Former ministers Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, Syda Bbumba and current Fisheries minister Ruth Nankabirwa were yesterday implicated in the loss of more than Shs10 billion through a presidential project to support small businesses.
There were also accusations that the suspected perpetrators who have been summoned to appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) passed off the project as a vote-winning scheme ahead of the 2011 election.
Members of the Presidential Joint Steering Committee (JSC), chaired by Dr Sam Lyomoki, told PAC yesterday that the “ministers” in question used underhand methods to “hijack” the project from them and that Dr Kazibwe was in cahoots with State House officials. They also accused the trio of smuggling ghosts onto the list of beneficiaries in an attempt to hoodwink the President and spirit the money away.
The Deputy Presidential Adviser on Markets, Ms Winnie Twine, told PAC that in one of the meetings at the ministry of Finance, when she reminded Ministry of Finance and Microfinance Support Centre officials about the President’s instructions not to give out the money during campaigns, Dr Kazibwe, said: “You woman, keep quiet.
I was the first at State House, I went there before you.”
Dr Kazibwe is no stranger to controversy having been dropped as Vice President and Minister for Agriculture over the bungling of a multi-billion shilling valley dam project intended to bring water security to Uganda’s cattle corridor.
In the meeting, Ms Twine said: “They told us that our list was fake yet we had moved around the country registering vendors. I rang Minister Nankabirwa and told her that we must put things right and that we must lead by example. She told me she will ring me but she did not.”
She added: “It was the ministers who mismanaged the programme. They started eating food that was not ready and the children also started eating. For instance, the people at ministry of Finance sent Shs100m to five people and I have all the evidence.”
Ms Bbumba is a former Minister of Finance while Ms Nankabirwa was State Minister for Microfinance. Ms Twine narrated how she struggled to meet the President over the theft of money meant for market vendors. She said when she got the opportunity, she told him that the Shs10b for vendors was shared in the ministry of Finance.
The President, she said, asked her to put everything in writing.
PAC is currently considering a forensic audit report of the Auditor General which revealed that at least Shs12.3b the President promised market vendors and other small businesses is believed to have been swindled.
The report says public funds were lost through forged bank accounts, creation of ghost Saccos and inflating beneficiary lists. In one case, the Committee heard that in Bundibugyo, ministry of Finance and MSC officials told the President that there were 2,000 market vendors but subsequent verification found only 808.
In accusing Ms Bbumba of connivance, Dr Lyomoki said 22 new beneficiaries in Nakaseke were smuggled onto the list and allocated an extra Shs700 million.
When they realised that things were getting out of hand, Dr Lyomoki said, they protested and walked away.
Yesterday, Ms Bbumba denied any wrongdoing and accused the Lyomoki committee of demanding to take money in baskets. “I refused to give them money in sacks and I decided that the money should be channelled through established government procedures,” Ms Bbumba said.
On accusations that she smuggled other beneficiaries on the list, Ms Bbumba said, the Lyomoki group had deleted names of small business owners. The former VP when asked to comment said: “Do not ask me for things I do not understand.” Ms Nankabirwa, who is now the Minister for Fisheries, said she was attending a burial and thus unable to comment.