New Vision (Kampala)

6 February 2013

Uganda: OPM Fraud - Bosses Forged Our Signatures, Drivers Testify

Drivers in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have accused their bosses of forging their signatures in attempts to account for 'air' supply in fuel requisitions worth sh6.8b, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee heard Tuesday.

Salim Ssebyala and David Muhiiji contend that a number of signatures on invoices and fuel authorization forms upon which the proprietor of New Caltex Ntinda was paid sh6.8b were forgeries.

The duo, in a recent statement with detectives, pointed out what they deemed as forgeries in documents endorsed by a one Beatrice Kezaabu, denying claims of refueling from New Caltex Ntinda multiple times in a single day.

Committee vice chairperson, Paul Mwiru said handwriting experts hired by detectives investigating the OPM scam have since confirmed the drivers' claims.

On 3rd June 2010, for example, documents submitted by Kezaabu indicate that Ssebyala got 850 liters of diesel in the morning, and allgedly came back to refuel in the afternoon, an additional 900 liters.

"Many OPM drivers have made statements denying signatures on these authorization forms," Mwiru said, as the Managing Director of New Caltex Ntinda Hussein Katumwa, too, conceded that documents upon which OPM paid him were forgeries.

A bullish Katumwa, though acknowledging receiving sh6.8b from OPM, said only interdicted Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness, Martin Owol was in possession of the authentic documents.

Asked by Maxwell Akora (Maruzi) why he decided to supply OPM fuel in such large quantities without entering into a formal agreement, Katumwa replied that the bottom line for him, as a businessman, is profit.

"For me as a businessman, I don't consider technicalities - sign here or there. I am only interested in making profits," Katumwa said, as he took legislators in circles about documents pertaining to the fuel supply.

A quick calculation by Yokasi Bihande (Bukonjo East) showed that New Caltex Ntinda should have supplied OPM 57,000 liters of diesel per day for 22 days, a scenario that was ruled out since the capacity of its diesel tankers is only 22,500 liters.

Staff in the Auditor General's Office attached to parliament said 57,000 liters of diesel would have been enough to fuel 48 trailers to far flung places like Karamoja, yet OPM doesn't have that large number of trucks.

Under close interrogation by detectives last year, Katumwa's sister and one of the directors of New Caltex Ntinda, Shamim Masembe confessed that their company account was used by OPM officials to swindle funds meant for rehabilitation programs in Northern Uganda.

Masembe told detectives that New Caltex Ntinda never supplied all the purported fuel, but huge sums of money were being wired on their company accounts and immediately removed by OPM officials.

"Be honest and admit that your company was merely used as a conduit by OPM officials to defraud the state," Alex Byarugaba (Isingiro East) said, as Katumwa doggedly stuck to his guns, saying his sister made the "confession" under duress.

Legislators heard that Owol delegated Kezaabu - an Assistant Resettlement Officer - to issue fuel authorization forms to drivers under the refugee and disaster preparedness program in OPM.

However, sources in the committee indicate that much of the said fuel was never taken, leaving some OPM officials to forge accountability.

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