Top bureaucrats from the Treasury yesterday refused to take the blame for the theft of billions of shillings in donor aid from the Office of the Prime Minister.
The officials squarely dumped the blame for the scandal in the laps of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana.
Accountant General Gustavio Bwoch and Secretary to the Treasury Chris Kassami told the Public Accounts Committee as it opened its inquiry into the theft that the former Principal Internal Auditor at OPM, Mr Shaban Wejula, who had detected the fraud at OPM, was “unfairly” removed on the orders of Mr Mbabazi and Mr Bigirimana.
Mr Bwoch revealed that while he had transferred the former Principal Accountant Geoffrey Kazinda, who is now accused of propagating the fraud, to Ministry of Gender on February 27 this year, Mr Bigirimana and Mr Mbabazi reportedly protested his removal.
The PM and Mr Bigirimana reportedly demanded that he be reinstated immediately. Mr Mbabazi was not available for comment. On the same day, Mr Bwoch had written to Bank of Uganda withdrawing Mr Kazinda as a signatory to all the bank accounts of OPM.
PAC heard that the same Mr Bigirimana who one time claimed that he asked Ministry of Finance to withdraw Mr Kazinda from OPM, on February 28, wrote to Mr Bwoch stopping Mr Kazinda’s transfer to Ministry of Gender.
The PS, who insists that he was then the one who blew the whistle on the scam, reportedly argued that transferring his principal accountant would paralyse work at OPM.
“The PS never complained about Kazinda, but sometime in 2010 he wrote to Ministry of Finance that with Mr Wejula he was finding only mistakes in his office. He demanded that he is removed from OPM immediately. If Mr Wejula had stayed in OPM all this fraud wouldn’t have taken place,” Mr Bwoch said.
“When I transferred Kazinda to Gender, pressure was put on me that he is reinstated and the same PS wrote to me, saying he wanted him and I have documents.”
Mr Bwoch tabled letters, detailing how Mr Wejula was branded “an incompetent officer” and a “fault finder” by Mr Bigirimana with the blessing of Mr Mbabazi.
At first, Mr Bwoch was reluctant to reveal the premier’s role in the Kazinda affair but when pressed him, he requested for a closed-door session where he reportedly named Mr Mbabazi as the person who chaired a meeting that resulted in Mr Wejula’s exit.
Mr Kassami apologised when pressed over the Treasury’s bowing to pressure. “[Wejula] was rejected by the PS and I think the way we responded was because of the nature of the office and I don’t want to say much,” Mr Kassami said.
PAC also learnt that on April 19, 2010, Mr Bigirimana wrote to Mr Kassami claiming that Mr Wejula had failed to “interpret” and apply regulations so as to help put in place appropriate management systems.
“Mr Wejula has demonstrated that he is a fault finder instead of a fault preventer… A number of times I have interacted with him, I found the content of his response professionally deficient, therefore demonstrating incompetence,” Mr Bigirimana wrote.
Mr Wejula denied these accusations in a May 10, 2010, communication to Mr Bwoch and Mr Kassami. “It is the responsibility of the accounting officer to apply relevant law and regulations while internal audit examines the processes, systems and procedures in order to ascertain compliance as a basis for advising management. I have done this to the best of my knowledge. This doesn’t mean that I am a fault finder or investigator as alleged,” he wrote then.
One year earlier, in a July 2009 internal audit report, the same Mr Wejula, had revealed that Account No 10030102351210 with Centenary Bank had been illegally opened by officials at OPM.
Shs3.8 billion was deposited on this account using Electronic Funds Transfer system under the guise of Kasimo project. Inquiries from Accountant General indicated that no authority was granted for opening such an account.
The committee resolved to summon Mr Mbabazi to explain why he reportedly exerted pressure on Mr Bwoch to reinstate Kazinda. Mr Kazinda’s removal according to Mr Bwoch was based on the Presidential directive that accounts staff be rotated after every three years. Mr Kazinda had spent more than four years at OPM.
Mr Kyamadidi told Daily Monitor that Mr Bigirimana will appear next week to explain why he blocked Kazinda’s transfer and later “wangled” the sacking of Mr Wejula.
Yesterday’s proceedings opened with an apology from Mr Kassami over what he called “unprecedented theft” of public funds.
He said Treasury was not aware of the scam and learnt of it after the AG report.
PAC, however, observed that the stolen Peace, Recovery, Development Plan funds were placed on a holding account in Bank of Uganda and officials in Treasury did not bother to wire it to the Consolidated Fund Account, a breach which according to the MPs abetted the scam.
“We have come to justice with clean hands. But as a country we have a big problem because everybody is capable of stealing. This level of connivance to steal public funds has no precedent,” Mr Kassami said. “Our own system was never made to see this fraud, where five or six people sit and decide how to beat the system. These are not normal situations where everybody connives and you’re left in ignorance.”
The Committee accused Mr Bwoch of covering up the fraud after it emerged that he signed documents forged by his staff in which he authorised the release of Shs14.8billion from Budget Support account to “Crisis Management and Recovery Programme” under OPM in BOU using EFT.
Mr Bwoch’s pleas that he was conned did not stop acting PAC chairman, Paul Mwiru, from sending him to House police to make a formal statement together with Mr Isaac Mpoza, the Commissioner Treasury Services Department.
The probe continues on Thursday.