25 November 2012

Uganda: OPM Saga - Finance Minister Writes to Ireland

Despite receiving a written promise from finance minister Maria Kiwanuka, that all stolen aid money will be refunded, Ireland will withhold 16m Euros aid until the thieves pay back the sh39.6b that they had released for the rehabilitation of northern Uganda.

Irish media on Saturday quoted Eamon Gilmore (Ireland Minister for Foreign Affairs), as saying they expected the money to be paid back within weeks or months.

Speaking after the release of an Irish government report on the scandal, Gilmore told reporters that the Government had a "written undertaking" from Kiwanuka, that the money would be repaid.

"It was a very well-organised, very sophisticated fraud that took place in the Prime Minister's office in Uganda. It involved the defrauding of about 12m Euros, which was Irish aid money," Gilmore said.

"The important thing here is that it was detected early. We acted quickly by suspending all Irish aid to the Ugandan government. The money is now to be re-paid and the people responsible have either been arrested or suspended."

Speaking in Dublin Castle prior to an address on Ireland's EU presidency, Galmore pointed out that he had ordered a "full review" of his own department's risk assessment procedures.

"Clearly, there are lessons that have to be learned from this, obviously for the Ugandan government and, from our own point of view as well, in relation to our own risk assessment procedures.The systems control [in the department] could have been stronger."

"I have instructed my officials to carry out a full review of our risk assessment, to make sure we are less vulnerable to this type of fraud," Ireland's second in command said.

Asked about repayment of the stolen funds, he said: "We have got a written undertaking from the finance minister in Uganda that the money is being paid back."

The theft of funds intended for the post war rehabilitation of the North under the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) was detected by the Auditor General, John Muwanga. Several officials have since been interdicted, while others have been arrested.

The key suspect, Godfrey Kazinda, who was the principal accountant at the time, is facing charges of fraud in court, while the permanent secretary Pius Bigirimana, who is the accounting officer, remains defiant, pleading his innocence.

President Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly defended him as a whistle blower.

The UK, Norway and Sweden also suspended aid over the scam. Ireland sent in a team from its evaluation and audit unit of the department of foreign affairs to examine how the funds were stolen.

The team released its report on Friday.

According to the Irish Times, their report states that: "This was a very sophisticated, well-thought-out fraud, involving a high level of collusion at a senior level.

The fraud was conceived and carried out by personnel who had an intimate knowledge of systems within the finance ministry, the Office of the Prime Minister and Bank of Uganda."

"It is impossible to know who the ultimate beneficiaries of the funds were," the report adds.

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