PARLIAMENT. President Museveni has pinned Solicitor General Francis Atoke over Shs5b that remains unaccounted for out of the Shs56b that was advanced to a team of government officials to travel to London to defend Uganda’s tax claims against British oil firms.
Mr Museveni told a Parliamentary inquiry that is investigating the reward of Shs6b to a select group of 42 government officials that every money that is picked from the public coffers must be accounted for and backed MPs to have Mr Atoke account for the missing Shs5b.
The Attorney General filed a report before the Committee indicating that Shs 5b out of the Shs 56b that was debited to Uganda’s legal team to pursue the case in London against Tullow remains unaccounted for, three years after the case was disposed of.
MPs who attended back-to-back meetings with Mr Museveni on Wednesday and Thursday but are not authorised to speak on record indicated that the President promised not to shield any officer who is found to have irregularly used taxpayers’ money during the oil cases that spanned a period of over 7 years.
Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu,who is leading the inquiry by the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises(Cosase), confirmed at a press briefing on Friday that Mr Museveni wants the Committee to ensure that the missing money is accounted for.
“The President said he was not aware [that Shs5b is unaccounted for] and he was happy that we were going to follow it up. He reiterated his commitment to accountability and he said any monies spent from the public coffer should be accounted for. He encouraged us to have this money accounted for by the Justice Ministry Accounting Officer [Solicitor General],”Mr Katuntu said.
Mr Katuntu revealed that the Solicitor General will be cross-examined again over the whereabouts of the Shs5b before a report is compiled mapping out his fate. During the ingoing inquiry, Mr Atoke failed to give conclusive accountability for the money.
During the course of the two meetings, Mr Museveni also singled out former Energy Minister Syda Bbumba for inserting a clause in the Production Sharing Agreement that allowed Tullow a $157m tax waiver for an out of court settlement involving Tullow.
The signing of a PSA to exempt Tullow from $157m was done by Ms Bbumba without the knowledge of the President, Mr Katuntu confirmed. “The President said he was not aware of that exemption. The President agreed with us that the exemption was illegal because the then Minister did not have power to exempt payment of tax. We informed the President that we are following up this matter and we will have a conversation with Syda Bbumba,”Mr Katuntu said.
Ms Bbumba, who served as Energy Minister between 2006 and 2008 just when the process of kicking up the oil industry was in its infant stages, will also be interviewed by the Committee at the urging of the President over the PSAs she signed with Tullow that included a clause for a $157m tax waiver.
Mr Katuntu also confirmed that Mr Museveni directed that Shs6b be refunded to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), with the President admitting that “it was not correct to pay out money from budgeted items except if it was in accordance with the law.”