The Observer (Kampala)

20 November 2012

Uganda: Report Shows Bigirimana Was Helpless to Stop Fraud

opinion

In The New Vision of November 6, 2012, a one Derrick Odokorach took a bite at me for what he termed my "defending the indefensible" and "whitewashing a scandal."

He was responding to my opinion in The Observer (See: 'MPs carried out mob justice on Bigirimana'). I wish to submit here that in the entire audit report, as far as Bigirimana is concerned, all that comes to the fore are audit queries which, by their very nature, are routine questions which the accounting officer has to charity whenever lapses are discovered in the accountability trail.

This is neither morally sinful nor foreign to the accounting culture in government. I am relentless in my argument that we should accept to draw a distinction between audit queries on the one hand, and outright theft? Where someone's hand is caught in the till ? on the other.

Outright theft is actionable per se, which is what has happened to Geoffrey Kazinda and his ilk, but audit queries are subject to internal administrative sanctions. Natural justice demands that PAC members exercise restraint and wait for everybody implicated in the OPM scam to appear before them.

If Parliament would, for once, refrain from chorus indictments and convictions of guilt before the queried persons plead guilty or are proven guilty, this country would make great strides in generating building blocks for a culture of zero tolerance to corruption. By neglecting to contextualise my assessment of the audit report, Mr Odokorach unfairly schemed to portray me as a blind Bigirimana apologist, which I will never be.

The audit report on page 10, bullet 6.1.1(c), attacks a one Tonny Yawe and Wilber Okello for fraudulently transferring 14.8bn from PRDP to "crisis management and recovery programme" account.

It demonstrates that this was outright fraud on the part of those named officials. On page 11 of the report, evidence of deliberate cover-up of fraud is unveiled, whereby the transfer of Shs 14.8bn is solely attributed to ministry of Finance officials, who cunningly named this as a donation by the Irish government for crisis management programme activities in Karamoja.

The report clearly implicates officials in the ministry of Finance (MOFPED), the Treasury, BoU, the Accountant General. When any fair and balanced mind reads pages 10 and 11 of the report, it is clear that it was not at all humanly possible for Bigirimana to detect and prevent the kind of high-level e-fraud hatched and incubated by highly-skilled people using highly sophisticated software.

Pages 11 and 12 also show clearly that Shs 5.2bn was fraudulently transferred by named officials and Bigirimana is not among them. On pages 12 and 13, bullet 6.1.1 (e), the report presents indelible evidence of irregular allocation of Bigirimana's responsibility to Kazinda by the ministry of Finance Database Administrator, a one Chris Lubega, resulting in loss of Shs 16,222,877,129, notwithstanding that approval of invoices falls within the exclusive purview of Bigirimana as the accounting officer.

The public needs to know that as far as the ministry of Finance database is concerned, effective February 1, 2011, Geoffrey Kazinda became both the PS of OPM and the principal accountant. It meant that the latter would sign all payment invoices in his capacity as principal accountant and again countersign as the 'permanent secretary'.

On page 13 of the report, the Auditor General's conclusion is that the Treasury/ministry of Finance as the regulator of budget and project financing, caused financial loss to government when they failed to use generic passwords in sensitive areas, failed to ensure timely bank reconciliations which would have enhanced detection of fraud, failed to generate internal audit of treasury systems, failed to install cameras in the UCS server room, hence facilitating fraud and illicit activity.

If Mr Odokorach ever read bullet 6.2.3.1, page 16 of the report, he must have appreciated that the Auditor General faults Bank of Uganda and not Bigirimana for facilitating fraud when they cleared 61 non-cash payments totalling to a financial loss of Shs 10,928,904,304/= without first verifying with Bigirimana, which is a condition sine quanon for clearance of non-cash payments by BoU.

Still the report exposes BoU in a sense that where an attempt at confirmation was done, BoU, in isolated cases, chose to confirm only with Kazinda and completely sidestepped Bigirimana not withstanding that he was the accounting officer and the principal signatory whose genuine signature was an ignition key for any non-cash payment.

As a result, 74.5% of 473 security papers presented, totalling to 13.454bn, were designedly approved by BOU without confirming with Bigirimana. BoU designedly confirmed only with Kazinda. BoU only confirmed a paltry 10.6% with Bigirimana while 14.9% was confirmed with other officials who had completely no mandate in the line of accounting.

