The Public Accounts Committee investigating widespread theft of funds in the Office of the Prime Minister have discovered the loss of an additional Shs20 billion worth of taxpayers money paid out in “fraudulent” deals.
Mr Walter Okello, the assistant commissioner internal audit, in the Ministry of Finance and Mr Shaban Wejula, the former principal internal auditor in-charge of OPM, told the committee that Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana denied them access to documents on “suspicious” transactions.
In one of the suspicious deals, the committee heard that OPM officials instructed Bank of Uganda to funnel more than Shs3 billion in taxpayers money to a secret bank account in Centenary Bank under the guise of Kasiimo project. Mr Okello told the committee that sending the money to a secret account and without known beneficiaries and signatories was illegal, adding that the Accountant General did not authorise Mr Bigirimana to open this account.
The committee vice chairperson, Mr Paul Mwiru, told the Sunday Monitor that officials from Centenary Bank had been summoned to appear before PAC on Tuesday to explain how the bank came to be used in the scam.
“The bank knows the people they were paying from an illegal account,” Mr Mwiru said. “We want them to tell us who opened this account [the signatories], the beneficiaries and whatever they know about the transactions.”
Mr Wejula, the resident internal auditor who was forced out of OPM on instructions of Deputy Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi acting on a request from Mr Bigirimana, for allegedly raising the red flags in the scam where donors lost more than Shs50 billion in foreign aid, told PAC that another Shs7.9 billion was again spent without documents.
“My hands were tied, I asked for the documents but the Accounting Officer denied me access,” Mr Wejula said. “I even informed bosses at the Ministry of Finance, they tried to intervene but still the documents were not given to me. These figures were picked from the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) as questionable transactions but we couldn’t find the details.”
On Friday, Mr Bigirimana denied claims that he denied the auditors documents and described the two internal auditors as “misguided missiles”. Mr Bigirimana wondered why the issues raised by Mr Wejula and Mr Okello in their internal audit findings were not captured in the Auditor General’s reports for 2009/10 and 2010/11 financial years.
“Those people are the source of problems, why didn’t they go to police or Inspector General of Government and report these matters? How come they waited after they blew the whistle and then came out with lies about me?”
When Mr Bigirimana appeared in PAC last year, he accused Mr Wejula of soliciting bribes from OPM officials and denied knowledge of a report compiled by Mr Wejula on the abuse of the funds. Mr Bigirimana said Mr Wejula was transferred by Ministry of Finance because he was a fault finder and an incompetent officer.
But on Friday Mr Wejula who requested for a closed session with the committee denied the allegations and accused Mr Bigirimana of cover up. He presented a draft report on the loss of Shs20 billion which is different from the Shs50 billion captured in the Auditor General’s report on OPM scam.
The former internal auditor told PAC that some security people had warned him not to appear in PAC. But the committee did not take this claim seriously since there was no evidence to what Mr Wejula was saying.
Mr Okello told PAC that another Shs12.4 billion was suspiciously spent. The Committee heard that money for travel in-land, amounting to Shs1.2 billion was used by officials in OPM to buy forex from IFMs system. “It’s not clear why OPM was buying foreign currency from Bank of Uganda using money for travel in-land. All these are suspicious transaction the PS must explain to the committee,” Mr Maxwell Akora, the committee lead counsel, said.
Mr Okello also said that OPM were mobilizing money from 18 different projects to raise more than Shs2 billion for the transportation of a ferry on Lake Bisina. The money was sent to Ministry of Works but the auditor said this transaction was suspicious. And that the PS did not provide relevant documentation to demonstrate that this was “a clean deal”.
Next week, PAC is expected to meet politicians led by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and the Minister for Karamoja, Ms Janet Museveni, among others whose names appear in the Auditor General’s report on the abuse of foreign aid.