4 November 2012

Uganda: Oil Bribery Probe MPs Head to Us, UK, Dubai

Prime Minister to face censure motion if he fails to take action on the permanent secretary to the OPM ( Resource: Uganda Parliament Plot to Censure Prime Minister )

One year later, Parliament committee set to spend millions on trips to USA, UK, Switzerland, Dubai, Malta, which colleagues describe as a wild goose chase

A year after Parliament's ad hoc committee was set up to investigate the oil sector, there is nothing to show. The seven-member committee led by Bungokho South MP Michael Werikhe Kafabusa, was mandated to investigate bribery allegations against Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, ministers Hilary Onek and Sam Kutesa, as well as scrutinise agreements, revenues and costs in the oil sector.

The probe team is made up of Stephen Tashobya (Kajara) Julius Bigirwa Junjura (Buhaguzi), Freedom Grace Kwiyucwiny (Zombo Woman), Cecilia Ogwal (Dokolo Woman), Hussein Kyanjo (Makindye West) and Joseph Matte (Bughendera). This team was meant to report back to Parliament in three months but a year and Shs 200m later, there is no report to present.

Werikhe says this is due to unavoidable circumstances. "We had some hindrances that affected our progress," he explained.

The activities of the committee, Werikhe noted, were affected by a constitutional court petition lodged by Saverino Twinobusingye who challenged the legal mandate as well as formation of the committee. Although the court ruled in February that the committee could proceed with the investigations, the failure to acquire funding in time also presented another bottleneck.

"We had to make foreign trips to the countries in which the ministers were alleged to have received the money from. But our request [for money] was answered a little bit late," Werikhe said.

We understand that initially the Parliament Commission was opposed to the committee's travel plans, but later cleared the members to split into groups and make trips to UAE (Dubai), USA, UK, Switzerland and Malta.

Futile investigations:

Some lawmakers believe the probe team is wasting taxpayers' money.

"Taxpayers have spent lots of money on the probe and it appears that nothing is yet to come from this endeavour. Why should we again waste money on funding these trips that will never help us know the truth?" asked Lwemiyaga County MP Theodore Ssekikubo.

Ssekikubo, together with Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu, Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) and Gerald Karuhanga (Youth, Western) were some of the lawmakers behind the bribery allegations raised during a special sitting of Parliament in October 2011.

"If we are lucky and police in those countries cooperate, we shall get the truth, but we know that these countries are protective because many dictators keep secret accounts [there] and their transactions have never been questioned by these very countries, like Switzerland," said Karuhanga.

The Youth MP adds that the failure of ministers to step aside, as had been resolved by Parliament, "was an indication that there was no political will to help the public know the truth about the allegations."

The ministers refused to "step aside", insisting that they were innocent, and the constitutional court later ruled that Parliament had no powers to compel them to do so.

According to Niwagaba, the refusal of the accused ministers to step aside, when they hold influential positions in government and could, therefore, influence the investigation process, was a blow.

Nevertheless, some lawmakers we spoke to believe the committee should be given a benefit of the doubt.

"Some people were accused and it is better that we know whether the allegations made against them were true," said Dr Kenneth Omona, the Kaberamaido MP.

Expensive probe:

However, the inquiry is bound to be very expensive and so value-for-money questions will inevitably arise if it doesn't deliver, as many analysts believe. Shs 200m has so far been spent, and it's just the beginning. Every member of the team is expected to pocket between Shs 20-25m in personal allowances (excluding travel and accommodation expenses) when they fly out.

"This is too much to be spent on something that is useless," Niwagaba declared.

Kyanjo, a member of the probe team, confirmed to us that he had received part of his allowance and has since returned it because he is indisposed and cannot make the trip.

"If the committee is stopped from travelling, it will bring incomplete information; but if it is allowed, the investigation will be complete and the validity of information will be another issue," he observed.

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