New details emerge on Shs10b OPM scam

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja launches the first batch of Covid-19 cash relief at the Office of the Prime Minister on July 8. The money was meant to help the vulnerable people who were affected by the Covid induced lockdown. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Monitor last week published an expose of how OPM officials bungled the procurement of food and non-food relief items which incurred heavy losses to the taxpayer.

Fresh details show that senior officials in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) allegedly ignored specifications for food and non-food relief items which had been provided by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and the market survey report.

Documents available to us show that though the officials had earlier included the specifications in the bid documents issued to contractors, they didn’t include the same specifications in the Local Purchase Orders (LPOs) and commitment letters which they gave to the successful contractors leading to the supply of substandard relief items.

The analysis of the new documents also shows that even after the contractors supplied the relief items, the officials didn’t follow up to ascertain what had been given until inspectors from the UNBS found out that the items were substandard.

The then acting head of Procurement and Disposal Unit, Ms Agnes Katembeko, confirmed to Monitor in an interview on Friday that there were specifications in the bid documents and not in the LPOs.

She said the LPOs only refer to the specifications in the bid documents and that suppliers were supposed to deliver standard relief items.

“The specifications we got from UNBS are the ones we gave to the bidders but they supplied something else which was not conforming to the standards and as procurement we don’t go to the stores to verify standards because that’s the job of the contracts manager and the audit team,” she said.

However, LPOs which were issued to the suppliers, copies of which this newspaper has seen, do not make reference to any specifications but only have the quantity of the items to be supplied and the cost.

Besides, auditors from the two auditing government agencies of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA) noted in their forensic audit reports that an LPO isn’t a binding contract.

“There were no binding contracts made with the providers before supplies were made, which was irregular. This should have been enforced by the head procurement and disposal unit for the endorsement of the accounting officer to ensure that all procurement was undertaken with valid contracts in place,” the Auditor General’s report states.

Section 76 (3) of the PPDA Act, 2003 states that an award shall be confirmed by a written contract signed by both the provider and the Procuring and Disposing entity. LPOs were issued by the then acting accounting officer, Mr Kaima on May 21, 2021. 

Mr Kaima couldn’t be reached for a comment when contacted.
We were unable to understand why Mr Kaima didn’t include the specifications on the LPOs yet he had told OPM’s procurement officials that they needed to purchase relief items based on the specifications in the market survey which had earlier been conducted on October 16 2020.

“At this point my next course of action was to cause the market survey to be carried out but I was informed that we had conducted a market survey within the same financial year and therefore the entry had to use the same market survey,” Mr Kaima told police detective Patience Alunyu on July 29, 2021.

The market survey is done to analyse the market for a particular product or service which includes the understanding of the prevailing market prices of the supplies.

Monitor last week published an expose of how OPM officials bungled the procurement of food and non-food relief items which incurred heavy losses to the taxpayer.

The findings in the two forensic audit reports unearthed massive irregularities, including forgery, collusion and lack of binding contracts for the suppliers.

OPM’s Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi told Monitor on Friday that he has already written to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Justice Jane Frances Abodo asking her to verify the story which this publication ran last week.

“I cannot depend on you [Daily Monitor] and that’s why I have written to the DPP to verify it. I also informed the DPP that some officials implicated in that procurement scandal have been charged. Therefore, I can only take actions which are legal and the DPP will advise me,” he said on Friday.

Mr Muhakanizi also said the OPM will take administrative actions against the officials but declined to delve into details.

UNBS recommended Mono-treated nets with specifications like a fibre of 100 percent, polyster 100 percent and polypropylene 100 percent. The mosquito nets were supposed to have mesh count, holes/cm2 with a weight of g/m2 and bursting strength at 7.3cm2.

For beans, UNBS had recommended that they should be dry (single uniform colour) and fit for human consumption, coloured and not damaged, free from foreign matter like dust, sandstones and other mixtures.
The beans were not supposed to be infested with weevils or bores, free from mature shrivelled, heated, fungi and discoloured grains, and packed in 100kg bags.

For maize, the standards body recommended Grade B fit for consumption with minimum fibre of 1.5 percent.
The October 16, 2020 market survey, a copy which Daily Monitor has seen was conducted by Ms Pamela Komujuni, a senior disaster management officer, Mr Martin Odong, a disaster management officer (DM0), and Mr Lawrence Tabaluka, a procurement officer.

Ms Komujuni and Mr Odong were appointed by Ms Nakabugo from the disaster department as an input in the procurement process while Mr Tabaluka was recommended by Ms Katembeko.
Section 34 of the PPDA Act, 2003 mandates the user department to, among others, propose technical inputs to statements for procurement requirements to the Procurement and Disposal Unit. 

The recommendation of Mr Odong and Ms Komujuni from the user department of disaster preparedness and management to the market survey team means that the department participated in the procurement process by giving guidance through the market survey report.

The market survey team recommended a blanket measuring 1.6kgs with a heavy fibre which is non-reactive to humans with a size of 4x4m.

The team also recommended treated single size round mosquito nets and white in colour. For the tarpaulins, the team recommended the ones measuring 14kg with a 4x4 size with either white, black or blue colour.

The Principal Disaster Management Officer, Mr Cyprian Dhikusooka, sent an internal memo to the acting accounting officer Godfrey Kaima on April 3, 2021 initiating the procurement of non-food items (tarpaulins, mosquito nets and blankets) relief items as a user department.

Uganda national bureau of standards findings 

The July 29, 2021 UNBS inspection report , a copy which we have seen shows that both the food and non-food relief items which were distributed to the people of Kasese District, were substandard.

The report was issued by UNBS executive director, Mr David Livingstone Ebiru, and addressed to the director CID and the Head of Investigation, Statehouse Anti-Corruption Unit. Further, the report shows that an entire lot of samples picked from both Kasese District and OPM stores failed the test parameter of weight aimed at assessing the mass per unit area.

The mosquito from both locations failed on the mesh count and grammage and so were the labelling requirements. 

The nets did not bear company name and country of origin details among other necessary labelling requirements. According to the report, the samples obtained from Kasese did not meet the requirement of mass per unit area of polyamide.

For the beans, all the samples obtained from the district failed on the moisture content parameter apart from one sample that failed the foreign matter parameter. Of the beans samples obtained from the OPM stores, red, yellow and grey coloured beans failed on the moisture content. The red and grey-coloured beans from both OPM stores and Kasese failed the same parameters.

Monitor has seen statements of more than 10 people who were displaced by the floods in Kasese and all of them admit that the beans take a long time to get ready. All the maize flour samples picked from OPM stores pass the testing requirements, according to the report. However, apart from the Supreme and KZD maize flour brands, the rest failed on the labeling requirements.

The then secretary to the contracts committee, Ms Annet Musinguzi, acknowledged that there were specifications in the market survey but couldn’t explain why the committee didn’t consider them before awarding contracts to the suppliers. Ms Musinguzi asked us to wait for the court to pronounce itself on the matter.

The chairperson contracts committee, Mr John Kalule, neither picked our calls nor replied to our messages.