2 January 2013

Uganda: Lango Wants Stiff Penalties for OPM Culprits

As part of the ministry of Education and Sports increased focus on vocational learning, the government set up Atiak Technical School in Amuru district in 2006, to help youths gain skills to help them become self-employed.

According to District Education Officer Ben Okwarmoi, financing the construction of school proved difficult until the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) availed monies for the project in 2008.

"We were able to build one classroom block and ablutions and were planning to build a second classroom block to cater for 80 students out of the 200," Okwarmoi said.

However, early in 2012 the Auditor Generalm, John Muwanga, questioned the lack of accountability for Shs 50bn of PRDP funds. The resulting queries developed into a full-blown storm when it emerged that the former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Geoffrey Kazinda and others had swindled the money.

Angry at the situation, donors who had been the lifeblood of the project, suspended aid to PRDP until those implicated were arrested and punished. Consequently, construction of the second classroom block at Atiak Technical School stalled.

"We are stuck and are looking for funds for this project. We have already requested the district to consider freezing some expense accounts and transfer this money to complete the classroom block in the coming financial year," Okwarmoi added.

Atiak Tech School in Amuru was planned as a skills development centre, but it is not the only one affected. A few miles away at Koch Lii primary school, the Amuru district was building a teachers' house under PRDP, so all teachers would be close to their workplace. The house was planned to house four teachers. The construction of this house has since stalled at the window level.

Anger in the north:

Following the stalling of several projects, affected by the freezing of funds meant to support PRDP, local leaders in the north are upset and are calling for strong punitive action against those implicated in the scam in the OPM. District leaders in the Lango sub-region have asked Parliament to enact a law providing for life imprisonment or a death sentence for those convicted, in addition to confiscation and sale of their properties to recover the stolen funds.

"Many people are dying day and night due to lack of medicine in health centres, many accidents are occurring because of bad roads ... so this person who stole the funds from the office of the prime minister is himself a killer," David Odong, the chairperson Alebtong district, said.

The leaders think that stiff sentences would end corruption.

"Since they have denied others services that would have led them to survive, they should also be punished in a harsh way," Alex Oremo, the chairperson of Lira district, chipped in.

The Dokolo District Chairman, John Baptist Okello-Okello, added that the government should set an example this time.

"We are calling for tough and strong political action on the part of the president...The government is failing to convict and punish the offenders," Okello-Okello said.

The leaders, who were meeting at the Northern Uganda Media Club in Gulu, also expressed disappointment with the actions so far taken by the government in investigating other scams, citing the Shs 500bn lost in the Chogm scandal.

"If they failed to convict those who lost billions in Chogm, how would they convict those few people who have stolen money for PRDP, money for pensioners and money for public servants, the president should re-establish trust by putting those caught in the act of corruption to account, Okello-Okello said.

Oyam district chairperson Charles Okello Engola said PRDP was a good programme that has been distorted by some selfish individuals. Okello-Okello pleaded with the donor agencies to reconsider their stance.

"Donors should not withdraw from giving aid to northern Uganda ... these funds are meant for the development of Northern Uganda," he said.

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