Oil cash bonanza: Shs1b missing

Thursday May 11 2017



On the spot. Solicitor General Francis Atoke

On the spot. Solicitor General Francis Atoke 

By SOLOMON ARINAITWE

Parliament. Officials from the Justice ministry who signed up to as much as Shs52b to handle two oil-related cases in London have still failed to account for more than Shs1b even after the Auditor General (AG) raised red-flags on how the money was used.
Solicitor General Francis Atoke yesterday appeared before a Parliamentary committee investigating the mess in the oil sector but failed to back up expenditures on per diem, [meeting] sitting allowances and expenditures on Internet.
Shs206m paid out as per diem to seven officials who travelled to London to defend Uganda’s tax claims against Tullow and Heritage could not be backed up by payment vouchers as evidence of receiving the money, a key audit requirement.
The Uganda team that benefitted from the disputed per diem payments includes Solicitor General Francis Atoke (Shs 16m), deputy AG (Shs18m), Ms Mary Nankabirwa (Shs122m), Ms Harriet Lwabi (Shs14m), Ms Elizabeth Nakkkungu (Shs12m), Mr George Kalemera (Shs11m) and Mr Martin Mwabutysa (Shs11m).
Separately, Shs23m was paid out to the same officials in what the AG termed as “over-payment of allowances”. Some officials were paid sitting allowances for meetings they did not attend as recorded in the minutes.
No minutes were provided for some meetings even as payments were made, prompting the AG to question the transactions.
Shs290m paid out in 2013/14 FY was flagged off as “doubtful payments” with the money listed by the Justice ministry as per diem payments to Mr Samuel Kahima and Mr Mwabutysa.
“One person acknowledged funds for more than one, making it doubtful to ascertain the true beneficiaries of the allowance,” reads the special audit report into the supplementary allocations to the Justice ministry.
The committee is using the report to unravel what went wrong with money passed by Parliament to facilitate Uganda’s defence of the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) cases against Tullow and Heritage.
Shs63m was paid for the supply of return air tickets for Team Uganda to London to attend proceedings filed by Heritage against Uganda, but expenditure vouchers were not provided, denting the authenticity of the payments.
An additional Shs7m in sitting allowances was paid to members of the legal and technical teams that were involved in the cases but payment and accountability vouchers were still not provided for.
Shs26.5m is listed to have been spent on training in access to civil justice.
“This payment seems not to have been related to the Heritage arbitration case. The attendance list and training programmes are not attached,” reads the audit report.
Mr Atoke will re-appear before the committee for a definitive meeting to either table evidence of payments or resign to his fate being determined by the committee’s report.
When President Museveni met the MPs, he promised not to shield any accounting officer found to have flouted processes during the court cases.

History

On Tuesday, former Energy Minister Syda Bbumba appeared before the committee and claimed that she signed a contentious Production Sharing Agreement(PSA) that allowed Tullow a $157m(Shs568b) tax waiver for an out-of-court settlement involving Uganda and the British oil firm without reading the document. Ms Bbumba told a Parliamentary committee that is investigating a wide range of irregularities in the oil sector that she signed the controversial PSA after it had been approved by the Solicitor General, tabling an October 3 2001 letter as evidence of the SG’s approval. President Museveni told MPs in a closed session last month that he did not approve the PSA to exempt Tullow from $157m (Shs568b), insisting that the former Finance minister should account for her actions.

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