Officials in the Office of the Prime Minister received Shs15.6 billion in cash advances on private accounts in the 2010/11 Financial Year, an investigation by this newspaper reveals.
Details of the advances, contained in an internal audit report, come to light during an on-going investigation by the police into allegations of financial impropriety in the office.
Documents show that money meant to pay for government programmes was sent to personal accounts, in contravention of generally acceptable accounting standards. Money was also paid into personal accounts for construction contracts and procurements that are, by law, supposed to be contracted out.
For instance, the report shows that Mr Johnson Owaro, the Commissioner in charge of Karamoja programmes, received Shs869 million in nine transfers between August 2010 and April 2011.
Some of the money was meant for the construction of kitchen and storage facilities at Nadunget Hydraform modern village in Moroto, Karamoja. That sum includes Shs332 million that Mr Owaro received on April 4, 2011 to monitor visits in eight districts of northern Uganda for 16 days.
James Okuja, a senior assistant secretary in charge of disaster management, received Shs1.63 billion on his personal account within the same period.
In January 2011 Flavia Waduwa, the under secretary in charge of pacification and development received Shs143.8 million ostensibly to pay for construction items for a youth centre in northern Uganda.
This was on top of another Shs188 million that she received between November 2010 and April 2011. On March 23, 2011, Owaro, together with Richard Owiny, the principal assistant secretary in the office of the Minister of State for northern Uganda, and Raphael Lubega, received Shs400 million.
The money, which was meant for “mobilisation, tools, site clearance, soil excavation and block production to start on the construction of teachers and health workers houses in hard to reach districts” was part of a total budget of Shs2 billion for the programme. The audit report does not show evidence of financial misconduct by any of the officials until they provide accountability for the money. However, it raises questions about the internal financial controls within the ministry and wider government departments.
Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, said last night that he was yet to study the cash transactions since he has been on leave.
“But certainly, I do not understand why they were putting money on personal accounts. That would be irregular,” he said.
Mr Muhakanizi, however, said money for official work can be advanced to government officials - for travel or in cases where there are no banks - but the recipients have to account for it within two weeks.
“So the question would be: Did the (OPM) officials account for the monies?” he added
We were unable to establish if the officials had duly accounted for the monies.
Sources told this newspaper that an official who helped prepare the latest audit report was transferred out of the ministry soon after it was submitted. Pius Bigirimana, the permanent secretary, yesterday defended the financial procedures in the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Cash payments depend on the nature of work. The officials who received cash payments were given the money to pay people who did not have bank accounts. The monies were used on food, buying sand, allowances, security, transport and upkeep of trainees among other things for the hydraform project,” he said.
“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.” Godfrey Kazinda, the interdicted principal accountant in the OPM, is currently in custody assisting police detectives investigating alleged embezzlement in the office.
Regulations from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority say government works of about Shs30 million and above have to be tendered in a competitive process. It is not clear whether OPM obtained special waivers for the projects in Karamoja and in Luweero-Rwenzori, where some of the money in question is said to have been spent.