€4m went missing in Uganda while key official was on maternity leave
THE absence of a female Irish Aid official on maternity leave has emerged as a key factor in the disappearance of €4m in funding to the Ugandan Government.
The Irish Aid funding to Uganda was suspended last year. It emerged the money had ended up in the bank account operated by officials from the office of the Ugandan Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi.
It had been intended to fund development projects in northern Uganda. The money has since been repaid by the Ugandan Government.
Irish Aid has an internal auditor in place in countries which get large funding.
But it has emerged the auditor in the Irish Embassy in Uganda was on maternity leave when the €4m in Irish Aid funding went missing in 2011.
Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said the Department of Foreign Affairs's own internal review had found this crucial person was on maternity leave, and that the position was not adequately filled during her absence.
He said that this, "led to a skills shortage".
The Dail's Public Accounts committee issued a report yesterday into Irish Aid, which found the €4m had been transferred illegally from the Central Bank of Uganda to a private account.
The report said that the incident should serve as a "wake up call" for Irish Aid and the Department of Foreign Affairs, which pays out €683m in overseas aid every year.
The fraud was described as very sophisticated.
Mr Harris, who is a member of the committee, said one of the major problems identified had been the failure to request enough receipts to track the progress of the money.
The committee's report also said that receipts on their own were not enough – because other donor countries who had also lost money had been provided with "bogus receipts".
It said that there was a need for bank statements to track Irish Aid money.
"This is an issue that is now being addressed not only in respect of Uganda, but in respect of the entire aid programme," it said.
Meanwhile Irish aid agency Trócaire was given a ringing endorsement by the Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs at its 40th birthday celebration in Dublin.
At a conference to mark the Catholic agency's anniversary, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore praised its four decades of fundraising and advocacy on behalf of the world's poorest.
He also announced that the Government will unveil a new policy for international development over the next few weeks.
by Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor