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The Observer: Museveni bows to pressure, moving OPM’s Bigirimana

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Institutes own probe into OPM scam

Following pressure from donor countries, anti-corruption watchdogs and Parliament, President Museveni has decided to move the embattled Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Pius Bigirimana, to another ministry, The Observer has learnt.

The pressure on Bigirimana follows a scam in which the government lost billions of shillings meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) for northern Uganda. A source close to State House told The Observer on Monday that Museveni has decided to replace Bigirimana with Kagole Kivumbi, current secretary of the Judicial Service Commission.

A special audit by the Auditor General unearthed how aid from Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Britain, among other donors, was transferred to un-authorized accounts, resulting into the loss of billions of shillings meant for post-war recovery efforts in northern Uganda.

Although the Auditor General didn’t directly accuse Bigirimana of any wrongdoing, Parliament last week recommended his interdiction, arguing that he should take responsibility for the mess committed under his watch. Bigirimana maintains his innocence, pointing to the fact that he blew the whistle on the scam. According to our source, the President decided to transfer Bigirimana following persistent pressure both from here and abroad.

But sources that attended the NRM parliamentary caucus meeting at State House Entebbe on Monday told us that the President defended Bigirimana, saying there was no evidence to warrant his interdiction. According to these sources, Museveni said he could only support Bigirimana’s interdiction on the basis of concrete evidence.

“I am treating this man as a whistleblower because he is the one who alerted the police about the mismanagement, which has eventually been picked up by other government institutions,” Museveni reportedly told the caucus.

Museveni added that he had instituted an investigation to establish whether Bigirimana was involved in the scam. Some NRM caucus didn’t welcome the President’s position on Bigirimana.

“It is unfair and unfortunate for the President, who is supposed to be the fountain of honour, to go ahead and protect individuals implicated in corruption scandals,” Wilfred Niwagaba (NRM, Ndorwa East) told The Observer.

Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM, Lwemiyaga) expressed fear that with donors already tightening their purses as a result of the scam, the President’s position might make matters worse and affect this year’s budgetary allocations.

“The President seems not to care, yet our budget is likely to be affected if we don’t carry out measures to mitigate this fraud,” Ssekikubo said.

The President’s Press Secretary, Tamale Mirundi, expressed ignorance about Bigirimana’s fate, or about any other public official transfer or reshuffle, when we contacted him.

“I wouldn’t know the President’s actions until I’m briefed. What I know is that he is attending an NRM caucus now and I even don’t know its agenda or outcome, since I’m not a member there,” Tamale told The Observer on Monday.

Several efforts to reach Kivumbi, Bigirimana’s rumoured replacement, were futile, as he was reportedly attending meetings all of yesterday and could not respond to calls to his personal and office phones.

Bigirimana, being the whistleblower in the scam that led to the interdiction of 17 OPM staff, is expected to be a principal witness in the first case against the now former principal accountant, Geoffrey Kazinda, and three others, which begins tomorrow.

Changes at UNRA

The same source told The Observer that Dr John Mbadhwe, currently the infrastructure advisor of Community Agriculture Infrastructure Programme (CAIIP) in the ministry of Works and Transport, is tipped to take over as executive director of the Uganda National Road Authority (UNRA), replacing Peter Ssebanakitta.

The UNRA board recently indicated that it would not renew Ssebanakitta’s expiring contract. When contacted, Mbadhwe, who is also acting principal and executive engineer in the Ministry of Works and Transport, did not appear surprised by The Observer’s inquiry, saying he was not aware of his transfer, but adding that he was ready for any assignment.

“Definitely I know it is a challenging job (UNRA ED), but it is an opportunity to serve my country in any capacity delegated to me,” Mbadhwe told The Observer.

Museveni, who earlier this year complained about shoddy road works, was reportedly recently briefed about Mbadhwe’s achievements and innovations, which, we have been told, partly account for the success the CAIIP has recorded with its first batch of road infrastructure in various parts of the country.

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