Monday October 1 2007

Minister's cheque bounces in ID scandal

By ALEX B. ATUHAIRE

KAMPALA

PRIME Minister Apolo Nsibambi has directed Finance Minister Ezra Suruma to take over supervision of the botched up national Identity Card tender. This follows a series of scandals that have dogged the project since it was conceived and have prevented its take off.

In the latest scandal from the project, the Minister of State for Finance (Planning) Mr Isaac Musumba issued a personal cheque for travel to the bidder verification team and it has bounced.

In an unprecedented move, the state minister personally involved himself in funding the travel of the team assigned to carry out site visits for the three companies pre-qualified for the award of the now controversial tender.

Sources told Daily Monitor that the allegations of Musumba’s personal involvement in the controversial tender, which conduct is against the guidelines of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), the body that regulates procurement in government, have been brought to the attention of the Prime Minister.

Nsibambi told Daily Monitor yesterday that he had instructed the substantive minister of Finance, Dr Ezra Suruma to "handle all the problems arising" out of the controversial tender.

Musumba on January 6 issued to Uganda Travel Bureau (UTB) a personal cheque of Shs 28,700,000, as partial payment for the Shs 50m travel bill for the 11-man team, which visited projects of the three pre-qualified companies Face Technologies, Super Com and Contec Global in Botswana, Zanzibar and Nigeria respectively.

Musumba however then landed into more trouble when the Orient Bank cheque, bounced days after it was banked in Stanbic Bank Corporate Branch on January 9, drawing furious reaction from UTB, who wrote through their lawyers, Tumusiime, Kabega & Co. Advocates.

Dr Ham Mukasa -Mulira, led the evaluation team, which visited Nigeria, Botswana and Zanzibar in November to evaluate the three companies’technical, financial and practical experience.

Others on the team were Dhizaala Moses (NPA), Andrew Kalyango (ESO), Ochieng George (ISO), Ms Pearl Mutibwa (Internal Affairs), Ojok Ogwal (UNBS).

Daily Monitor has learnt that the Prime Minister has already been briefed in his own separate inquiries that the "site visits were made due to the insistence of Musumba, - although this was not embodied and part of the tender document-Request for Proposal" and that "despite the tight budget; he (Musumba) personally got involved in ensuring the availability of the funds for the visits".

Nsibambi, whose office coordinates all government projects yesterday declined to give an elaborate comment about the matter and the conduct of minister Musumba in particular.

"I have asked the substantive minister to handle the problems. He is a capable minister," Nsibambi told Daily Monitor by telephone.

Dr Suruma could not be reached for a comment on Thursday. Musumba has not been available for a comment for the last three days.

Despite efforts by Daily Monitor to contact him, the minister did not answer his calls, nor did he return the newspaper’s calls despite SMS reminders.

The UTB Managing Director, Ms Pearl Hoarean, declined to comment on the bouncing cheque when contacted on Wednesday, March 15.

"I cannot answer that question," she said. "Even then, that was long before I was appointed [as MD here]," she said by telephone.

The now controversial tender had been won by Face Technologies after Mr Francis Mashate, the chairman of the contracts committee of the Ministry of Finance, declared the winners on January 23.

Then confusion arose when a letter dated January 19 which Musumba wrote to all the three companies inviting them to negotiate with the government.

But the Inspector General of Government (IGG) later stopped the process, pending investigations. The IGG intervened after a petition by Contec Global, a London-based company, which ‘strongly objected to the process that led to awarding the contract to South Africa’s Face Technologies’.

Musumba’s personal involvement in the funding of the inspection team brings him into the spotlight again after accusations that the minister was having personal interest in the ID tender and was further accused of fronting for Contec Global Ltd.

Musumba, who had earlier refused to talk to Daily Monitor, vehemently denied the accusations, including allegations contained in an Internal Security Organisation (ISO) report that he took $ 1.8 million from Contec Global Ltd to help them win the tender.

Musumba who had earlier organised an appointment for President Yoweri Museveni on December 23, 2005 to meet the Contec Global delegation at State House, according to ISO, on February 4, issued a press statement dismissing the bribery allegations.

"This allegation is malicious and lacking in common sense. "I wish to state to the public that I have never been offered nor accepted a bribe of $1.8m (or any amount for that matter) from Contec (or any other company). I appeal to reasonable members of the public to treat the allegations and the motive with the contempt they deserve," Musumba said in a statement published in both Daily Monitor and The New Vision.

Musumba had earlier told Daily Monitor that his involvement in the tendering process, which is against the PPDA guidelines was for "noble reasons".

"Everything I did, I did in good faith," he said last month.

But the PPDA Chairman, Mr James Kahoza, told Daily Monitor last month that Musumba’s conduct contravened the body’s guidelines.

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