20 November 2012

Uganda: Daily Mail Should Know Opm Probe Still Going On


IN their online article last week, The Daily Mail's Sam Greenhill and Daniel Martin claimed that £10m (sh42b), a joint donation from the UK, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden to Uganda's Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) ended up in private bank accounts of Amama Mbabazi.

As prime minister, Mbabazi does not handle public funds at all. By publicly apologising to development partners when he met them last week, he was playing his political role. In no way was this admission of personal guilt.

As leader of Government business in Parliament, secretary general of the National Resistance Movement party and avowed nationalist, he is at the centre of fighting corruption in the country and cannot be the one to undermine his own efforts.

Obviously, this allegation should be dismissed outright with the contempt it deserves. There has been no impropriety on the part of the Prime Minister and the Auditor General's report is clear on what their forensic investigations have unearthed as the rot in the OPM.

It is important that the person of the Prime Minister and the OPM are clearly distinguished, otherwise, it looks like an orchestrated smear campaign to unjustifiably soil his name at whatever cost.

Quite understandably, donors have a right to protect their money and we are sure they in no way endorse these media falsehoods; neither do we. We have seen reporting in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Copenhagen Post that have tried to give the British and other people an unbiased side to the story as this aid comes from them.

UK editors such as The Daily Mail's should guard against motivation to publish blatant lies that smack of glaring malice. The Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid, has had substantial and controversial political positions over its history.

A tabloid with current circulation standing at close to two million should do all it can to ensure its reporting is factual, otherwise, the damage becomes irreparable. These blatant lies as well as fraud in OPM are, precisely, intolerable to Mbabazi and that is why he apologised for the mess on behalf of the Government and the people of Uganda.

To repeat what he said, this discovery of fraud was a result of investigations he sanctioned when the accounting officer (permanent secretary) informed him of suspicious conduct of some OPM officials.

The suspension of aid, therefore, by the donor countries supporting the OPM programmes for which their money was meant is an appropriate measure to safeguard these programmes.

Naturally, it will have a negative impact on the programmes but equally important is to restore faith that this money, when disbursement resumes, will reach its intended beneficiaries.

We implore The Daily Mail and other media that wish to comment on this subject to read the full Auditor General's report.

Anyone who has read this report in its entirety knows that nowhere does Mbabazi's name feature even remotely as a beneficiary of the stolen money. It is, therefore, erroneous for anyone to link him to the alleged theft.

To reiterate the Prime Minister's position on this, the Government intends to bring this investigation to its logical conclusion and apprehend all those responsible for this fraud.

The Government will also take measures to ensure that this money is refunded and necessary actions taken to protect future public resources, whether locally or internationally sourced.

The writer is the head of Prime Minister's Press Unit

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