The Independent (Kampala)

17 November 2012

Uganda: The Permanent Secretary Bigirimana Saga

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It's a shame when Parliament trades in mob justice without a care for the evidence

Presently, the debate obtaining in and outside Parliament is the unilateral call on the executive to force the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Pius Bigirimana, out of office in public interest.

None of these self-professed anti-corruption crusaders makes a case, that makes sense, both in law and logic, on why Bigirimana should resign and or be interdicted for the stinking and glaring transgressions of a public officer, OPM Principal Accounting Officer Godfrey Kazinda, who already has come face to face with the long arm of the law.

I have noticed over time that some MPs have divested themselves of the right of access to information with the result that they have ended up feeding the public on chorus distortions which border on mob justice. Either their levels of know-how in the law are compromised or they deliberately desire to settle personal scores and gain political victory by shooting down whosoever they lay their hands on.

For the anti-corruption crusade to appear credible it is my passionate call to every crusader, MP or otherwise, to equip themselves with information and facts. I associate myself with all manner of voices which advocate for the change of the name of mismanagement of public resources from corruption to "loot" and or "plunder".

However to the extent that there is no will on the part of the anti-corruption crusaders to accord all manner of implicated persons; be they NRM or opposition, audience to make their case and or palliate their conduct, I cannot help but ask to be let off the anti-corruption crusade wagon.

I dare say that the method nowadays employed in the war against corruption, is itself corrupt. We risk losing the gains so far made because the whole thing has become the kind of mob justice that I used to witness in Kazo cattle market. Here, cattle theft suspect would be punished there and then, without recourse to a fair hearing. Stories would emerge in the end, regrettably, that the mob justice court concentrated on the innocent suspects and lost sight of the guilty ones.

It is in this regard that I take exception to and condemn in the strongest terms possible, any voice of agitation for the resignation of Bigirimana, when there is not a single accusing finger that implicates him.

If any one cared to access information in the OPM regarding what is now notorious referred to as the 'Kazinda scam', one would applaud and salute Bigirimana for single handedly generating processes that have led to the successful unearthing of highly wired and insulated cobweb of white collar graft in public service.

In exercise of my right of access to public information, I have sought and obtained information from the responsible state institution regarding the OPM plunder and I can write with no fear of contradiction that Bigirimana has absolutely nothing to do with the 'Kazinda scam'.

I say so because the available audit trail exonerates him almost 100%. It is on record that as far back, as January 10, 2011, Bigirimana, with pen on paper, drew Kazinda's attention to a litany of transgressions and warned him, inter alia as follows: "it has been brought to my attention that you create a false impression that your irregular behavior and poor work habits have got my blessing. This kind of conduct cannot be tolerated in the public service".

It is also on record that on January 18, 2011, Bigirimana, issued a directive to Kazinda as follows: "to promote transparency, connect all heads of department to the Integrated Financial Management System" which Kazinda declined to do.

The most critical point which, if paid attention to, would get the anti-corruption crusaders rethinking their biases and prejudices is that principal accountants, whosoever they are, are not answerable to the PS. They are posted, transferred, withdrawn and disciplined by the Accountant General not the PS. The person worth crucifying for Kazinda's transgressions is his boss, the Accountant General. Surprisingly, no one seems to point an accusing finger in his direction thus justifying a view shared in private and in public that Bigirimana is the proverbial "grass that suffers" in the cold war that is slowly but surely taking shape between two politically unassailable elephants in the OPM.

It is also public information that on January 28, 2011, Bigirimana wrote to the Accountant General drawing to his attention to what he called Kazinda's "unsatisfactory conduct" and reiterated the contents of his January 10, 2011 warning letter to Kazinda and summed up by calling upon the Accountant General ". . . to warn Kazinda and if he can't change to withdraw him and post someone else to OPM who will observe the law and follow treasury accounting instructions." Notwithstanding Bigirimana's unequivocal call to the Accountant General, Kazinda was neither reprimanded nor withdrawn. What more should Bigirimana have done for which I should give my stamp of approval to calls to have him resign?

It is also true that on July 9, 2012, Bigirimana wrote to the Accountant General drawing to his attention the fact that Kazinda had been away without official leave from June 6, 2012.

All these make a case that all Bigirimana could do to Kazina was to report him to his supervisor, the Accountant General, who unfortunately was unwilling to whip Kazinda into line.

It is also true that on July 11, 2012, Bigirimana wrote to Kazinda strongly warning him to terminate his prolonged absence from office but all the same Kazinda did not relent.

