Parliament moves to limit access amid increase in fraud

Parliament of the Republic of Uganda. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • Along with the lawmakers and employees of the Parliamentary Commission, the new measures also affect their personal assistants and visitors.

The House’s top brass has moved to limit access to the precincts of Parliament amid an increase in cases of fraud carried out by rogue elements masquerading as either lawmakers or employees of the Parliamentary Commission.

Along with the lawmakers and employees of the Parliamentary Commission, the new measures also affect their personal assistants and visitors.

The move comes a few weeks after it emerged that fraudsters, passing off as procurement officers of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, tricked a Doha-based construction firm (Ascend Group) into handing them $306,950 (about Shs1.2b). The scammed money was purportedly a precondition for the award of a $120 million (about Shs466b) contract for the construction of five technical schools in Busunju, Garuga, Wakiso, Pader and Nampungwe—a “presidential initiative projects” that never was.

The signing of the contract of the purported presidential initiative was done within one of the committee rooms of the House. The manner in which it was carried out pointed to porousness in the gatekeeping.

Mr Chris Obore, the director of communication and public affairs at the House, said the institution has now moved to fix those gaps and ensure that fraudsters do not have easy access.

“Members of staff are permanently at the gate with the police processing visitors. If a visitor says he is going to Obore’s office, they call Obore or his office to confirm whether the visitor is expected or not or whether the visitor is known to the person or not. The visitor is only let through once the officer or the office confirms knowledge of the person,” Mr Obore told the Monitor.

Visitors are then required to hand in their identification documents in exchange for a visitors’  tag, which they shall wear around their necks during the entire duration of the visit.

Those who may not have identity cards may receive escort services to and from their intended office destinations.

Another arrangement has been put in place to help members of the public who visit the institution as tourists.

“If you are just coming to visit Parliament, the directorate of communications and public affairs processes you as a tourist. We have staff and protocol officers who take the visitors around the Parliament in a formal way,” Mr Obore said.

Under the new set of directives, employees of the Parliamentary Commission, those employed by the lawmakers as drivers and personal assistants are also required to have identification documents provided by the House. They are also required to at all times have those identification tags around their necks.

Another issue

Parliament has cautioned members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) against discussing matters it is addressing publicly before they have been deliberated on during a plenary session.

The warning was given by the Assistant Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Mr David Ivan Masajjage, during an induction training for members of PAC at the imperial Golf Course Hotel in Entebbe.

“PAC being a committee of Parliament has a delegated function, which necessitates it to report all their findings to the Committee of the whole House during plenary. It is only after the House has pronounced itself on the report, which is captured on the Parliament record (Hansard) that PAC can go ahead and discuss such a report with the media and public,” Mr Masajjage said.

He told the members that the Directorate has since assigned a specific officer to help committee chairpersons organise press conferences and interviews.

During the same retreat, members of committees were advised against engaging the media around matters being dealt with at committee level. Mr Masajjage said only chairpersons and their deputies had the mandate to talk for the committees.

Meanwhile, Saturday Monitor has established that whereas the Shs1.2b fraud is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the State House’s Anti-Corruption Unit, it is also the subject of an internal investigation at the House.

Sources within the institution told us that the internal processes were initiated because the manner of execution pointed to collusion on the part of some employees of Parliament.

“It would not have been possible for strangers to access a committee room and even have a formal signing ceremony without the help of people who understand the workings of Parliament,” our said.

The signing of the fake agreement was effected on August 17, 2022—a Thursday. Plenary sessions run from Tuesday to Thursday. That means that Parliament is usually extremely busy on those days. It, therefore, would not have been possible for a function to be held in the premises without attracting the attention of lawmakers or other employees unless, our source added, it was done with the collusion of people who understating the workings of the House.