Police in Abim district is investigating 13 district officials over offences related to theft, fraud and corruption.
The 13 officials include the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), the district procurement officer, district water officer, district production officer, district veterinary officer, an officer messenger, records assistant, three drivers, and three senior assistant accounts officers.
Robert Katuramu, the Abim District Police Commander (DPC) says they have opened a general enquiry file for the 13, following complaints from the district council.
“We are investigating them, and have already opened a general enquiry file for them. We shall forward their file to State Prosecutor to be guided on which charges to prefer them,” Katuramu said.
He noted that the officials have already recorded statements at police.
The 13 are being accused of embezzling money amounting to sh150m. They are accused of embezzling sh16m which was meant for political monitoring but ended up being used by the technical team.
They are also accused of forging receipts from petrol stations in Kireka, Banda and Mbale where they claim to have used the money.
On March 13, 2018, the district speaker Godfrey Omara wrote to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) complaining over the embezzlement of sh16.5m meant for political monitoring and the diversion of pension and gratuity arrears amounting to sh61.5m.
In the letter seen by the New Vision, Omara is blaming the CAO, Simon Peter Akileng for only tabling a financial loss of sh16.5m to the Permanent Secretary and omitting the alleged diversion pension money and gratuity arrears and over expenditure in the finance department of shs72.5m in the financial year 2016/17. This led to a financial loss of sh150m.
“By omitting some of this critical information regarding the loss of council funds, I’m of the opinion that you may misguide and bias the opinion of the Permanent Secretary regarding the above matter,” reads the letter.
To make matters worse, the officials withdrew the money and they never did any monitoring.
“The money was meant for political monitoring and therefore supposed to be used by the politicians, but they forged receipts and withdrew the money,” says Abraham Kitaco, the Councilor for Abim town council.
Kiatco says the district council had directed the CAO to institute a probe team to investigate the officers involved in the scandals but he frustrated the council directive.
Also the council had recommended the interdiction of the procurement officer and CFO for loss of money which was not done.
Samuel Mpimbaza Hashaka, the Abim Resident District Commissioner says corruption levels in Abim are daunting and leading to poor service delivery. Hashaka blames the CAO for failing the fight.
On March 21 he wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government over a crisis in Abim due to alleged corruption and forgery.
“Council recommended that a special audit be carried out about the matter and police investigates all technical staff that signed for the money and forged receipts. But the CAO refused to act on all the recommendations,” the letter reads.
The Abim district CAO Simon Peter Akileng, confirmed that the officials have recorded statements but refuted reports that they had been arrested.
“It is not true that these people were arrested and it is not a big issue as it is being put out there. These officers went to police and recorded statements,” Akileng said.
He blames the current standoff in the district on the infighting between the technical team and some of the political leaders.
“They did not forge receipts. They got the money through the right way, but some politicians think it is fraud,” he says.
He however acknowledges that the voucher which has brought problem to the district technical team official had some mistakes.
“Instead of the voucher reading technical monitoring, it reads political monitoring hence causing confusion, but there is no forgery,” Akileng says.
On the issue of pension money, Akileng distanced himself from the saga and said no one is swindling the money.
District leaders conniving with courts
In September 2016 the Abim district Council set up a probe committee to investigate circumstances under which the district was losing all the court cases against it.
The probe committee discovered that district leaders were conniving with those who take the district to court leading to loss of cases and money.
Hashaka says the district has lost about five cases where leaders have connived with the complainants.
“They don’t go to represent the district and about sh300m has been lost in such instances,” Hashaka says.
Omara says the district never facilitates the officials supposed to represent it and cases get to be decided in absentia.
“We don’t have a district lawyer but the district is supposed to facilitate the solicitor general to represent us or at least officials responsible but this is not normally done,” Omara says.
Because of the unresolved corruption and embezzlement scandals, the district council on March suspended its business until the CAO acts.
To solve the matter, on Monday the district leaders met with the ministry for local government permanent secretary to forge a way forward.
“We met with the PS and agreed on the next action. He requested us to lay the budget as he prepares a team to come and visit us. But the investigation are continuing,” Omara says.