14 February 2013

Uganda: Bigirimana Under Fire As He Faces Kazinda

The permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Pius Bigirimana, today endured some tough grilling as he testified in the fraud case against Geoffrey Kazinda.

Kazinda, who was a principal accountant in the OPM, is accused of forging Bigirimana's signature to obtain more than Shs 363m. Bigirimana, the ninth state witness, accused Kazinda of acting unprofessionally.

"He would disappear from office and sometimes switch off his mobile phones and, worst of all, he wound comingle (mix up) money from one department to another," Bigirimana, 54, said.

He said Kazinda ignored warnings made through office notices, internal memos and verbal talk. However, when Kazinda's lawyer MacDusman Kabega put it to Bigirimana that the same accusations could be labelled against him, the PS was visibly uncomfortable.

"I put it to you that you are guilty of comingling funds of the Crisis Management and Recovery programme for Northern Uganda when you bought a 5,000cc Mercedes Benz car worth Shs 391m for Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi without the permission of the Auditor General," Kabega charged.

But Bigirimana told court that he was in a fix because the Prime Minister needed a vehicle and there was no money.

"Accounting officers at times face challenges of resource utilizations and I have since given an explanation to the Accountant General because the vehicle was bought out of a need," Bigirimana testified.

Kabega then asked Bigirimana if Bank of Uganda staff who had earlier testified that his signatures, against which money was withdrawn, were genuine, had lied to court. "That is their business," Bigirimana said, before adding: "They would be lying."

Central bank staff testified that there was no way money could be withdrawn from the OPM accounts without Bigirimana's authentic signature. Later, under intense cross examination, Bigirimana admitted that it was impossible for Bank of Uganda to release money without his signature. Bigirimana also claimed he was first tipped off by his 'informers' that Kazinda was not only forging signatures but also stealing documents from his office.

He told court that he subsequently wrote to the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, requesting him to investigate Kazinda. He only realized the full scale of the problem when detectives brought Kazinda to his office on August 6, 2012 with bundles of documents, some of which contained his forged signatures.

Kabega's colleague, Isaac Walukagga, joined in, accusing Bigirimana of using OPM funds to purchase a Mercedes Benz worth $100,000 for his wife. But the PS said his wife had sold off an older car and topped up with other money to buy the car. Hearing continues today.

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