Hence, 121 payment instructions were fraudulently honoured by BoU, when they actually bore signatures that differed from Bigirimana's specimen signature in the possession of BoU. BoU, together with MOFPED, is blamed in the audit report for neglecting to close dormant accounts notwithstanding that the law requires that bank accounts which are not operational for 24 months must be closed and the credit balance thereon transferred to the consolidated fund account.

As a result of BoU's failure to close these accounts, Kazinda had Shs 20.17bn irregularly transferred on the Crisis Management Account which itself had been dormant since 2009. On page 21, bullet 6.3.2 of the report, Bigirimana is queried only for not inquiring as to the source of this Shs 20bn before authorising its expenditure.

I am sure Mr Odokorach appreciates that the report does not say or remotely suggests that "Bigirimana too played a role in the loss." It is to be appreciated that on page 22, bullet 6.3.3, the report acknowledges how, where, and to what extent Bigirimana utilised part of this money except that part of this money, i.e., Shs 4,661,563,438 and Shs 980,000,000 was no longer available for spending as it had already been fraudulently withdrawn and spent by Kazinda and the audit report takes stock of this in bullet 6.3.3.1, page 23.

It would thus be extremely unfair for Parliament to say that any query in any accounting period should automatically lead to the interdiction/resignation of an accounting officer. If this were to be applied across the board, my conscience defends me in the assertion that no ministry in the Republic of Uganda would have a PS in its service because whichever accounting officer always has a series of audit queries.

What is critical, in my view, is: arising from the audit report, has the responsible accounting officer answered the queries to the satisfaction of PAC?

The report queries Bigirimana for spending money on procurement of motor vehicles and Hydraform machines yet prior to receiving these funds there was indication of already subsisting contracts for the procurement of those goods and services.

The audit report, however, recognises that this query can only be resolved in the context of the assurances from the PS, MOFPED, that funds would be available by way of a supplementary budget on the basis whereof OPM entered into contracts for supply of motor vehicles and Hydraform machines. Bigirimana explained that this supplementary funding did not materialize and he had to use his proactive domain to call to his help these funds, which to him had become part and parcel of the OPM resource envelope.

Under bullet 6.3.3.2, page 23, the audit report raises a query as to why Bigirimana authorised cash withdrawals. Here, Bigirimana explained that the point to take into account is that cash withdrawals and deposits on individual accounts is a cross-cutting culture and practice in all ministries and departments of government and the penalty for it, if any, should spare nobody.

Public servants on whose individual accounts this money was credited are named in the report. The report makes mention of how much was credited thereon and for what purpose. The pivotal question would be: is there accountability on how and for what purpose this money was spent? If the answer emerges as No, the responsible individual, be it Bigirimana or any other, should be made to explain themselves and whosoever does not do so to the satisfaction of PAC should face the wrath of the law, as simple as that.

Key on this query is the fact that the report acknowledges on page 23, bullet 6.3.3.2, that the queried cash withdrawal of Shs 3,237,987,522 was way above half of it, i.e., Shs 1,775,404,796 as a component of money withdrawn and utilised by Kazinda on the strength of forged and unverified signatures.

Odokorach queries Bigirimana for making transfers to other accounts, however, he misses bullet 6.3.3.3, page 23 of the report which clearly attributes this transgression to Isaiah Oonyu, a cashier. Page 26, bullet 6.3.6 shows that a total of Shs 34,610,365,101 was deposited on personal accounts and evidence of that payment went missing, courtesy of the Principal Accountant ferrying files out of office.

There are police statements from OPM's lower ranks attesting to the fact that Kazinda ferried, and or caused to be ferried, to private destinations, files that bore these queried receipts. Bullets 6.3.6.1 and 6.3.6.2, page 27, of the report take stock of monies to the tune of Shs 2,916,833,943 which are recoverable from two named cashiers. The entire bullet 6.3.6.3, page 28, of the report faults officers other than Bigirimana for false accounting.

From the above analysis, it is my considered submission that Mr Odokorach did not put my article in its exhaustive context; for if he had so done, he too would have agreed with me that Bigirimana has no accusation of financial impropriety to his name.

The author is an advocate and managing partner, Kanduho and Co. Advocates.

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