Govt officials agree to refund Shs10b after Monitor expośe

The IGG Beti Kamya has given thumps up to Monitor journalism

What you need to know:

  • Inspector General of Government Beti Kamya commended this newspaper’s frontline fight against graft, promising that the media house will receive 5 percent of the cash recovered from culpable civil servants as a result of its reveal and bold journalism.

The Inspector General of Government (IGG), Ms Beti Kamya, has praised the Daily Monitor newspaper, published by Monitor Publications Ltd (MPL), for its bold and high-impact journalism that has led to gains in official fight against corruption in the country.

In compliments delivered at a press conference in Kampala last Friday, Ms Kamya singled out two of the newspaper’s investigative stories that she said unearthed information that informed successful inquiries by the Inspectorate of Government.

One of the two stories was an exposé titled, Officials spend Shs9b on two closed government schools, published on October 1 last year.

The other story, which has prompted the IGG to order refund of nearly Shs800m by senior officials of Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), detailed how staff at the statistics body shared several millions of shillings under the guise of field work and data validation during lockdown, which turned out false claims.

In the case of the Shs9b, the newspaper notified IGG Kamya of attempts by one of the implicated officials to offer an inducement to block publication of the story, prompting inquiries by the Ombudsman.

Our exclusive story chronicled how government officials wired about Shs10b to two agricultural training institutions ostensibly for “settlement of students’ bills” and infrastructure development despite all schools being closed during the Covid-induced lockdown.

The monies were sent to Fisheries Training Institute in Entebbe and Bukalasa Agricultural College in Luwero District in several tranches between October 2020 and August 2021, with some of the expenditure appearing to be double and triple charged.

Ms Kamya praised Daily Monitor’s frontline fights against graft through credible and impactful journalism.

“We don’t normally reveal identities of our whistleblowers, but in this case, I want to reveal the Daily Monitor as the whistleblower because they’re an independent body. They broke the MAAIF (Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries) story and we (IGG) took up the matter. I want to thank them and I am encouraging the public to emulate them”.

Based on initial reporting by the newspaper, investigators from the Ombudsman’s office were able to incriminate at least 15 ministry of Agriculture officials who agreed to refund about Shs9b, with each paying back Shs500m.

Under the agreement with the Inspectorate of Government, the culpable officials will not be named, but each is to pay 5 percent of the recoverable money within 30 days and pay the balance in two years.

In a March 1, 2022 letter to the Ombudsman, the accused officials pleaded guilty and, according to Ms Kamya, “…[they] undertook to refund the sum of Shs8,722,130,799 on Inspectorate of Government Asset Recovery Account Number 003030088000007 held at Bank of Uganda using EFT (electronic fund transfer)”.

She added: “One of the strategies at the Inspectorate of Government is to motivate the public to be watchdogs for the public funds disbursed and encourage them to be whistle-blowers. For the above cases, the whistle blowers will be paid 5 percent of the monies recovered in accordance with the Whistle blowers Act. One of the whistle blowers is the Monitor Publications Ltd.”

The IGG asked the public to emulate the newspaper’s courage and commitment to expose pilfering of public resources, which can be traced to its lead in the first edition in 1992 that proclaimed that the privatisation policy reeked of corruption.

Since then, the paper has exposed other grand corruption plots in the country, from the botched attempt to sell Uganda Dairy Corporation at $1 (Shs3,700 at current exchange rate) to the Shs60b scandal at the Office of the Prime Minister a decade ago that resulted in freeze of donor support to the country and wide-ranging public finance management reforms.  

In a rejoinder to Ms Kamya’s praise last week of our journalism, Mr Daniel Kalinaki, the general manager editorial, noted: “It is gratifying to see that the office of the IGG has followed up on our exposé to recover taxpayers’ money. Action helps turn good journalism into a better society.”

Mr Tony Glencross, the managing director Nation Media Group-Uganda (NMG-U), in a note to staff through Managing Editor, NMG-U, Mr Tabu Butagira, lauded Daily Monitor’s courage to do revealing stories and announced an offer of a bull for celebrating the distinct journalism. “I salute you and your team!” he noted, “Please, pass on my gratitude for your courage and hearty congratulations, to you and your team!”

In her address last Friday, Ms Kamya noted that investigators from her office, who picked leads from the October 1, 2021 Daily Monitor exposé, established that during the 2020/21 fiscal year, technocrats in the Ministry of Agriculture transferred Shs10.2b to two agricultural institutions, multiple times higher than their combined approved annual budgets.

She reported that Shs8.7b out of the Shs10.2b was “mismanaged and misappropriated” as it was spent for non-existent activities at the schools.

Mr Ejangu Paul, the lead investigator in the Shs9b scandal, alleged that there was connivance between the heads of the agricultural institutions and officials from the parent ministry.

“The heads of the institutions initiated fictitious budgets and sent them to the technocrats at the (Agriculture) ministry (headquarters) who would then pay and share the money. Some of the companies to which the money was paid belonged to the ministry’s officials,” he said at the press conference in Kampala on Friday.

Ms Sarah Birungi Kalibbala, the Inspectorate of Government’s director for legal affairs, noted that the officials used the money to buy land in prime areas in and around the city while others constructed posh houses in the sprawling city suburbs.

She revealed that they had placed caveats acquired with proceeds of the ill-gotten wealth until officials who confessed to taking the money pay back.

IGG Kamya explained that they were withholding identities of the officials because, unlike in the past, their new focus is recovering misappropriated government funds and not prosecution of suspects, which is a costly and lengthy process.

She added that naming the implicated officials would breach the agreement which they reached with the Inspectorate.  “…recovery of the funds in issue doesn’t waive the IG’s power to recommend further administrative actions such as warning, dismissal, demotion or retirement in public interest against the culpable persons,” she said.