Govt must step in with forensic audit of UWA

Frontline law enforcement officers from the government and private sector with UWA officials during the DISRUPT training at Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe on May 15, 2023. Photo | Eve Muganga

What you need to know:

  • The issue: Corruption
  • Our view: The Police, Inspector General Government or even the much-hyped State House Anti-Corruption Unit must dive into the can of worms to clean it up before the worms crawl into other hiding places.

A rather disturbing case of corruption in a premier forex earner that is the tourism sector is that it took an audit red flag for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to realise that visitor numbers at Mgahinga and Bwindi gorilla tracking did not match the revenue remitted.

UWA says it has lost more than $3 million (Shs11.2 billion) from gorilla permits. That could be just the surface of the lid of a huge can of worms because it is highly likely that gorilla trekking permits aren’t the only illicit cash cow that unscrupulous persons at the tourism agency have been milking. Prying open the can of worms would be in the best interest of the nation.

UWA says it swung into action following the audit red flags and that at least 16 people implicated in the scandal have been suspended and others arrested over the sale of fake gorilla permits through manipulation of the gorilla booking system.

Tourism earnings reached nearly Shs2.7 trillion in 2022, representing 12.2 per cent of total exports and 41.4 per cent of service exports.

A chunk of the tourism revenue Gorilla tourism comes from gorilla tourism – the act of getting closer to mountain gorillas, one of the world’s largest living primates. Only about 1,060 of these great apes remain in the wild. Their sanctuary is in the Virunga massif’s fertile and rich in biodiversity. The massif covers the Rwenzori mountains in Western Uganda, stretching into northern Rwanda and eastern DR Congo.

But the gorillas are also critically endangered. They have been a significant tourist attraction for Uganda since 1993. Reports that gorilla permits are subject to gross corruption must be tackled headfast.
It is commendable that UWA has taken swift and decisive action but it is also probably their way of avoiding a forensic audit that could send the entire team to the docks. The government must move in fast and investigate what is happening at UWA to clean up the wildlife sector.

A percentage of the money collected from gorilla permits is always remitted to the surrounding communities of the parks. This tourism money has enabled the local people through their leaders to set up schools, health centres, clean and safe water sources among others.

With reports that for every 100 permits, 99 are swindled, it can only mean so much pain for the communities – that is if the contribution to the National Budget was ignored. It cannot go on like this. 

The Police, Inspector General Government or even the much-hyped State House Anti-Corruption Unit must dive into the can of worms to clean it up before the worms crawl into other hiding places.