News and Views
Uganda Government suspends 17 over OPM scam
The government has interdicted 17 senior officials over the theft of donor funds meant for reconstruction of northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-region. However, the under fire Permanent Secretary in the Office of Prime Minister, Mr Pius Bigirimana, was cleared, as there was no evidence linking him to the theft of the money.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who declined to accept responsibility for failure to detect what he called “massive theft”, told reporters at a news conference in Kampala that 10 officials in his office had been sent home alongside six from the Ministry of Finance and a senior official from Bank of Uganda.
In defence of Mr Bigirimana, Mr Mbabazi said: “The PS has not been interdicted not because he cannot be interdicted. My view is that in the Auditor-General’s report, there is no evidence that he stole the money. What came out in the audit report are audit queries and the PS must answer them.”
While independent-minded MPs have accused the government of double standards, citing the recent interdiction of Public Service Permanent Secretary Jimmy Lwamafa over ghost pensioners, Mr Mbabazi said that it was Mr Bigiriman who sought his authority to allow the police to investigate the rot at the OPM. “The PS has been helping in the investigations. He is one who brought up these issues,” Mr Mbabazi said.
The Premier, who held long discussions with representatives of key donors, apologised on behalf of government. He said they regretted what happened, adding that it was a criminal act. “We regret that this happened and as a government we are sorry. It was a criminal act. The extent [of theft] was massive. It’s a pity that it happened and we regret it. We fully understand the anger and we condemn these acts in the strongest terms possible”
Mr Mbabazi said the government would take the necessary measures to bring those responsible to book. “We are going to look at the entire system to stop this from happening again. Our net is going to be extensive. We are going to turn everything upside down. There was high-level collusion between Bank of Uganda, Finance and OPM. This government is determined to clampdown on corruption. This is the beginning of the cleanup.”
The officials interdicted include Mr Arthur Mumanyire (accountant), Mr Byekwaso Musiho (Senior Accounts Assistant), Ms Beatrice Kezabu (Assistant Resettlement Officer), Mr Kennedy Lubega (Officer Research), Mr Martin Owor (Commissioner Disaster Management), Ms Irene Birungi, Ms Lydia Nalwanga and Mr Yahya Kasolo.
Others are Finance ministry officials Mariam Kiggundu, Gilbert Okello, Tony Yawe and David Mugisha. From the Bank of Uganda is Mr Milton Opio, one of the deputy directors in charge of verification of signatures. Mr Mbabazi said more officials would be interdicted and taken to court.
A report by the Office of the Auditor General of Uganda on October 19 contains strong criticism of the OPM. The criticism concerns the misuse of funds for the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP).
The report offers substantial details on how aid from Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark was transferred to unauthorised accounts in a sophisticated scam. Mr Godfrey Kazinda, a former principal accountant in OPM, has already been charged in connection with the alleged embezzlement.
A special audit carried out by the Office of the Auditor General says Shs50 billion may have been lost over two financial years.
Sources told the Daily Monitor that the donors demanded that all the officials implicated be prosecuted and the money be recovered. The donors also told Mr Mbabazi that they would not reinstate funding to the recovery programme unless the government recovers the money.
Mr Mbabazi denied the interdictions were due to with pressure from the donors.