The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Mukula - I Did Not Catch or Even Smell Gavi Cash

Soroti municipality MP and former minister of state for Health, Capt George Michael Mukula, has told the anti-corruption court that he did not receive money from the GAVI Fund as alleged.

Appearing before Chief Magistrate Irene Akankwasa, Mukula said his role in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) project was to offer policy guidance, direction and political mobilisation.

"I did not receive the money, I did not catch the money and I did not smell the money in question ... and there was no loss occasioned to government as alleged," Mukula testified.

The state alleges that, while serving as minister of state for Health (General Duties), Mukula requisitioned and signed for Shs 263.8 million on behalf of the First Lady, Janet Museveni, which money was part of the GAVI Fund. The first lady reportedly accounted for Shs 54m, leaving a balance of Shs 210 million, for which Mukula must account.

Up to Shs 1.6bn of GAVI money was allegedly misappropriated and Mukula and the other health ministers at the time, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi and Dr. Alex Kamugisha, were held responsible. However, Muhwezi and Kamugisha were recently acquitted after court found no evidence to implicate them.

When the case resumed for Mukula to defend himself yesterday, he revealed that he met the first lady at Imperial Resort hotel in Entebbe on January 14, 2005, whereupon she requested funding for three advocacy conferences. Mukula told court that he accepted Ms Museveni's request on condition that she put her demand in writing, which was done on January 31, 2005 through one of her senior private secretaries, Margaret Lalamu.

The MP, who was accompanied by his wife, told court that following the first lady's formal request, he wrote an internal memo on the matter to cabinet minister Muhwezi on February 11, 2005, who in turn communicated to the Permanent Secretary, Muhammad Kezaala.

Mukula added that on February 16, 2005, Kezaala asked the ministry's Principal Accountant James Mukasa (now deceased) to release Shs 204,039.000 to the first lady.

However, Mukula revealed that the money was readjusted upwards to Shs 263,855,000 to be released in three vouchers. "Those vouchers were brought to me in Munyonyo where we had a cabinet retreat chaired by President Museveni by officials from the accounts section led by Lydia Nalwanga and my personal assistant Rena Birungi for me to sign and facilitate the movement of money as requested by the first lady," Mukula added.

Later, Mukula testified, he learnt that the money would be given to Muhwezi by the then undersecretary Joram Mugumya. He said he never had anything to do with the money from then on.

However, Mukula explained that he has come to know that while the first lady's office accounted for Shs 54m, the Shs 210m was re-banked on the Gavi account No. 214.214013.1 in Bank of Uganda, meaning there was no loss accasioned to the government. To prove his case, Mukula produced certified banking slips and a treasurer general account form F12 and a banking statement in court as evidence.

Second witness:

After his time in the witness box, Lydia Nalwanga, then an accounts assistant in the ministry of Health, came forward. She told court that whereas Mukula requisitioned for Shs 263m, he never touched the money as her boss directed that it be given to Muhwezi to pass it on to the first ladies' office.

"I took the money to Muhwezi who counted it and refused to sign saying his junior [Mukula] had already signed. I took the money back to the cashier's office and whereas Shs 54m was given to the first ladies' office and accounted for, I personally rebanked the Shs 210m in five installments on the instructions of my bosses, undersecretary Mugumya and principal accountant Mukasa," Nalwanga testified.

However, there was drama as Nalwanga first denied ever making a statement about the money at the Inspectorate of Government. In that statement, she had claimed that it was Mukula who returned the money to Bank of Uganda. Nalwanga later admitted making the statement after the prosecutor, Sydney Asubo, produced a copy of the same dated June 6, 2006.

Asubo dismissed Nalwanga as a liar despite being on oath. The case resumes today for final submissions from both sets of lawyers.

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