The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Tracing the Roots of Fraud in OPM

The mastermind behind the misappropriation of a substantial amounts of donor funds meant for the implementation of various initiatives, in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), has been identified as the former Principal Accountant Geoffrey Kazinda.

He did this in connivance with a network of officials in the ministry of Finance and the Treasury. However, because my name has been wrongly mentioned as one of those behind the scam, I would like readers to: appreciate my role as the permanent secretary in the OPM; appreciate the broad challenges in the execution of the duties of Civil Service; and understand that my intervention, as the accounting officer.

My role as the PS encompasses both financial and administrative oversight duties. I support the prime minister, the third deputy prime minister, the minister for Karamoja Affairs and ten other ministers. I also supervise two directorates, six commissioners, four undersecretaries along with several other principal officers.

The sheer scope and expectation of my job requires a high level of delegation and confidence-building of my team in order to achieve performance targets and register much-needed transformation in the socio-economic well-being of the nation, whilst keeping the "day-to-day" governance issues of the OPM "well-lubricated".

It is clear, the PS cannot, single-handedly, supervise every desk, sign every voucher, monitor the movements of drivers and still steer the strategic plans and policy of the office coherently.

Every officer in the OPM is deemed to bear qualities of impeccable personal character and integrity necessary for them to undertake their duties, and those delegated to them, in trust. It follows, therefore, that I cannot know about every single thing or event in the office at the same time, all the time.

Needless to say, various measures to forestall the abuse or misuse of equipment, funds and other types of resources in the OPM have been put in place before and during my tenure. This does not mean, sadly, that dishonest officials determined to profit by theft or misinformation cannot manipulate or sabotage these measures for personal gain.

History:

As a result of repeated manipulation and abuse of traditional, paper-based accounting systems, the government, with the assistance of donors, instituted the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) with a view to digitally limit and allocate rights to specific civil servants to disburse, transfer and stop payments of any kind from the treasury.

In the IFMS, multiple protocols and permissions ensure a "counter-checking" arrangement where several officials from various government departments are required to verify a transaction. As such, the digital footprint of fraudulent transactions on this system can be tracked and perpetrators brought to book. The IFMS was deemed fraud-proof until now when a widearray of vulnerabilities has been unearthed.

It should also be noted that the IFMS came with a system that calls for accountability for all funds disbursed to public officials. However, even when an accounting officer diligently and repeatedly emphasizes adherence to these standards, a lot may still go wrong.

The abysmally outrageous ravaging of funds (especially PRDP funds) in the OPM would not have been possible without the cunning machinations of Mr Geoffrey Kazinda who was, until June 2012, the Principal Accountant seconded by the Accountant General to work in that position in the OPM. I had previously reprimanded Mr Kazinda about his unprofessional conduct at work

I requested the Accountant General to replace him with someone else. My implorations were not immediately heeded. You may note that the PRDP fund was created in 2008 as a result of a joint memorandum signed between Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the government of Uganda.

Up until the heinous execution of Mr Kazinda's swindle, the funds had been duly used for their purpose, resulting in laudable outcomes in social and economic livelihood in Northern Uganda. Strict guidelines were put in place regarding the disbursement of PRDP funds, one of which was the strict usage of only Security Papers (and not Electronic Funds Transfer - EFT) whilst withdrawing them from a holding account in Bank of Uganda.

In order to execute a withdrawal and subsequent payments, both access to the IFMS, using my credentials as the accounting officer, as well as usage of signed transfer forms were necessary. Having fraudulently assigned himself my responsibilities and obtaining a password, with the aid of a Database Administrator in the ministry of Finance, Mr Kazinda, in collusion with a network of officers (in ministry of Finance and the Treasury), transferred Shs 14.8bn to a dormant account without my knowledge in December 2011.

You may note that the responsibilities and password, issued to him, authorized him to operate at the authority level of the OPM Permanent Secretary. It is from this dormant account, and with the usage of forged withdrawal instruments with forged signatures in my name that unauthorized withdrawals of this money were continually made.

A forensic analysis by the Bank of Uganda indicated that I authorized only 10.6 per cent of all payments made in the name of the OPM. The rest of the payments were fraudulently made in my name by Mr Kazinda (accounting for 74.5 per cent) and other officers (accounting for 14.9 per cent).

It is telling that all these payments were done in my name without exhaustive signature verification (as required by procedure) by the Bank of Uganda. Further, I was never informed by the Bank officials about these suspicious actions that contravened the PRDP Fund spending guidelines. It is inevitable that I would never know in time about this theft.

Any form of labelling levied against me is motivated by the outrageous nature of the offence I uncovered but is not a fair assessment of my role, as accounting officer, in the exposure of this crime. The culprits must be brought to book but to consider me one of them is outright malice.

I have continually ensured adherence to guidelines instituted by the government of Uganda to control and manage expenditure in the OPM. However, as pointed out previously, a deliberate scheme to misinform, delude, trick or conceal information that would lead to the discovery of fraud would be virtually undetected especially in the context of a conspiracy.

My signature was forged. Government money was being fraudulently stolen using my name. Readers would do well to note that it is I, in my role as accounting officer, who instituted the investigation that led to the unearthing of this theft. The matter ought to be analyzed from the point of view of the extent to which the theft was deliberately hidden from our oversight structures by a conspiracy to steal.

My performance as a civil servant has been laudable for the whole of my working career. I have risen from the lower ranks right up to the rank of PS because I delivered results and my name is unsoiled. Credibility doubts ought to be directed at the thieves who stole PRDP money and their yet-to-be-discovered accomplices together with whom a despicable network of scandalous misappropriation is perpetrated.

I have been a civil servant all my working life. I started as an assistant district commissioner, became an assistant secretary, and rose through the ranks up to my present-day designation as PS. I have instituted various ground-breaking initiatives that have enhanced the performance of a number of government departments.

For example, in 2005 I spearheaded the preparation and institution of a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and development partners to support the Public Service Reform Programme. This programme attracted funding to the tune of $70m from the World Bank. My name has never been associated with any theft or misappropriation.

My enthusiasm and commitment have earned me roles as Uganda's representative in a several capacities in negotiations, conventions, committees and working groups internationally. I have no motivation to ruin my name which I have worked so hard to build.

The author is the permanent secretary,Office of the Prime Minister. This was part of a statement Bigirimana issued ahead of appearing before Parliament's PublicAccounts committee.

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