opinionBy John Ateenyi Kisembo
The permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, (OPM) Pius Bigirimana has been running full-page articles in several newspapers, one of them running in The Observer of December 7-9, 2012, trying to convince the world that in the OPM fraud case, he is the hero and Geoffrey Kazinda, the principal accountant, is the villain.
He says Kazinda has been identified as the mastermind of the fraud, and his (Bigirimana) name has been wrongly mentioned in the scam. But who has identified Kazinda as the mastermind, and who has wrongly mentioned Bigirimana in the scam?
The Auditor General's report on the OPM fraud names several culprits including the PS, the principal accountant, some Treasury officials, Bank of Uganda and OPM staff, among others. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) is still probing the Auditor Generals findings further.
The matter has not yet reached the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine the degree of each of the named person's involvement in the fraud and to direct as to who should be prosecuted and who should not.
No trial has, therefore, taken place to determine who is guilty and who is not. On what basis does Bigirimana deem Kazinda the sole mastermind, and why does he refer to himself as wrongly mentioned?
Bigirimana is assigning himself the role of a whistleblower, complainant, investigator, prosecutor, judge, assessor and hangman in a case where he is one of the suspects. He seems to be very nervous, and is striving to extricate himself from the fray.
But for now, he is better off holding his fire the way Jimmy Lwamafa, the PS ministry of Public Service, has done regarding the pensions scam, because in the court of public opinion so far, Bigirimana is no less a villain than Kazinda.
Bigirimana laments that he failed to detect Kazinda's so-called machinations because the duties of a PS are so enormous and require high-level delegation of roles. Here, he concedes that he, in the first place, does not measure up to the task of a PS. True, there are hard jobs, and that of a PS seems to be one of them, but even hard jobs must be done, and done well.
A long-serving administrator like Bigirimana ought to know that the basic and core function of an accounting officer, and the defining role of that office, is to ensure proper management and control of public funds as dictated by Articles 164 and 174 of the 1995 Constitution, as well as Section 8 of the Public Finance and Accountability Act of 2003.
He must know that if he directs or concurs in the use of public funds contrary to existing instructions, he shall be accountable for any loss arising from such action. Therefore, trying to push the blame for every aspect of the fraud to Kazinda and others is actually an exercise in futility.
In sum, proper use, strict control of and proper accountability for public funds is the central reason why an accounting officer exists in an institution and failure to live to the expectations of that office is sufficient reason for one to be deemed incompetent and fired. Having delegated this role, or part of it, is no excuse for failure to safeguard public resources because it is a cardinal principle of Administrative Law, that you cannot abdicate your core responsibility and the outcomes thereof by simply delegating it to a subordinate.
As the main man, you remain answerable for the results. While he argues that "the fraud would not have succeeded without Kazinda's machinations", it is equally evident that Kazinda's machinations would not have materialized without Bigirimana's participation, negligence, recklessness or incompetence.
The reckless manner in which he, with relish, went ahead to spend the monies which had been fraudulently transferred to a dormant account without establishing its source and purpose from the right authorities is the same manner in which he cared less whether the funds under his charge were safe or not.
The PS's argument that Kazinda had usurped the powers of accounting officer represents yet another case of a boss conceding defeat at the hands of his subordinate. Why blow the whistle in 2012 when an Internal Auditor had alerted him about the fraud in 2009? Why would one blow the whistle on Kazinda and in the same vein block Kazinda from facing an investigating body like PAC?
Although the developments in OPM are despicable, he blows his own trumpet, referring to himself as a civil servant with a laudable performance record, an unsoiled name, groundbreaking initiatives, and not in a hurry to ruin his hard-built image. But it is always better to let others give one credit than give credit to oneself.
The author is a Ugandan law student (LLM) At University of Wits.