New Vision (Kampala)

16 November 2012

Uganda: Finance Officials Pin Birigirima in OPM Fraud

The permanent Secretary Office of the Prime Minister Pius Bigirimana resisted all earlier efforts to investigate financial irregularities in his office, MPs have heard.

Ministry of Finance top officials told the Public Accounts committee yesterday that in March 2010, when issues of financial irregularities were detected in OPM, Bigirimana refused to avail information to the auditors in the ministry of Finance.

"When he refused, i wrote to permanent secretary Chris Kassami complaining about his behaviour. He wrote back saying I was not supposed to be the one to do that. Kassami wrote back to him saying it was ok for him to give me the information. He still declined," Finance commissioner Internal Audit and Inspectorate Fexion Okeny told the MPs.

"I had to use an internal principal auditor Shaban Wejula to uncover the mess. When he (Wejula) did, he demanded for his transfer," Okeny added.

Appearing before the PAC on Tuesday, the Accountant General Gastavio Bwoch, said Nsibambi and Bigirimana caused Wejula's removal from the OPM after he compiled a report highlighting suspicious transactions and money transfers in the office.

But on Wednesday, Nsibambi issued a statement denying ever having done such a thing.

Okeny told the committee yesterday that Bigirimana on March 19, 2011, called the deputy secretary to Treasury Keith Muhakanizi and demanded that Wejula be transferred from OPM on grounds that he was incompetent and "only a fault finder."

"I protested my colleague's transfer but I was told it was orders from above," Okeny narrated.

Muhakanizi told the MPS that he transferred Wejula after Bigirimana and former Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi complained about his actions. Muhakanizi said Bigirimana alleged that Wejula had asked for a bribe from him.

"Bigirimana said Wejula was soliciting for a bribe from him and Nsibambi complained that my officers were disturbing the Permanent Secretary," Muhakanizi told the committee.

MPs took Muhakanizi to task for transferring Wejula without giving him a hearing. "You received the complaint and directed his transfer on the same day. Were you aware of the contents of the report? Did you listen to his side of the story?" Paul Mwiru asked.

Muhakanizi apologized saying it was a serious omission on his side.

"When the PS said Wejula had asked him for a bribe and later the Prime Minister Nsibambi complaining about my officers, i immediately recalled him without hearing his side of the story but that was a mistake on my side," Muhakanizi said.

But in his letter asking for Wejula's transfer, Bigirimana never mentioned the bribe issue.

Finance ministry officials told PAC that it was Bigirimana who requested for cash withdraws from Bank of Uganda to the OPM to be raised from sh20m to sh100m per week. As it turned out, this was used to withdraw monies on PRDP project and yet it was for Government funds.

Meanwhile, a Kasese resident, Joseph Bamwebehire, has petitioned the Constitutional Court seeking to block the interdiction of the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, Pius Bigirimana, arguing that the resolution by Parliament violates the Constitution.

Bamwebehire, who described himself as a concerned citizen, dragged the Government to court, arguing that Bigirimana and the other officials accused in the OPM funds scam were denied a right to fair hearing.

The petitioner alleges that for Parliament acted as judge in their own cause, when it passed resolution calling for interdiction of Bigirimana and the other officials in the OPM's office.

He further argues that the MPs purported to confer jurisdiction, which they do not have over Parliament to interdict and make liable Bigirimana and the other officials to refund the monies.

Petitioning through Bashasha & Company Advocates and Kanduho & Company Advocates, the petitioner argues that the resolution tends to undermine the supremacy of the Constitution and defeat democratic governance.

Bamwebehire seeks declarations and orders that the resolution that PS Bigirimana and all the other officials involved in the mismanagement of the funds in the Prime Minister's Office be interdicted and refund the monies was inconsistent with the Constitution.

The petition follows a motion successfully moved by Dokolo County Constituency Member of Parliament, Felix Okot Ogong, urging the Government to conduct a forensic audit and streamline the management of the PRDP programmes in the office of the Prime Minister.

But Bamwebehire argues that Parliament passed a resolution against PS Bigirmana and other officials in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution.

He argues that Parliament violated the right to presumption of innocence and the right to fair treatment in the administrative decision.

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