Thursday March 7 2013

OPM officials survive lynching

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Officials working in the Office of the Prime Minister survived lynching by a mob in northern Uganda and in Kiryandongo area where government resettled Bududa landslide survivors.

Public Accounts Committee ChairmanKassiano Wadri, who returned from northern Uganda on Tuesday with a group of lawmakers and officials from the OPM, told the Daily Monitor that residents in Gulu, Lamwo, Kitgum, Nwoya and Zombo wanted to lynch the officials, accusing them of stealing their money.

At least five officials from OPM had accompanied MPs on a week-long verification tour in northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-regions to assess implementation of the donor-funded projects under the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP).

Some of the officials are Richard Owiny, Cyprian Dhikusooka, Johnson Owaro and Raphael Lubega.
“In fact, in some areas like Kitgum and Kiryandongo, the people turned rowdy and nearly lynched OPM officials. They told us that the officials should be punished and others requested to appear before the committee to give evidence on substandard works, ghost beneficiaries and forgeries in PRDP projects.”

In Zombo, Mr Wadri said the residents led by the district chairperson, Mr Emmy Kakura, named OPM Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana in a cement scam. They said Mr Bigirimana went with police to Zombo and took away 1,000 bags of cement. Mr Wadri said, at an appropriate time, the committee will ask the PS to respond.

Defending self
But when contacted yesterday, Mr Bigirimana said: “It’s a lie to say I went to Zombo to take away cement. I never went there to take cement. I only went there once and I was on my supervisory mission. That cement they are talking about was for the construction of a school.”

Mr Bigimirana remains in office months after Parliament resolved that he be suspended because of the scandal at OPM. He has also recently been handed additional duties to monitor other ministries and departments by President Museveni, whom MPs accuse of protecting some suspects.

At least Shs50 billion meant for the PRDP is believed to have been stolen at OPM. Five donor nations have reacted by suspending aid to Uganda, hence affecting the implementation of some projects. According to Mr Wadri, in all projects they visited, there was no value for money and key projects like Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre was abandoned and equipment worth millions of shillings is rotting away. The hydraform machines supplied to residents are also rotting away, he said.

Hydraform was being used to rebuild the conflict-scarred northern region. At the initial stages, the project trained more than 100 students to operate the block-making machines and to build various structures using the dry-stacked interlocking blocks.

Mr Wadri again spoke about the construction of “substandard” houses for Acholi chiefs. He said some of the houses they visited are unfit for habitation. “The government spent about Shs200 million on each house but they are leaking and whenever it rains it becomes a problem,” Mr Wadri said.

“My Vice Chairperson Paul Mwiru who led a team to Karamoja, told me that their situation is not different. They saw some gardens ploughed by Farm Engineering Ltd, a private firm which was paid Shs20 billion but exaggerated acreage ploughed and the public lost billions in the process.” He added: I can say without mincing my words that in this PRDP saga, there was no value for money.”

Next week, PAC is expected to meet politicians starting with Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi on Tuesday and Minister for Karamoja Janet Museveni on Wednesday, among others whose names appear in the Auditor General’s report on the abuse of foreign aid.