years did Margaret Thatcher remain in power until she faced a rebellion from her party?

"Museveni is in power because Uganda believes in him. Europe thinks that we are poor. We are not," said Mirundi.

External financing will fund 29 percent of Uganda's 2011-12 budget, its finance minister told parliament earlier this month.

(Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)

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