Top OPM officials sent to Anti-corruption Court

Assistant Commissioner Procurement Fred Lutimba, Commissioner Disaster Management (Head Covid-19) Relief Management Martin Owor, and OPM Accounting Officer Joel Wanjala in the dock via video conferencing on May 4. Inset is the Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Four top officials in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), accused of fraudulent practices in connection with the procurement of relief food to people affected by Covid-19 lockdown, have been sent to the Anti-Corruption Court for trial.

The officials include permanent secretary Christine Guwatudde, undersecretary and accounting officer Joel Wanjala, commissioner disaster preparedness and head of the Covid-19 taskforce Martin Owor, and Fred Lutimba, the assistant commissioner in-charge of procurement.

The Grade One Magistrate at Buganda Road Court, Ms Doreen Olga Karungi, yesterday directed that the case file be transferred to the Kololo-based Anti-Corruption Court for trial.

Reason for the transfer
“There is a specialised court to handle these matters. So this case file is hereby transferred to the Anti-Corruption Court,” Ms Karungi said.

The magistrate also directed that the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should endeavour to disclose to the accused persons, all the necessary evidences they intend to rely on during trial. Ms Karungi extended their bail to July 23 when they will appear before court at Kololo.

Ms Karungi said the accused persons will take plea on accusations of abuse of office, fraudulent false accounting and corruption in connection with the alleged procurement of food relief to people affected by the lockdown resulting from coronavirus.

Earlier on, the four persons denied charges of colluding to commit a fraudulent practice in regard to inflating prices for Covid-19 foodstuffs under the Public Procurement and Disposal Assets Act.

However, lawyers, who represent the accused persons asked court to compel the DPP to disclose to them all the evidences they intend to rely on during prosecution of the case.

Mr Macdusman Kabega said: “I imagine the case is ready for trial, I pray that the state discloses to us so that we are able to prepare our clients’ defence. I can see the case is already registered at Kololo.”

Prosecution alleges that between March 31 and April, at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kampala, Ms Guwatudde, Mr Wanjala, Mr Owor and Mr Lutimba being employed by government, colluded to commit a fraudulent practice during the procurement of food relief items for Covid-19 in total disregard of the procurement procures.

Earlier, President Museveni directed the State House Anti-Corruption team led by Lt Col Edith Nakalema to investigate into the prices just four days into the exercise of distributing the relief food items.

It is alleged that the complaints arose out of the scramble for the supply of relief items by various companies and individuals that led to discrediting of the procurement process and the relief distribution programme for Covid-19.

According to court documents, the emergency procurement of relief items comprising maize flour, beans, sugar, salt and milk was done by OPM and that consideration was given to large scale suppliers such as Mandela Millers, Afro Kai, Aponye, Metha Group, Pearl Diaries and Global Centre, targeted to do initial supplies because the supplies were big and the turnaround period was only 24 hours.