New Vision (Kampala)

26 November 2012

Uganda: Nsibambi Should Face OPM Accusations Squarely

opinion

FOR 12 years as prime minister, Prof. Apolo Robins Nsibambi a.k.a. Lugubrious passed off as the smartest top Ugandan politician, until last week, when the Accountant General Gustavo Bwoch brought him into a mini-controversy, but damning, in the financial scam rocking the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

There will be collateral damages, but still too early to count. Nsibambi took great advantage of his advanced age 74, and scholarly posture as former professor of Political Science and Public Administration in East Africa to many of the current senior officials to collect all government responsibilities into his office, and no one dared challenge him on that.

Therein lies the problem and calls for returning roles to the respective line ministries. While Nsibambi has denied any wrongdoing including irregularly taking any money from OPM, he should weather the storm, instead of shedding the proverbial crocodile tears.

Nsibambi has cried foul describing Bwoch's testimony to the Public Accounts Committee, which was in camera "mendacious and regrettable," meant to tarnish his otherwise good name and record, and thereby spoil his retirement. The testimony that Nsibambi caused the removal of an auditor who had blown the initial whistle was in good faith.

Perhaps the leakers can be blamed, unless Bwoch lied hoping there is confidentiality in parliament committees. As a professor of public administration, and minister in government it is not enough for Nsibambi to claim that when political leaders travel abroad, it is the sole "duty of the technocrats," to locate and find the source of funding, otherwise why are budgets and work-plans made!

Surely as prime minister, Nsibambi knew the budgetary limitations for his travels, and so if he kept making foreign trip schedules, he ought to have known they could not be funded from direct lines unless he was laidback. Through routine top management meetings, he must have been briefed that his foreign travel budget was exhausted, and any re-allocation could only be in writing by him.

Also, if he undertook trips on assignment by the President, it would have been prudent on his part to ask the presidency or State House to reimburse to the OPM as ought to be the practice.

Nsibambi knows that the budget is the tool through which policy and programmes are achieved, and as a fulltime officer (Minister) ought to follow through.

He should not make excuses that it is the civil servant who should know where resources come from, otherwise why are ministerial policy statements presented to parliament!

It is common knowledge that when senior political leaders especially ministers, a prime minister, and the president give instructions, the civil servants usually unquestionably construe them as lawful orders, whose disobedience can lead, and, indeed, have often led to serious consequences to the junior officer's careers.

It may be disturbing that some clever civil servants took that advantage to skim off some money using their superiors' names by inflating expenses, or even forging signatures and programmes as is emerging in the case of the First Lady, Janet Museveni's travel to Israel.

And because most politicians are greedy and laid back on their responsibilities, the civil servants often co-opt them into schemes un-knowingly to protect their backs in case of eventual queries.

These schemes may be in form of huge mobile telephone airtime, excess fuel and pool vehicle errands for private businesses, garage expenses, and even cold cash, known in the system as I owe you ((IOU), which the permanent secretary, accountants, cashiers, and transport officers never ask back.

So, it is possible that once Nsibambi 'requested' PS Pius Bigirimana to help him sell his old "personal vehicle," and Bigirimana in turn sought the 'assistance' of Principal Accountant Geoffrey Kazinda, they unwittingly became 'business' partners, paving the road smooth for Kazinda's weird ways.

The collection of many responsibilities, due to greed for the donor funds led the OPM literally to take over direct implementation of programmes, instead of supervision, monitoring and evaluation (co-ordination).

OPM became and continues to be the procurement entity for even such simple items like hand hoes, spades, pick axes, seeds, grains, school desks, iron sheets, sinking bore holes, and hiring tractors to plough gardens for millet and sorghum in Karamoja!

These should be activities carried out by the respective recipient districts through their procurement entities who are better placed to know the real needs of their communities.

And so, when Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere found himself embroiled in the issue of fake hoes in Gulu and Musa Ecweru over expired posho in Katakwi, one cannot help but pity them.

Writer is the NRM deputy spokesperson

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