4 December 2012

Uganda: OPM - How an Ex-Teacher Kept Sh4 Billion

MPs investigating the financial scandal at the Office of the Prime Minister were today shocked to learn that an assistant secretary received Shs 4bn on his personal bank account to supervise building projects.

Rafael Lubega, who until 2007 had been a teacher, received over Shs 4bn in 2009 on his account, to construct houses for teachers and health workers in the war-ravaged areas. Aruu County MP Odonga Otto wondered why the OPM had not handed out the contracts through a procurement process.

"Why did a teacher do this?" he asked, before equating those who stole the money to LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony.

Lubega was appearing before the Public Accounts Committee along with Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana and Under Secretary Flavia Waduwa and others. Waduwa, who handed Lubega the assignment, defended him saying, "One of our interests was to ensure we attract teachers and staff in the north and retain them and also ensure affirmative action."

Bigirimana agreed with Waduwa, "Lubega's assignments were consistent with his work."

And a defiant Lubega maintained he was up to the task.

"I did not know where the money came from. But I can be assigned any other duties. It was one of my additional responsibilities to handle and coordinate hydra-form training," he said before MPs threatened to arrest him.

According to a forensics audit on the OPM by the Auditor General, up to Shs 34.6bn from the Crisis Management and Recovery Programme account was advanced to ministry staff over two years, between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2012, contrary to regulations. The payments were made to enable OPM staff execute ministry work in various parts of the country, especially the war-ravaged northern Uganda, Karamoja and Kiryandongo.

Missing Accountability

But the committee's acting chairperson Paul Mwiru was not swayed by Lubega's explanation.

"We know some of you have undergone coaching. If you want to protect others, it's up to you. I have information that you are using one document to account for many projects," Mwiru said.

Meeting the committee earlier in the day, a cashier in the OPM, Isaiah Oonyu testified that he had received Shs 2.9bn on his personal account and the ministry kept no records for such expenditures.

"How can you dish out money on phone, in the corridors and in a drinking place? I want to see this man (Oonyu) in Luzira," Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar said.

"Such a man should not hold office," said Kasilo County MP, Elijah Okupa.

In his defence, Bigirimana told the committee that his records of accountability had been stolen. But Oonyu later on contradicted Bigirimana by reporting that the records had been picked up by detectives from the Criminal Intelligence Investigations Directorate (CIID).

Two other officials, Johnson Owaro and Richard Owiny, were also asked to account for billions of shillings they received on their accounts. Owaro received Shs 3.4bn and only accounted for Shs 654m while Owiny failed to provide any accountability for Shs 2.7bn received.

The officials return to the committee on Thursday.

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