East Africa

Museveni guards get 20 years in jail for theft

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Parliament- Soldiers of the Special Forces Group (SFG), the elite presidential guard unit, have been sentenced to 20 years prison after a court martial found them guilty in the theft of Shs654 million, from the State House cash office at Okello House in Kampala.

State House Comptroller Lucy Mbonye Nakyobe told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Tuesday that the soldiers were arrested, tried in the military court and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

She said out of Shs654 million stolen from cash office, only Shs63.8 million has since been recovered. However, the committee heard that more than Shs590 million is unaccounted for.

“This case was reported to police in September 2011 and the soldiers were arrested, tried in court martial and they are already in prison,” Ms Nakyobe said.

However, sources close to State House told the Daily Monitor yesterday that the SFG took the lead in the investigations and that the findings of the case No: Kampala SD25/17/9/2011 and the details were not disclosed to the public in order to bury what they called the “embarrassment” of the thieving soldiers.

However, Ms Nakyobe dismissed this narrative and said: “Soldiers broke into the strong room at Okello House and took away the money. When they stole the money it took some time to catch them and they had utilised some of the money. It was on a Saturday morning of September 17, 2011 when we discovered this unfortunate incident.”
She added: “We found some cash thrown down and we immediately reported to police. We don’t normally keep large sums of money, but this time, we had brought in cash for travel abroad, but the trip was later cancelled.”

MPs demand evidence
PAC chairperson Kassiano Wadri asked State House officials to provide a copy of the judgment and the details on when the Court Martial sentenced the thieving soldiers. Other lawmakers led by Mr Gerald Karuhanga (Indep, Youth Western) faulted Ms Nakyobe for failure to recover the missing funds from the thieving soldiers and demanded to know the measures put in place to avoid a repeat of the incident.

The lawmakers demanded that CCTV cameras be installed at Okello House to protect public funds.
When the Committee lead counsel, Mr Eddie Kwizera, asked: “Who arrested them [the thieving soldiers]?” Mr Nakyobe replied: “I don’t know who arrested them; I think police and SFG worked together to have them arrested.”

While the unit spokesman then, Capt Edson Kwesiga, told the Daily Monitor in September when the theft was discovered, that none of SFG soldiers were involved, the Auditor General in his 2012 report to Parliament maintained that the people involved were serving military officers.

The committee heard from the Auditor General’s findings that although during the year, Shs590.2 million was reported stolen from the cash office, no police report was availed to confirm the said amount, and information about the theft was scanty.

However, Ms Nakyobe explained that the Accountant General was informed of this loss and the issue was handled according to military procedures since the people involved were serving officers. The committee and the Auditor General advised the Accounting Officer to minimise the holding of large sums of cash by seeking permission to operate a credit card system.

On Bagonza dismissal
Meanwhile, the State House Comptroller told PAC that Mr Fredrick Bagonza, the man she sacked recently, lost his job as a gardener over absconding from duty and not because he is HIV-positive as he told the National Organisation of Trade Unions.

Mr Bagonza, 44, was recently sacked from State House for consistently absconding from duty. But he insists that he informed his immediate boss, Ms Jacinta Nabulya, about his poor health.

Ms Nakyobe told the committee that she wrote to the Ministry of Public Service and cleared his dismissal. Ms Nakyobe said Mr Bagonza had a poor track record during the course of his employment at State House and failed to reform despite receiving numerous warnings.

THE BACKGROUND
Information before PAC shows that in September 2011, a one Gideon Tumuhimbise and nine other suspects were arrested from Rukungiri in western Uganda, by a joint security team comprising the Police and the SFG operatives. To cover the trail, the suspects had deposited the stolen cash in various commercial banks.

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