24 August 2012

Uganda: Financial Impropriety - MPs to Probe PM's Office

THE parliamentary committee on presidential affairs has unanimously agreed to undertake a thorough investigation into the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) over financial impropriety.

The decision to investigate both the technical people and the ministers was reached during a closed door meeting Thursday.

"It has come to the knowledge of the committee that it is not only the technical people involved, but also politicians," committee chairperson, Barnabas Tinkasiimire said after the meeting.

Prior to the closed door meeting the committee met a team from OPM led by the Third Deputy Prime Minister, Moses Ali that had come to respond to a petition filed to the committee by MP, Peter Ogwang (youth, NRM) over financial impropriety in OPM.

However, after about an hour into the meeting Tinkasiimire asked the team to take leave of the meeting to allow members forge a way forward.

The team included ministers; First Lady Janet Museveni, Ministers Rebecca Amuge Otengo, Stephen Mallinga, Christine Aporu, Mary Karooro , Musa Ecweru, Rose Namayanja and the Permanent Secretary, Pius Bigirimana.

Recently, Police arrested former principal accountant in OPM, Geoffrey Kazinda, who is accused of causing financial loss to government. Since then other staff of the same office have been arrested and others interrogated.

Tinkasiimire said, "There is a racket. Very many people are involved including ministers." He said they had received information that ministers would receive bags of money from hotels.

He said that with all the information coming to the committee the MPs had agreed that after passing of the budget of OPM, they will invite the premier back to the committee to ask questions about what transpired. "For instance, what political guidance did he give when all this was happening?" Tinkasiimire asked.

The committee, he said, had received names of individuals who had received sh15b on their accounts and would follow them up.

Among the things MPs would want to know is the location of the houses that were built for chiefs. "We shall carry out field visits to see whether the chiefs' houses are there, and the valley dams." the chairman said.

The committee will also summon hotel owners, where workshops were reportedly carried out to establish whether they took place there.

At the start of the meeting, MPs took time debating whether to allow Ogwang present all the issues on the petition and refer others to the Public Accounts Committee and other accountability committees. Tinkasiimire had been of the view that Ogwang should limit himself to asking policy issues in his petition.

Premier Moses Ali informed MPs that there is an ongoing investigation by CID and was against setting up a parallel investigation. "It is duplication and waste of time." He said Ogwang can go to CID and present his issues there.

What followed was a heated exchange between Ali and Tinkasiimire with the former telling the latter that he was not going to accept his interpretation because he was not a judge.

Minutes into his (Ogwang's) presentation, MP Eddie Kwizera observed that Ogwang had good points and asked whether the PS had been called to police to answer some of these questions. "If he has it is erroneous to answer the same questions here. How do you know that Kazinda does not have agents in this room?" Kwizera asked.

At this point, Tinkasiimire after guidance from the committee's legal staff decided to let the OPM team take leave of the committee to allow the MPs discuss the way forward. He asked the premier to put in writing what other arms of government are doing and the status of Kazinda case.

MP, Mathias Mpuuga suggested that the PS, Pius Bigirimana, who is one of the principle witnesses, should step aside saying he is "a potential culprit."

On academic qualifications of Resident District Commissioners, the committee agreed to write to the schools where the RDCs studied so as to ascertain their papers. The MPs also agreed to write to the national Council for Higher Education to ask them verify the RDCs' academic qualifications.

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