Calls grow for wider investigation at Office of the Prime Minister

Wednesday August 8 2012

By TABU BUTAGIRA

The Auditor General yesterday expressed “shock” at news that officials in the Office of the Prime Minister received more than Shs15 billion of public money on their personal bank accounts to pay end-users for official work.

Mr John Muwanga told this newspaper that he intends to initiate an investigation out of his office to establish under what law and guidelines the disbursements were made.
“I am shocked that monies went onto personal accounts. I’m consulting with the legal people whether it is permissible for public monies of such magnitude to be expended through personal accounts. I’m following the issue,” said Mr Muwanga.

An internal audit report prepared by an official, who was hurriedly transferred after giving his preliminary findings, shows a number of commissioners and under-secretaries got Shs5.6 billion directly credited to their accounts to pay for government programmes whose implementation they oversee in the under-developed Karamoja region.

The transfers were made in multiple installments within nine months from August 2010 to April 2011, according to documents seen by this newspaper. Records indicate that on particular days, money of equal amounts were credited twice to the same account on same day.

Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana, who is the accounting officer of the OPM, on Monday said the funds were deposited on the accounts of his senior staff because they had to make direct payments while in the field to suppliers of food, local construction materials and casual labourers as well as trainee hydraform brick makers.

Appropriation queries
“Instead of questioning the mode of payment, the question should be whether the money was put to the rightful purpose and if there was value for money in the works,” Mr Bigirimana said.

There is no evidence to show that any of the officials who received the money in their personal accounts misused or embezzled it. However, the revelations have raised questions about the accounting procedures in the government and the loopholes they might offer to officials to steal public funds.

Since personal accounts are not subjected to public audits, the payment of money through this method could go undetected and unsupervised by government accountability mechanisms.

Mr Muwanga told Daily Monitor yesterday that he could not remember detecting such vast cash transfers to personal accounts for public works in various audits done by his office. The unusual accounting practices, come at a time when the police are holding a number of officials from the OPM, including a commissioner and the interdicted principal accountant Geoffrey Kazinda, in what detectives say is a wide-ranging investigation on “fraud” in the Prime Minister’s office.

“This is not about an individual or Kazinda,” a detective familiar with the case, but who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said. “It is a general investigation about fraud and whoever has a hand in it will face the law.” Mr Muwanga said his office would commence inquiries after the on-going police investigation.

He said: “The question of the timing of the beginning of our investigations will depend on when the police completes its inquiries or when they make progress to a certain level. It will be pointless for us to go to OPM when the documents we require to examine are still in the possession of police. But we’ll definitely establish the width and breadth of this matter. There are issues of concern one has to look at.”

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