12 February 2013

Uganda: Parliament's Speaker Blocks Corruption Probe

The three-month parliamentary investigation into the swindle of Shs 50bn from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has been stopped abruptly by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.

Kadaga ordered the Public Accounts committee to stop the investigations until the parallel court cases have been disposed of. Last year, PAC was called into action after a report by the Auditor General found that billions of donor funds meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) in northern Uganda had been mismanaged by officials in the OPM.

The committee last week sought to meet the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, and the Minister of Karamoja Affairs, Janet Museveni, whose names were cited in the Auditor General's report. However, both officials separately informed PAC that they would not be available until later. It is not clear whether the halting of the proceedings has anything to do with the summoning of Mbabazi and the First Lady, but the timing will inevitably fan speculation in that direction.

According to the PAC chairperson and Terego MP, Kasiano Wadri (FDC), the speaker wrote to him urging his committee to stop the probe.

"I got a surprise yesterday when I came to Parliament. I received a letter from the office of the speaker addressed to me as the chairman of PAC, to my vice and the deputy speaker to the effect that we should halt our probe into the issues of financial impropriety in the Office of the Prime Minister,"  Wadri said.

"Her decision was premised on a letter she received from the DPP to the effect that the witnesses who are appearing before us are either state witnesses in courts of law or accused persons and further revelations to our committee may jeopardize the ongoing cases in court," he said, adding that the DPP asked the speaker to halt the committee proceedings.

"The Right Hon speaker has advised that further witnesses before us will be prejudicial to the cases going on in court and we have been advised to refer to rule 64 of our Rules of Procedure," Wadri said.

Rule 64 states that any matter which is before any competent courts of law should not be discussed by Parliament or committees of Parliament.

"It is on that basis that we have decided to listen to the legal counsel given to us by the speaker...because we listen and abide by her rulings," Wadri said.

On February 7, the Director of Public Prosecutions Richard Butera asked Kadaga to step in.

"I write to request you, Right Hon speaker, to guide the committee not to continue proceedings that are clearly prejudicial to our ongoing court criminal proceedings," he wrote. "It should be left to court to determine the cases instead of having parallel hearings."

Not over yet

Wadri says, however, that it's not over yet.

"The proceedings of PAC over this issue will continue and we shall start from where we stopped. Those we have not touched, we shall come to them because we can't just waste taxpayers' money for three months and stop at that, we must bring it to the logical conclusion," he said.

Wadri added he was not really surprised by the development but wondered, however, why the state had chosen to stop them now.

"We have spent a longer time on this but the state chose to come and stop us. Is it because certain personalities should have appeared before us last week that the state goes to consult? Those are questions which everybody should ask and be able to answer...," Wadri told The Observer in an interview.

PAC was supposed to interface with Mbabazi and Mrs Museveni to enrich the investigation. However, a group of MPs protested the move to summon the two officials, saying they had nothing to do with the investigation.

The committee had also written to the Prisons authorities summoning Geoffrey Kazinda, the interdicted OPM principal accountant, seen as the principal suspect in the fraud.

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