National

35 ministers face probe over UBC

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By John Njoroge & Philippa Croome

Posted  Wednesday, January 11  2012 at  00:00

In Summary

Poisoned chalice. Nearly half the Cabinet could be in trouble a month after their colleague resigned over claims of abuse of office.

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An ongoing countrywide investigation has reportedly implicated 35 ministers in the suspected abuse of public resources which has cost Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) more than Shs50 billion, a revelation which could potentially force mass resignations from the 79-member Cabinet.

High level sources at UBC, who requested anonymity, said nearly 200 local and international radio and television frequency holders -- among them ministers -- have been illegally using the national broadcaster’s land, equipment and electricity connections over the past 10 years.

Police and UBC officials have contacted the implicated ministers over the past week, the sources said. Some have attempted to pay past dues, while others have ignored the situation, the UBC sources said.

Mr Moses Binoga, the head of the police Special Investigations Unit, could not however comment yesterday, referring this newspaper to the Force’s spokesperson, Mr Asuman Mugenyi. Last evening, Mr Mugenyi said he did “not have information of any ministers involved in this investigation”.

Information Minister Mary Karooro Okurut also said she had “not heard of anything of ministers being implicated”.
The police sweep began last month, following the resignation, under pressure from Parliament, of former Minister for Presidency Kabakumba Masiko, after her private radio station, Kings FM, in Masindi was found to have been illegally using UBC equipment.

Ms Kabakumba, also a former information minister, was accused of abuse of office.

Many of the implicated organisations have since left the broadcast industry, though police sources say this will not stop investigators from pursuing the culprits.

East, North next
Police teams have this week moved into the eastern and northern regions after already shutting down 15 stations in the central and western regions.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was on Saturday switched off, the UBC source said, as a result of unpaid dues amounting to more than Shs2.4 billion ($1 million).

Light House Television, a Christian television channel, is also on the brink of being taken off air after UBC found the station has never paid for its broadcasting services since it went live in 1995.

Mr Mugenyi said police could not yet offer an estimate of financial losses until their investigation ends, but said the impact has been felt across the board.

Financial implications
UBC spokesperson Jane Kasumba told Daily Monitor this week that a number of unspecified clients have come forward to pay outstanding fees – but police say they will still likely face charges.

The police spokesperson said the systemic losses stem from clients cutting corners and colluding with UBC staff, who themselves have come under fire in the past for mismanagement of public funds.

“That’s even actually why the board was suspended, for being party, and they are being investigated,” Mr Mugenyi said, in reference to the May 2011 suspension and resulting corruption charges preferred against several senior UBC officials.

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