11 November 2012

Uganda: Permanent Secretary Bigirimana's Fate - the Bigger Picture

Kampala — The writing is on the wall and it's clear - the alleged colossal scam in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is proving to be a veritable black hole, which will not stop claiming victims.

Already the principal accountant, Godfrey Kazinda and Martin Owor, are among a host of senior officers who have been sucked into the virulent vortex.

However, the fate of Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the OPM, has proved to be polarizing as the Executive and Parliament spar over what to do with him.

Should Bigirimana be interdicted over the swindled sh50b donor funds meant for rehabilitation programmes in the north, or as the Government has cautioned, be left in office as investigations continue?

During a meeting with the NRM caucus on Monday, the President allayed fears that Bigirimana was being handled with kid gloves, promising to act after thoroughly studying the case.

Although Uganda's legislators have a penchant for being divided over the most mundane of issues depending on their political colours, the Ninth Parliament has so far pulled in same direction over the fight against institutionalised graft. And the Bigirimana case has followed this script.

Even before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament met staff from the Auditor General's office on Friday to chart its expected inquest into the scam, a host of MPs across the political divide were demanding that the Executive implements the parliamentary resolution calling for Bigirimana's interdiction.

According to Wilfred Niwagaba, (NRM, Ndorwa East), the parliamentary resolution calling for Bigirimana's interdiction "was unanimous and not opposed by the Government."

"The Government is dillydallying over Bigirimana, but we shall not relent until he is out of office. Getting interdicted does not mean that he is guilty, but investigations should be conducted transparently," Niwagaba said.

This conviction is shared by MPs Santa Alum, Winnie Kiiza, Roland Mugume, Allen Andrew, Anthony Ssemuli, Arinaitwe Rwakajara, Tete Chelengati and Alice Alaso.

"Bigirimana cannot hide behind his claim to have been the whistleblower to stay in office. He should be suspended as investigations continue, just like the case was with Jimmy Lwamafa and Kashaka Muhanguzi," Rwakajara said, in reference to the interdicted permanent secretaries in the ministries of public service and local government.

Alice Alaso (FDC) said the longer it takes to interdict Bigirimana, the clearer it becomes that there are higher people in OPM involved in the scam."

"We have every reason to believe that Bigirimana is a principal suspect in the scandal and if the President ignores our resolution, it will be a clear indicator that he is not committed to rehabilitating northern Uganda," she added.

Santa Alum (Oyam, UPC) said Bigirimana could only stay in office if he was stealing on behalf of the Government.

"His whistleblowing was a tactical move to hide his culpability. He knew he would finally be found out," Alum said.

Roland Mugume (Rukunguri Municipality), delved into the auditor general's report to justify the resolution calling for Bigirimana's interdiction.

"Without seeking clearance from the finance ministry, and without any approved work plan, he (Bigirimana) personally approved payment of sh15.5b of the sh20.1b which had been deposited on the crisis management account. This was in breach of his responsibility under section 14 of the Public Finance and Accountability Act, 2003," Mugume said.

"What more evidence does the Government need to sanction Bigirimana's interdiction?" Mugume asked.

However, MPs William Nokrach and Alex Byarugaba said Bigirimana's interdiction was "neither here, nor there."

"PAC has been ordered to expedite its probe into the scandal, and I have every reason to believe that it will do it in less than a fortnight. Let us be patient, instead of acting on emotions. If Bigirimana is found guilty he will certainly be pushed out," Byarugaba said.

With both the executive and the legislature not willing to cede any inch over their respective positions on Bigirimana's fate, which side is most likely to blink first in this engrossing battle of wills?

Will the Government succumb to parliamentary pressure and interdict Bigirimana, or as it has happened in the recent resolutions about oil, will the Executive once again ride roughshod over the legislature?

According to veteran legislator and the brain behind the current parliamentary rules of procedure, Ben Wacha, the Executive has an upper hand in the impasse.

"Most parliamentary resolutions are advisory, as the President has to weigh them against Executive interests," Wacha said.

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