The Observer (Kampala)

16 November 2012

Uganda: Treasury Boss Pins Bigirimana

There was more pressure on the office of the permanent secretary Pius Bigirimana yesterday, after a Treasury official accused him of pushing for the transfer of an official now seen as a soldier in the war against grand theft.

Speaking at the parliamentary Public Accounts committee (PAC) inquiry into the OPM financial scandal Keith Muhakanizi admitted transferring the whistleblower Shaban Wejula, but only at the urging of Bigirimana.

Wejula was the internal auditor who first uncovered the financial impropriety in the office. Muhakanizi yesterday told the lawmakers on oath that he did not thoroughly probe the request from Bigirimana.

"I am not denying anything and I need to be sincere to you honourable members that I acted on the faith of the letter I received from the PS," Muhakanizi told the committee.

On Tuesday, when PAC opened its inquiry into the misappropriation of funds meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme, it heard from the Accountant General, Gustavio Bwoch and Secretary to the Treasury Chris Kassami. The two said Wejula was "unfairly" removed from the OPM by Muhakanizi at the urging of the then Prime Minister, Apolo Nsibambi and Bigirimana.

"We are privy to information from the accountant general and the secretary to the treasury that you transferred Wejula who had detected fraud in the OPM. What was your motive and justification for his transfer?" PAC's lead counsel, Henry Musasizi (NRM-Rubanda East) asked.

Muhakanizi put the blame on Bigirimana. "Mr [Bigirimana] rang me claiming that the official (Wejula) was incompetent and that he had failed to execute his assignments in the office," he said.

Muhakanizi added; "He informed me that the officer had started demanding for bribes, so I told him that before I honour his request he has to put it in writing."

The MPs however, seemed dissatisfied and probed more. For instance, they observed that Muhakanizi approved Wejula's transfer before he received the formal communication from Bigirimana.

"In the telephone communication, you told him to write before you effect the transfer. But, it is clear from the letters that you approved the transfer on 19th April, 2010 before receiving a formal request from Bigirimana on the 21st April, 2010," the PAC Vice Chairperson, Paul Mwiru (FDC-Jinja East) noted.

The lawmakers also wondered why Muhakanizi did not give Wejula a fair hearing and simply heeded Bigirimana and Nsibambi's calls for Wejula's transfer.

"I see a gross weakness on the part of your office. Because how could you send an internal auditor to a ministry and again withdraw him on the request of the people he/she was supposed to audit? This meant that there was either negligence or connivance on your part," said the Western Youth MP, Gerard Karuhanga (Independent). Apparently, Muhakanizi conceded a weakness on his part.

However, Muhakanizi denied he was pushed by Prof. Apolo Nsibambi to remove Wejula. "I would like to put this clear that I was never instructed by Nsibambi to transfer Wejula but he requested that some officials were disturbing his PS," he said. On Wednesday Nsibambi denied having pushed for the transfer of Wejula.

According to documents before PAC, in a July 2009 internal audit report, Wejula had revealed that Centenary Bank Account No 10030102351210 had been illegally opened by OPM officials and Shs 3.8 billion deposited using the Electronic Funds Transfer system under the guise of Kasimo project.

But, the Auditor General revealed to PAC that if Wejula had been left to continue with his work at OPM more fraud would have been detected and indeed, the several fraudulent transfers of over 20bn would not have been possible.

Fraudulent

Muhakanizi was also pinned for allowing the OPM withdraw funds from Bank of Uganda beyond the limit of Shs 20million per week.

"A review of communication between MoFPED, OPM and the BOU on the cash withdrawal limits reveals that on 13th August, 2010 your office granted special permission to the accounting officer of OPM to withdrawal cash above the limit of 20m. For instance, on 8th October, 2010 the MoFPED granted OPM blanket authority to withdraw up to Shs100m but subject to proper accountability of the previous withdrawal, this was further extended on 14th July, 2011. What was your motive?" Musasizi asked.

Muhakanizi said he authorized a higher cash withdrawal limit at the request from Bigirimana. "The PS requested me that I should increase on his cash withdraw limit based on the view that he had very many ministers and disasters which had to be funded," he said. However, the lawmakers citing the Auditor General's report said that this clearance from the treasury was rather ambiguous.

"The bank would not know whether funds were accounted for and it does not mention whether the limit is per account [or] of the whole entity. Indeed, the offer was grossly abused by OPM to the extent of Shs100m a day," said the Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso.

Besides, the AG notes that these cash withdrawals do not exonerate BoU because in the worst case scenario the authority allows a maximum withdrawal of Shs100m. "Negligence on the part of the bank is apparent and collusion with OPM staff cannot be ruled out," the AG's report notes.

Systemic

Meanwhile, the committee also discovered that the MoFED Data center manager, Enoch Guma and Ssemakula (Commissioner Finacial Management Services) should also be reprimanded for failure to supervise the IT system.

Guma and Ssemakula tried to explain their role but in vain. "There was organized connivance and it was hard to be detected since some people in the system were parties to the theft," Guma said.

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