The First Lady could be questioned when the Public Accounts Committee next week begins inquiring into the multi-billion shilling theft scandal at the Office of the Prime Minister, members revealed yesterday.
Ms Janet Museveni’s name reportedly came up during exploratory talks PAC held with Auditor General John Muwanga yesterday morning. In the same discussions, it was also revealed that part of the foreign aid OPM received for northern Uganda and Karamoja was instead spent on buying high-end luxury vehicles for ministers in the department.
PAC members say they expect that the President’s wife, who is the Minister for Karamoja, will be asked to explain how she could have travelled to Israel at least nine times in one month alone.
“The auditors have given us shocking details in their report… [The First Lady] is supposed to answer for the expenditure of Shs143.6 million in travel abroad. The information we have shows that she travelled nine times to Israel in one month and this is suspicious,” Mr Gerald Karuhanga (Indep. Youth Western) told the Daily Monitor.
At yesterday’s closed-door meeting, MPs also heard that when auditors asked Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana to explain why he authorised the suspect spending of Shs20.1 billion off the Crisis Management Account, he replied: “I thought the money had come from heaven and we started spending it.”
Mr Karuhanga said part of the money was used to buy cars for new ministers at OPM and a Mercedes Benz for Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.
“It’s hurting to know that the money that should have gone to the people of northern Uganda where children are suffering from nodding disease and hunger was used to buy vehicles for ministers and the Prime Minister,” Mr Karuhanga said.
He said PAC agreed that Ms Museveni be invited to explain her side of the story. “Whether people used her name to siphon money… that will be another matter.”
Last night, Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi, who clarified that he was speaking on behalf of the First Lady and not the Minister for Karamoja, said the question should not be how many times the First Lady travelled to Israel.
“Did she travel for holiday or tourism? She travelled for official duty because Israel is an expert in agriculture in arid areas. In any case, the Constitution does not limit the number of times a First Lady should travel to Israel,” Mr Mirundi said.
He said when summoned, the First Lady will appear before PAC to defend herself.
Mr Mbabazi last week said he found an old Mercedes Benz that had been used by his predecessor for seven years against the recommended four years.
It was costly to maintain due to frequent mechanical breakdowns, prompting government to provide him a new one as entitled, he said.
Mr Henry Musasizi (NRM, Rubanda East) told the Daily Monitor that the auditors narrated to the PAC how Mr Bigirimana authorised spending of donor funds without approved work plans.
“Mr Bigirimana did not seek information from Ministry of Finance regarding the transfers but went ahead and utilised funds that had been fraudulently transferred,” Mr Musasizi said.
Mr Musasizi said the Auditor General’s response to questions about the Premier’s persisting claim that there is no evidence pinning Mr Bigirimana was: “The report is in black and white, PAC will establish the facts. For us we did our part and it’s up the politicians to follow where the money went. The evidence is in our report.”
At least Shs50 billion in funds for the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda is believed to have been stolen at OPM. Five donor nations have reacted by suspending aid to Uganda.
Mr Paul Mwiru, the vice chairperson of PAC, yesterday indicated that his committee will open hearings into the massive fraud at OPM on Monday with officials from Ministry of Finance, then Bank of Uganda and Mr Bigirimana’s team.
Mr Mbabazi, the First Lady and any other minister involved would be summoned.
Mr Godfrey Kazinda, the former principal accountant at OPM, who was interdicted and has been charged over the matter, is also expected to be invited to testify before PAC.
On Wednesday the Commissioner for Information at OPM, Mr Moses Watasa, said that Mr Bigirimana would not leave office as demanded by a Parliamentary resolution, saying “when people are angry, they want to see blood, they want to see heads roll but mob justice will not work.”
A group of MPs on Wednesday gave the government up to Tuesday next week to either interdict Mr Bigirimana or they embark on a motion of censure against Mr Mbabazi and the ministers in OPM.