OPM scam: Shs576 million spent on fuel in four days

The permanent secretary, Mr Pius Bigirimana, under whose docket donor funds went missing.

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The payment was allegedly approved by Mr Pius Bigirimana on the advice of the commissioner Disaster Preparedness without any detail of the vehicles which consumed the fuel and the purpose.

As investigations into the mismanagement of donor funds in Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) continue, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week heard that Shs576 million was spent on fuel alone in four days.

The fuel was purchased from New Caltex Petrol Station, Ntinda on February 6, December 17, January 5 and 16, this year. The firm had been supplying the OPM with fuel for disaster and de-mining in Northern Uganda.
This payment was allegedly approved by Mr Pius Bigirimana, the permanent secretary, on advice of Mr Martin Owour the commissioner for Disaster Preparedness, without any detail of the vehicles which consumed the fuel and the purpose. Besides, no food was issued for transportation from the stores on these dates.

The Auditor General (AG) special investigations report notes that the amount translates into Shs144 million per day, and this can fuel 48 trailers making a return journey to Karamoja. The AG concludes that this appears fictitious and therefore the funds are unaccounted for.

A review of the New Caltex Fuel station bank statements revealed that in a number of instances, funds deposited from OPM would be withdrawn in a lump sum shortly after, an indicator of retrieval by the sender. In her statement to the police, the manager of the station confessed that upon sending the money, it would be retrieved by OPM officials.

Mr Jack Wamai Wamanga (Mbale Municipality) and Paul Mwiru (Jinja Municipality) also the vice chairperson of the committee, asked Mr Bigirimana if he knew that officials from his office would go to the petrol station and ask for refunds.

The investigations also noted that several requisitions for transporting food and non-food items had a component of fuel embedded. Ms Naome Kabashashira (Woman Ntungamo) wondered if the PS ever questioned the use of the fuel since the AG concluded in his report that fuel was not drawn from the station.

Meeting with donors
In January 25, 2012 letter to the Treasury, Mr Owour stated that in a meeting with donors, the country highlighted challenges of clearing mines in northern Uganda by the August 30 deadline. To fulfil the deadline requirement, Uganda made an appeal for mechanical equipment in form of bulldozers to clear the highly infested Lamwo, Amuru and Kitgum districts. Hiring the machines would cost $1 million for eight months, starting December 2011 to August 1, 2012.

Donors from Australia, Denmark and Norway agreed to jointly hire the two machines and 19 technical staff. Uganda would then contribute 2,000 litres of fuel for daily operations since the machines consumed 1000 litres daily.
OPM has a fleet of 392 vehicles which is controlled by the transport officer. In the period under review, a total of Shs8.936 billion was paid out for fuel and motor vehicle servicing. Shs6.850 billion was paid to Caltex in the period under review. It is unclear how the company was procured and there was no evidence of background check or evaluation.

A search at the Company registry revealed that New Caltex Ntinda is only a business name registered in May 2000. No details of partners or business location were ever filed with the company registry. No fuel consumption statements were availed by OPM and the fuel station and as such it was not possible to ascertain the use of the fuel.

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