A leaked report of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on the abuse of foreign aid in the Office of the Prime Minister indicates that several senior government officials have been implicated in the scam where more than Shs50 billion was lost.
Among those assigned responsibility for the scam in the 86-page report include the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, Accountant General Gustavo Bwoch, Commissioner Treasury Services Isaac Mpoza, outgoing Permanent Secretary in OPM Pius Bigirimana, interdicted accountant in OPM Geoffrey Kazinda and a host of other technocrats in the Finance ministry and Bank of Uganda.
The committee assigns different levels of guilt to the officials named and makes varying recommendations depending on their level of responsibility in the scam, which saw money meant for post-war reconstruction in Northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-regions under the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) misappropriated.
The report to be discussed in Parliament next week, recommends that Mr Bwoch and Mr Mpoza be held responsible for negligence in failing to detect and stop the fraudulent transfer of Shs6.9 billion from the Royal Danish Kingdom and Sweden. The committee also wants the duo held responsible for sanctioning the transfer of the funds.
When asked yesterday, Mr Bwoch said: “I did not handle that money.” But when asked to explain the processes, said he could not comment because he had not seen the report.
The report further recommends that Mr Muhakanizi, who was Deputy Secretary to the Treasury then, be held responsible for causing financial loss by giving open-ended authority to withdraw imprest above the limit set by his former boss Chris Kassami, who has since retired. The committee recommends that CIID investigates the extent of forgery on cash withdrawals in OPM with a view of prosecution of the culprits.
Whereas Mr Muhakanizi did not respond to our calls and text messages yesterday, when he appeared before PAC in November last year, he accused OPM officials of misusing his authority, adding that his letters had nothing to do with the transactions made on the crisis management account used to divert PRDP funds.
On the alleged misuse of Shs11.6 billion from Norwegian support to PRDP, the committee recommends that Mr Bwoch and Mr Bigirimana be held responsible for the diversion of funds. The committee recommends that the PS be held responsible for spending funds that were not appropriated to OPM.
But Mr Bigirimana yesterday refused to take responsibility, saying he was the one who unearthed the scam. “I cannot be held responsible for diversion of PRDP money; the one responsible is the Accountant General who is the ‘priest’ of government accounts. I wrote to him requesting for funds under emergency humanitarian assistance programme and he released the money,” Mr Bigirimana said.
“I am not an angel to know that Mr Bwoch had diverted the money from PDRP. In any case, I did not force him to release the money, he knew what he was doing and as user, I would not know the source of the money. As I have indicated before, my signatures were forged and instead of confirming with me, the people at Bank of Uganda and Treasury were busy calling Kazinda. They hooked Kazinda on IFMs system and went ahead to approve fraudulent transactions behind my back. Treasury was the epicenter of the scam and not Prime Minister’s Office.”
At least Shs50 billion meant for the PRDP is believed to have been stolen in the scam, which has forced five donor nations as well as the European Union and the World Bank to suspend 93 per cent of budget support to Uganda. The donors have also put stringent conditions on government to stop further abuses.
In November last year, the EU ambassador to Uganda announced yesterday that the EU, United Kingdom, the World Bank, Austria and other countries had suspended up to $300 million promised in budget support each year, up to 2013.
Meanwhile, two MPs have written a minority report on the scam. Although the main report which is signed by 28 MPs does not implicate any politician, the minority report wants Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi held responsible for taking a car bought using PRDP funds.
The two argue that the Prime Minister should have been aware about the source of Shs1.818 used to buy cars for him and other ministers at OPM. Still on the political front, the committee noted in its report that there was no evidence in the Auditor General’s findings that First Lady Janet Museveni had travelled to Israel nine times in one month. However, they did indicate that OPM advanced Mr Boniface Obbo (deceased), the cashier at OPM a total of Shs125.9m for her alleged travels.
While the committee has largely asked that Mr Kazinda’s role in the scam be investigated, it indicated that failing to meet the interdicted principal accountant made it hard to make definitive recommendations.
Mr Kazinda, who is before the Anti-Corruption, allegedly forged Mr Bigirimana’s signatures to withdraw millions of shillings from government coffers. He is also accused of making a document without authority and unlawful possession of government stores. A judge will this week make known his fate after court assessors proposed that he be released.
Tomorrow: Find out details of what the MPS found out specifically about operations in OPM and their recommendations.
Also: two MPS wrote a minority report, find out details in tomorrow’s Monitor
The scandal: How it all began