The MPs on the Parliamentary Gender Committee have vowed to oppose any attempts by their colleagues in Parliament to remove Mr Pius Bigirimana from office for alleged failure to detect internal fraud in which the government lost billions of shillings.
The MPs also commended Mr Bigirimana for blowing the whistle on Gen Elly Tumwine over Nomo Gallery and resolved to summon the army representative to explain himself over the alleged failure to pay the cumulative rent arrears for the government facility where he has been running a private business for 20 years.
“There is a big problem at National Cultural Centre. As a committee we are going to summon Nommo Gallery and the people who own businesses there because we have reliable information that people like Gen Tumwine have not paid rent for many years yet he continues to occupy the government facilities,” said the committee chairperson, Ms Margaret Komuhangi (NRM, Nakasogola). “We thank the PS (Mr Bigirmana) for digging out these issues. He is new but he is already doing a wonderful job.”
Making a U-turn
The former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister had been indicted by legislators for allegedly failing to protect public funds in the OPM where principal accountant Geoffrey Kazinda has been convicted and several other senior officials are under police investigation.
However, the Gender committee members have now made a U-turn and instead heaped praise on Mr Bigirimana for detecting the fraud and alerting the authorities. Attempts by Parliament to dismiss Mr Bigirimana from office at OPM hit a snag after President Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi defended him as the whistle-blower in the financial scam.
There were further attempts by Parliament to move a motion compelling the President to take action against Mr Bigirimana, but their move was declared illegal by the Solicitor General. The President later transferred Mr Bigirimana to the ministry of Gender.
The committee members commended Mr Bigirimana for “rescuing” government property that had been parceled out by private individuals. Other lawmakers including youth representatives on the committee said Mr Bigirimana “should not be disturbed”, adding that within only two months in the new office, he has reconciled the youth factions.
The Saturday Monitor reported last month that several remand homes had lost part of their land under unclear circumstances after the Uganda Land Commission reportedly gave titles to individuals without the knowledge of the ministry of Gender. But the committee was told that when Mr Bigirimana came to office, he embarked on what the MPs called a “rescue mission”.
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee report on OPM indicted Mr Bigirimana for failure to stop the theft of donor funds, an allegation he denies. The MPs on the Gender committee described Mr Bigirimana as “doing a wonderful job” and “the right man” for the ministry of Gender to ensure accountability of public funds. They assured Mr Bigirimana of their “total support”.
Although officials at ministry of Gender had indicated last month that Gen Tumwine had accumulated rent arrears of Shs1.2 billion for his 20-year occupation and use of Nomo Gallery, the Gender committee MPs said the management of National Theatre had informed them that Gen Tumwine owes them Shs400 million.
The committee heard that while Gen Tumwine is yet to pay Shs1.2 billion in accrued rent arrears, the government pays Nomo Gallery Shs27 million every financial year for wages.
However, in the absence of a tenancy agreement, the lawmakers rejected the explanation from National Theatre officials and resolved to summon National Cultural Centre (NCC) board and the ministry officials.
Gender ministry officials led by Minister Karooro Okurut were before the committee on Wednesday to respond to the issues raised on the 2013/14 budget for Social Development Sector.
Riddled with scandals
In reference to Gen Tumwine, the committee observed that NCC which is composed of National Theatre and the Nomo Gallery is riddled with scandals.
The MPs demanded that Ms Karooro explains what her ministry had done about the alleged mismanagement at the institution and why Gen Tumwine was not paying rent. Committee members told the Saturday Monitor that Mr Bigirimana informed them that he had instituted a committee to study the issues and make recommendations. According to sources, Mr Bigirimana said the technical committee will come up with the exact amount the ministry demands from Gen Tumwine.
The committee heard that Gen Tumwine does not have tenancy agreement to run the disputed Nomo Gallery and that the ministry has never entered into any Memorandum of Understanding with him.
While Gen Tumwine maintains he had a “Build, Operate and Transfer” arrangement with the government, the ministry officials and MPs on the committee dismissed his claims as a “concoction”. They demanded that his company, Creations Ltd, produces proof from the ministry.