12 February 2013

Uganda: Kazinda - Witnesses or Suspects?

The ongoing trial of Geoffrey Kazinda throws up one surprise after another. Siraje Lubwama & Derrick Kiyonga report that some of the people testifying as state witnesses could end up being suspects.

Some of the state witnesses in the trial of the former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister, Geoffrey Kazinda, are potential suspects, the defendant's lawyer MacDusman Kabega, has said. Kabega, who was cross examining the witnesses in the anti-corruption High court on Monday, said that Arthur Mumanyire, an accountant, and Isaiah Onyo were testifying against Kazinda simply to shield themselves from prosecution.

Kazinda, 43, is facing 29 counts of forgery of Bank of Uganda security papers, cash withdraw forms, causing financial loss, embezzlement and forging the signature of Pius Bigirimana, the OPM Permanent Secretary. His case is before Justice David Wangutusi. During the hearing, Onyo told court that he was still on police bond after he was arrested for causing financial loss of an unspecified amount of money, abuse of office and embezzling Shs 6.4bn and $58,770 from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

"I was arrested, made to sign a charge and caution statement. Though I stated that I understood the charges, the fact is up to now I don't understand them and I don't know why I was stopped from working," Onyo said, sending the court into a bout of laughter.

Onyo, who admitted that one of his roles was to collect blank security papers from Bank of Uganda and return them after they had been signed, told court that one such security paper with serial numbers 243607 was signed by Kazinda and Flavia Woduwa, Under-Secretary in charge of Finance and Administration. The rest, he said, bore signatures similar to Bigirimana's.

Mumanyire, who still faces charges of causing financial loss and forgery of security papers, admitted that he used to keep some security papers in his office pending preparation of payments, although they must have been in the custody of the Principal Accountant.

"When the volume of work is big, an accounts staff appointed by the Principal Accountant can keep those security papers while preparing payment. But for any payment to be honoured by Bank of Uganda, a Principal Accountant must sign on them and the PS counter signs," he added.

Earlier, Kenneth Mugumya, the principal accountant who replaced Kazinda, denied that he was outsourced by Bigirimana to get rid of Kazinda.

"It is only by coincidence that before I joined OPM on July 12 last year, I first worked with Bigirimana in 2008. Though Kazinda was supposed to hand over by end of August, I got a telephone call from Bigirimana to report on duty around July 5 or 7, 2012 because there was a vacuum because of Kazinda's absence," Mugumya testified.

However, Kabega countered: "I put it to you that the reason why you did accounts work in OPM before officially reporting was because this was an arrangement between you and the PS to box Kazinda out of office before his actual date of leaving and this is why there was no handover as required by the Public Finance, Accountability and Regulations Act."

Mugumya denied this vehemently. Another witness, Byekwaso Musiitwa, a senior accounts assistant, facing forgery charges at police, said between 2008 and 2010, Kazinda was among OPM best performers, given awards by Bigirimana. However, Ronald Ochama, a carpenter in Bukoto, still regrets why he broke a locked door in Kazinda's residence on police orders on July 22, 2012 because ever since, customers have ran away from him.

Bail denied

Rejecting Kazinda's bail application, Justice Wangutusi said he was perturbed by two contradicting medical reports.

"I'm disturbed by Dr Kakoraki's medical recommendation to the effect that he [Kazinda]would collapse before me during trial. His brush of painting seemed different from that of Mulago [national] referral hospital," Justice Wangutusi said.

Dr Kakoraki had told court that unless Kazinda was given ten days for bed rest and serious treatment, he would collapse before the judge during trial because he had abnormal sleeping pattern, incoherent speech and attempts to awaken him were fruitless.

On the contrary, the Mulago report which came out the same day said that apart from Kazinda's bad eating habits, he was able to stand trial because he was not agitated and his short and long memories were intact. The case was adjourned to February 14, 2013 for further hearing

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