Govt bigwigs, PostBank  meet over PDM cash app

A group of farmers, who allege that Shs30m PDM money vanished due to a Wendi App glitch, listen to Kaliro District LC5 chairman, Mr Elijah Kagoda (in coat) during a meeting two weeks ago. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Some officials are concerned about lapses in e-wallet processes. 

Senior  officials at Finance ministry and PostBank Uganda Ltd are exploring the resolution of touchy issues surrounding an e-money platform, named Wendi, newly adopted to pay out beneficiaries of the Parish Development Model (PDM) programme.

In a meeting on Tuesday evening convened in Kampala by the Local Government, the parent ministry superintending PDM implementation, the stakeholders reportedly held differing positions about the ownership of the app and claims that it was susceptible to abuse and hacking.
Our investigations have revealed that a Sacco leader in Kampala reportedly diverted Shs70m to start a hardware business, another in Kamuli District sprinted with Sacco money to Canada while a group’s Shs30m vanished in a loss linked to app glitches.

The State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) in a post on the micro-blogging site, X, formerly Twitter, noted at the weekend that the Wendi account of five PDM beneficiaries had been hacked and Shs5m irregularly withdrawn.
One of the suspects who has since been remanded to prison till March 21, allegedly acquired the log-in Personal Identification Number (PIN) of the victims, which he used to breach the Wendi mobile accounts and spirit away the cash.

In the Tuesday meeting, chaired by Local Government minister Raphael Magyezi, the PostBank Uganda team led by Executive Directive Andrew Kabeera discounted as exaggerated the reported flaws on the Wendi app.
Mr Godfrey Ssemugooma, the acting director for financial management services, and Mr Golooba Lwanga, an economist, represented the Finance ministry.  

The former reportedly defended the functionality and security of the e-money app that PostBank Uganda said it developed in-house amid claims by other government bureaucrats that unnamed Chinese nationals were behind it.
The PDM Secretariat has reported receiving complaints from beneficiaries countrywide, including on irregular withdrawals of their money, since the Treasury on January 8 directed that all disbursements of the poverty alleviation programme be made using the Wendi platform.

The directive, which Finance said is premised on a July 2023 Cabinet resolution, reverses a policy guide in the PDM founding document for releases to beneficiaries to be remitted directly from the Treasury to the bank accounts held by eligible Savings and Credit Cooperatives (Saccos).
PDM is a poverty reduction programme that President Museveni launched in the eastern Kibuku District in early 2022 and under which the government commits to spend Shs1 trillion annually over five years to bankroll enterprises selected by parish-based groups to lift nearly 8 million peasant households into the money economy.  

However, the shift in the mode of the cash transfer has sparked complaints and criticism as documented by the PDM Secretariat, prompting frantic efforts among stakeholders on how to resolve the concerns.
Finance ministry’s Ssemugoona, whom we were unable to reach for this article yesterday, reportedly told the minister Magyezi-chaired  meeting on Tuesday that the Wendi app is secure and cash disbursed using it is visible and traceable to the last mile.
Proponents of the platform, according to sources that attended the meeting, did not explain how scammers compromised the mobile wallet as reported to take out cash undetected.
“Nothing they explained made sense. They failed to convince the meeting,” a source said yesterday.

Minister Magyezi last evening said their discussions with officials of PostBank Uganda and Finance ministry were “preliminary and there was nothing conclusive”.
“We will meet again next week for a way forward,” he added.
Sources familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the next meeting between stakeholders seeks to examine previous submissions by Finance officials who said the mobile app had been “fully integrated” with the Parish Development Management Information System (PDMIS).
The online system is under the supervision of the Information, Communication and Technology ministry, which deployed it across all local governments to capture data of 22.8 million Ugandans from 7.8 million households registered across the 10,594 parishes across the country. 

PDMIS enables- real-time tracking of money sent to PDM beneficiaries, according to individuals briefed on its functioning.
The ICT Ministry Permanent Secretary, Dr Aminah Zawedde, earlier told this reporter that integration of Wendi and PDMIS is “still ongoing” after which the “ministry’s technical team will evaluate the risks, if any, before completion and migration to the live system environment”.

With the marriage of PDMIS-Wendi incomplete, inside sources intimated that auditors will “find a hard time” tracking all of the Shs529b—Shs50m for each of the 10,594 parishes— released last month as part of the Shs4.9 trillion January to March third quarter releases. Another Shs529b is expected to be disbursed in the last quarter of this financial year (April to June).  
The management of the government-owned PostBank Uganda in a  February 23 statement, which the institution’s Head of Marketing and Communications, Ms Priscilla Akora, shared in reply to our inquiries last Friday, noted that it “fully developed and owns the app”.

Our attempts to speak to the bank yesterday about the Tuesday meeting were unsuccessful as repeated telephone calls to Mr Kabeera were unsuccessful. He did not respond to our short-text message.
In an email to Monitor on Monday, Mr Kabeera expressed concerns about our story that day, which chronicled alleged glitches to the e-money platform, Wendi. He said it contained “falsehoodhoods” and the article was authored without the newspaper getting the bank’s side of the story, making it “non-professional”.
This publication last Friday, however, had back-and-forth email correspondence with PostBank Uganda Spokesperson, Ms Akora, on the story the institution impugned.
In a separate telephone call on Tuesday, Ms Akora said they would not speak to this publication to comment on Wendi app and related issues because its reporting on the matter was already “biased” and any future inquiries would not warrant a response from them.

Highly placed sources say senior officials in the Ministry of Finance pitched the idea of the e-wallet to PostBank Uganda before Cabinet apparently endorsed it last July as the sole medium for disbursement of PDM funds.
Mr Jim Mugunga, the Finance ministry spokesman, said the transition to pay PDM cash through the Wendi app was consultative and claims that Finance originated the idea is false.
The process, he noted, is “not individualized, but hugely multi-sectoral and consultative”.

“I am not aware of any processes in government, whether PDM-related or others, where an individual may be said to have “forced” it on policy framers,” he added.
Mr Mugunga said it is the ministry of Local Government that initiated the proposals to ease access to PDM.

He said: “Cabinet subsequently directed the ministry of Finance …Cabinet later also guided the ministry to use government-owned banks to ensure coordinated and fast-tracked interventions and process.”
It remains unclear why other PDM-implementing banks such as Centenary, Stanbic, and Opportunity Bank that already had mobile payment platforms, were re-hatted to integrate the Wendi e-wallet instead of using their existing platforms.