Govt raids Treasury to refund stolen aid

Wednesday January 9 2013


The government has again raided the public coffers, taking out billions of taxpayers’ money without parliamentary authorisation, to refund donor monies allegedly spirited away by politically well-connected staff at the Office of the Prime Minister.

Details of the secretive supplementary budget, reportedly amounting to Shs21 billion, emerged as Eamon Gilmore, the Foreign Affairs minister for the Republic of Ireland, announced on Monday that Uganda had reimbursed Euros4 million (Shs14b) in misappropriated Irish Aid funds.

Uganda’s development partners - among them Norway, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark - last October took back-to-back decisions to freeze aid transfers after a forensic audit by Auditor General John Muwanga unearthed evidence of financial scam at OPM.

The investigations followed a Daily Monitor exposé, detailing how billions of government monies had irregularly been credited on personal accounts of dozens of OPM staff for official work, contrary to existing financial regulations.

At least Shs60 billion meant for recovery and development activities in northern Uganda and Karamoja was likely swindled, infuriating donors who, in a meeting with President Museveni, demanded for a refund of their stolen cash.

The interpretation of the law
In Kampala, Deputy Secretary to Treasury Keith Muhakanizi, probably referring to Article 154 of the 1995 Constitution, said the law allows the President or line minister to use public funds and seek retrospective parliamentary authorisation within four months.

“I am confirming that we have paid the Irish [and] we shall pay the others (donors) who want their money back,” he said, adding: “We are making a lot of progress on that front.”

It remained unclear whether Mr Museveni or Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka directed the reimbursement, which anti-graft activists demanded should be done by those culpable.

The law requires Auditor General’s sanction before any withdrawals from Consolidated Fund is made, and Mr Muwanga, who was instrumental in unraveling the reported thefts at OPM, was unavailable yesterday to confirm if he gave a nod.

Mr Tim Lwanga, Parliament’s Budget Committee chairman, said he was in the dark about the reported supplementary budget and bureaucrats, who worked it out, “did not get parliamentary approval”.

This would not be the first time for the Executive to take money out from Treasury behind the back of MPs, who the Constitution mandates to appropriate and provide oversight on spending of public resources.

Two years ago, Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime Mutebile forked out $740 million out of the foreign exchange reserve to pay for six Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighter jets bought from Russian state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.

London’s Financial Times later quoted Mr Mutebile saying President Museveni ordered the spending, which drained the foreign reserves. Parliament endorsed the expense retrospectively.

Yesterday, Mr Lwanga said acquisition of the jet fighters was justified by an overriding national security interest, but the same cannot apply to attempts to clothe thieving government officials from personal liability.

He said: “If they are just getting supplementary budget to cover for thieves…they will have hard time convincing Parliament to approve that kind of expenditure.”

Detectives have investigated the cash bonanza over the last eight months, questioning more than 70 government employees, although OPM Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana, who initially projected himself as a whistleblower, is yet to explain to police his role as the accounting officer in the scandal.

Interdicted OPM principal accountant Geoffrey Kazinda has so far been arraigned in court.