Sick and tired of Kazinda's plunder, Bigirimana, unprompted by any authority, wrote to the Auditor General on July 17, 2012 requesting for a Value- for-Money audit on all special programs in the OPM for the period July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2012. If Bigirimana had reason to believe that for one reason or another, he was a beneficiary of Kazinda's syndicate, why would he be stupid to bring on board the Auditor General well knowing that the Auditor General's findings were likely to be counterproductive?

It is the same Bigirimana who, on July 18, 2012, requested the Inspector General of Police to interest himself with Kazinda's inexcusable absence from office for over a month and at the same time requested the IGP to Investigate allegations that Kazinda was ferrying public documents from his office to unknown places, forging the PS' signature and co-mingling funds. By this letter to the IGP, Bigirimana also unmoved by any one invited police to trace the whereabouts of Kazinda and thanks to CID boss, Grace Akullo's steadfastness, just the next day police swung into action and unearthed the terrible filth. Instead of being saluted for these great strides, Bigirimana is now being bashed as if he is the one who offered corruption tutorials to the implicated officials.

Noteworthy is the fact that, the Value-for-Money Audit conducted by the Auditor General on October 22, 2012 made stunning revelations, none of which points an accusing finger against Bigirimana.

The salient parts of that audit are breath taking, namely that;

a) On December 1, 2011, the Accountant General together with Kazinda, without the knowledge of Bigirimana transferred Shs 14.8 billion to a dormant account disguising it as an Electronic Fund Transfer file.

b) The Auditor General found out that this fraud originated from Treasury and a one Wilbert Okello and Tony Yawe were responsible.

c) The Auditor General also discovered that officers from Ministry of finance, namely David Mugisha and Bright Atwine were involved.

d) It was also discovered that the Accountant General himself and a one Mpoza, without Bigirimana's knowledge, authorised the transfer by Kazinda of the Shs 14.8 billion. Why would one now fail to see that the Accountant General was a weaving thread in Kazinda's cobweb of fraud? Is it any harder for one to know that Kazinda could neither be reprimanded nor withdrawn from OPM as earlier requested by Bigirimana because to do so would be to close a pipeline of illicit enrichment?

e) The value for money audit also reveals that a one Lubega Chris, the database administrator in ministry of finance arbitrarily assigned the responsibility of invoice approval, which ordinarily is the exclusive preserve of Bigirimana as PS, to Kazinda and as a result Kazinda got the luxury to access Shs 16.2 billion behind Bigirimana's back.

f) The same value for money audit also reveals that out of 100% of payments made in the audited period, 74.5% of those payments was arbitrarily made by Kazinda, without the knowledge of Bigirimana, as a result, of course, of the authority exclusively yet fraudulently assigned to him by the database manager.

g) It was also discovered that 121 payment instructions to the tune of Shs 13.5 billion were honoured by Bank of Uganda notwithstanding that the signatures on all the 121 payment instructions were not in any way similar to the specimen signature of Bigirimana kept by Bank of Uganda, which under both abnormal and normal circumstances, Bank of Uganda is by law enjoined to verify before honoring any payment instruction.

h) It is further revealed by the value for money audit that it was solely the fraudulent scheme of the Accountant General in cohorts with Kazinda to rejuvenate the Crisis Management Account on which they transferred Shs 14.8 billion in December 2011 and January 2012, completely without the knowledge of Bigirimana.

i) It was also discovered that Kazinda together with a one Owor had irregularly "paid" Shs 6 billion to Caltex petro station. Surprisingly this money was followed and withdrawn soon thereafter by the same Kazinda and Owor. This too, according to the audit, was unknown to Bigirimana.

In view of the above, the question I keep asking myself is; on what basis do these MPs want Bigirimana to resign?

One cannot be interdicted unless the internal machinery of government has pointed an accusing figure in one's work ethic, thus requiring that one be exhaustively investigated. When a situation like this arises, a public servant is interdicted on half pay pending the conclusion of investigations.

For the case of Bigirimana, no such process has been set by the appropriate machinery of government to make him a deserving case of an interdiction. All there is are audit queries, to which, in accordance with the Audit Act and the Audit regulations in force in Uganda, he is only required to respond, to the satisfaction of the Auditor General.

Besides the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which executes the public accountability mandate on behalf of Parliament, has not interacted with Bigirimana on the Kazinda scam and any other subject. The call by the MPS for Bigirimana's resignation and or interdiction in complete disregard of due process, in my view, borders on translating parliamentary immunity into parliamentary impunity. The MPs responsible for this high handed and arbitrary work ethic are committing "political defilement".

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