27 January 2013

Uganda: Malaria Officials Forge Papers for Seminars, Hiring 100 Cars

An investigation into the financial practices of officials running the ministry of Health's Malaria Control programme (MCP) shows they forged almost everything from workshops, car hires, allowances and fuel expenses.

The investigation has now shifted its focus to the extent of the forgery and theft by officials implicated in the loss of nearly Shs 78bn. The shift in the focus of the inquiry follows a review of stacks of documents provided by three suspects involved in the MCP scandal. Police confirm that the documents show the extent of the forgery by some officials involved in the anti-malaria campaign.

The forgery includes lists of vehicles purportedly hired for use in the campaigns and receipts for nonexistent workshops and radio talk-shows, allegedly held upcountry. The money was supposed to be used in sensitizing the public on the use of long-lasting treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. The officials implicated in the scam include Bosco Agaba, a programme officer in MCP, Mary Byangire Sendi, a senior health educationist and Connie Balayo Muzaki, a senior health environmentalist.

The trio, who provided the documents, is out on bond after they were first arrested last November on allegations of swindling Shs 78bn from the programme. In some of the paper work produced, the officials claimed to have hired 100 cars for a countryside sensitization campaign, a claim the ministry roundly disowns.

A December 11, 2012 letter from the Permanent Secretary, ministry of Health, Dr Asuman Lukwago states: "We have searched and crosschecked our records, files and National Malaria Control Programme and procurement and disposal Unit and found no record of any process involving the procurement of the stated vehicles."

A further look at the Uganda Revenue Authority's central registry shows that some of the vehicles couldn't have been used in the NMCP work. For instance, the accountability form shows that a vehicle registration number UAG 395L was hired. But information from the central registry shows it is a Scania truck, which the MCP could not have used. Another vehicle listed as hired Reg. No. UAM 279N was an Isuzu Fuso truck.

A detective on the team has told The Observer that apart from forging the list of vehicles purportedly hired, some Shs 47m is unaccounted for in fuel expenses, alleged to have been used in 14 of the 40 districts where the programme was implemented.

"We have gone to some of these petrol stations. The owners have told us that the receipts presented to us don't belong to them," the detective said.

The three officials also accounted for Shs 150m allegedly paid out to participants at a workshop for district educators at a Kampala hotel. However, the police say this accountability is also forged. Those, who attended the workshop, told the police that it didn't last the seven days claimed by Sendi.

Instead the officials allegedly deducted Shs 180,000 from each of the participants as a registration fee for a health educators association, which police now say doesn't exist. The officials also deducted a further Shs 20,000 from each of participants' allowances for an unspecified reason. Apart from deducting money, Sendi and her team also made double and sometime triple payments to the same individuals.

For instance, Lubega WK, Oyet Vincent, William Ogwang, Bimenyi Adong and Obote Odwari signed for money on two occasions. In all, the lists show that 10 people signed twice for money, accounting for Shs 7 million. In another batch of accountability papers handed to the police, the officials claimed for money for workshops for more days than they actually spent.

For example, one official requested for money for six days at a workshop when in fact he spent only three days.

"A lot of money was lost in this enjawulo (inflation of rates)," the detective said.

To that end, Shs 116m for social mobilization and advocacy for use of long-lasting mosquito nets also remains unaccounted for. In other cases, the officials reportedly inflated the cost of talk shows at upcountry stations.

"The records from the radio stations are different from those presented by the officials," the police said.

Consequently, the suspects are looking at new charges of abuse of office, false accounting and causing financial loss. The probe is the latest leg of a search for lost money after an investigation in the Office of the Prime Minister. The police is now probing all ministries and departments.

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