The British government yesterday confirmed it has frozen Shs16.6 billion in development aid to the Office of the Prime Minister over the theft accusations that have rocked the department on a day State House jumped to the defence of embattled Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana.
The decision by Britain is the latest indication of a fallout with the OPM after billions of shillings in international aid meant for the reconstruction and post-conflict recovery efforts in northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-region were stolen by government officials.
But commenting on why Mr Bigirimana remains in office even after the Auditor General implicated him and yet Mr Jimmy Lwamafa, the former Permanent Secretary Ministry of Public Service, was interdicted over ghost pensioners, the President’s spokesman said: “Not every person is hanged by the hangman.”
Referring to President Museveni as a “medical doctor” trying to give the kiss of life to two dying patients, Mr Tamale Mirundi said when one of the patients finally dies; “it doesn’t mean that the remaining sick person is killed”.
He said that the two cases of Lwamafa, who has not been convicted of any crime although he was quickly suspended, and Bigirimana, were totally different and that their fate should not be confused with double standards in government.
“Let those who want Bigirimana to leave office come with facts instead of comparing the two. In doing so, they will be talking sense,” Mr Mirundi said. “There is a big difference between accusations, allegations and facts. You cannot say, because one Permanent Secretary was convicted, the rest should also be convicted without evidence.”
According to Mr Mirundi who described legislators pushing Mr Bigirimana’s exit as “spectators” in the fight against corruption, if courts of law find Mr Bigirimana guilty and conclude that he should be arrested over theft, the President will not be seen defending him.
“Sometimes personal vendetta affects the brain, these MPs are mere conductors in the fight against corruption, and the President is the driver. The problems in the Office of the Prime Minister were not identified by the donors, it was President Museveni,” Mr Mirundi said.
Mr Mirundi observed that “when a mother identifies that her daughter is pregnant and the doctor confirms the pregnancy, who takes the credit?” He said that the donor community was reacting to a problem the President identified and that “there are also scandals in Europe”.
The British government joins the Irish government in suspending aid to OPM, citing corruption. Last week Ireland suspended direct aid to Ugandans, and launched an immediate investigation, after the Auditor General’s report found that up to €4 million in aid had been misappropriated.
Mr Mbabazi has publicly apologised to Ireland and the people of Uganda and promised a cleanup. However, the premier was quick to defend Mr Bigirimana on claims that there was no evidence implicating him and that it was him who invited the police to investigate the financial impropriety at OPM.
While no British money was taken in the scam, Daily Mail, a London-based newspaper reported that Britain had suspended £4million in aid to Uganda as “a precautionary measure” but that most of the £98 million to Uganda (budget support) this year will continue.
Yesterday, a British Department for International Development spokesperson said: “We take these allegations extremely seriously and have already suspended UK aid to the Office of the Ugandan Prime Minister. We have set up an independent audit to investigate alleged fraud.”
Sources in London told Daily Monitor yesterday that the UK government suspended financial aid to the office of the Prime Minister following allegations about corruption and fraud in the press. “Aid to the Office of the Prime Minister will remain suspended until we are entirely satisfied that our aid is safe. If money has been misused, we will expect repayment and administrative and criminal sanctions,” a source said.
A special audit carried out by the Auditor General found substantial evidence detailing how aid from Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark was transferred to unauthorised accounts in a sophisticated scam which resulted in the theft of at least Shs50 billion.