14 November 2012

Uganda: OPM Fraud Was Outright Theft

The Minister for Finance Jachan Omach says Aid Cuts could affect the implementation of the Budget. ( Resource: Uganda Budget to Be Affected by Aid Cuts

Finance ministry permanent Chris Kassami has described the fraud in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) where billions of shillings were lost as outright theft.

"This was outright theft. This is a new trend where a group of civil servants collude to steal money. Our system never foresaw this. They beat the system," Kassami who is also the Secretary to treasury said.

As a Parliament committee continues with investigations into the matter, former Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi who left office over a year ago has been cited in the scam currently rocking the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Public Accounts Committee heard Tuesday that Prof. Nsibambi and the current Permanent secretary Office of the Prime Minister Pius Bigirimana caused the removal of a principal internal auditor, Shaban Wejula who first uncovered the dirt in the OPM.

It is alleged that donor funds amounting to sh14b were diverted from the account of the Peace, Recovery and Development of Northern Uganda programme (PRDP) to another account and later stolen. The alleged scam has caused the interdiction of scores of officials.

Testifying before the PAC, the Accountant General Gastavio Bwoch, presented an internal audit report compiled by Wejula for the period July 2009 to March 2010, highlighting suspicious transactions and money transfers in the OPM. He called for immediate action.

According to Bwoch, after Wejula's compiled the report Nsibambi and Bigirimana complained to him and demanded for his removal from the office.

Before Bwoch cited Nsibambi in the scam, he requested that the press be sent away from the committee.

However sources later told New Vision that in his testimony in camera, Bwoch reportedly told MPs that Nsibambi requested him to remove Wejula from OPM on grounds that "he was not doing his duties but only to pointing out faults."

Nsibambi reportedly personally walked to the ministry of Finance offices and requested Bwoch to "take back my officer because he was not professional."

Nsibambi's request was later communicated in writing by PS Bigirimana in a letter dated April 19, 2010 to Bwoch.

"Wejula has demonstrated that he is a fault finder instead of a fault preventer...A number of times, I have interacted with him, I found the content of his response professionally deficient therefore demonstrating incompetence..." said the letter.

"Wejula is hereby referred back to you for appropriate management since he has not been helpful to us as expected. I need a principal internal auditor in the real sense," the letter reads.

Finance permanent secretary and Secretary to treasury Chris Kassami and Bwoch said, the theft in OPM would not have been "this huge" if Wejula had been left to do his job.

"If he had remained, all these issues would not have happened. He was the right person and he was doing his job but we had to withdraw him because of the pressure," Kassami added.

Bwoch also told MPs that in February 2012 he tried to transfer Geoffrey Kazinda from OPM to ministry of Gender. But Bigirimana opposed the transfer of Kazinda, the principal suspect in the theft, on grounds that there were audit issues that he was required to handle.

Bwoch said he transferred Kazinda "on rotational basis" and stopped from being a signatory to all bank accounts of the OPM.

"The PS wrote back protesting his transfer that we were witch-hunting him. He also said that stopping him from being a signatory was paralyzing the work in OPM, we had nothing to do but to leave him," he said. Bwoch said he also had a meeting with the current Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and PS Bigirimana over Kazinda's transfer.

Earlier before the committee asked press to leave, Kassami apologized for what happened and promised that in future things will be different.

However, MPs accused Bwoch of negligence, which they said resulted into the loss.

"I never participated in the fraud but it was difficult to differentiate forged documents. I have taken action and interdicted those who connived to steal government funds," he said. Bwoch was later referred to the Parliament CID to record a statement.

So far OPM officials suspended include: Martin Owor, Principal accountant Geoffrey Kazinda, Arthur Mumanyire, M. Byekwaso, Isaiah Oonyu, Beatrice Kezaabu, K. Lubega, Yahaya Kasolo and Charles Oyugi.

Others suspended from Ministry of Finance include: the Aid liaison officer Mariam Kiggundu, Wilbert Okello, and Tony Yawe.

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