By Moses Walubiri & Moses Mulondo
A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about swindling of donor funds in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) paints a sordid picture of high level collusion between government officials at different levels, with the report implicating some senior cadres at Bank of Uganda (BoU) and Accountant General’s Office.
A special value for money audit report in 2012 revealed that over sh50b of donor funds meant for reconstruction of Karamoja and war ravaged northern Uganda might have been salted away by crafty officials in OPM.
In fury, a string of donor countries chose to close aid taps until government instituted watertight financial control mechanisms to avoid a repeat of what was a truly sophisticated, but embarrassing scam.
Later, parliament sanctioned its investigations into the ‘theft’ with subsequent parallel investigations by detectives resulting into the interdiction and successful prosecution of OPM Principal Accountant, Godfrey Kazinda.
Presenting the report to a hushed house on Wednesday, outgoing PAC chairman, Kasiano Wadri, revealed a sophisticated tangled web of collusion, which saw colossal sums fraudulently transferred to dormant accounts where such funds were accessed by crafty officials, with other billions of shillings paid to ghost suppliers of goods for the intended projects.
Among senior officials the report implicates is former Permanent Secretary in OPM, Pius Bigirimana, Accountant General, Gustavo Bwoch and then Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi.
The 89 page report faults Bigirimana for fraudulently transferring sh1.8b from the holding account to purchase high-end cars for the Prime Minister and a host of ministers in the OPM.
When he appeared before the committee, Bigirimana refuted allegations about the car purchase, only to admit later that he had buckled under political pressure when he sanctioned the purchase.
This, the report notes, was a gross breach of the Joint Financing Arrangement signed by donors which barred such transfers without the explicit accession of the Accountant General.
Legislators also want Bigirimana and Kazinda held responsible for sh3b that was borrowed from the UK/UG post conflict development program for “office impress” without clear guidelines on how the funds were to be used.
Other ways through which the funds were swindled include depositing huge sums of money on to personal accounts of OPM staff and suppliers purportedly in error, and having the money returned in cash to Kazinda.
Another fraudulent cash transfer of sh14.8b in December 2011 meant for PRDP to a Crisis Management and Recovery Program which was disguised as a salary Electronic Funds Transfer as those behind the scheme sought to conceal their tracks.
Although the report exonerates First Lady Janet Museveni for allegedly using PRDP funds to travel to Israel nine times in one month, Muhakanizi and Bwoch are not as lucky as legislators want the duo to be held responsible for their failure to nip the plunder in the bud.