Kampala — MPs on the Parliament's public accounts committee have taken exception to a sh12.5b claim by Ssembeguya Estates (U) Limited for breeding 30,000 goats for farmers in Sembabule district.
Appearing before the committee, the proprietor of the farm, Paul Ssembeguya, stunned the MPs when he said the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries owes him sh12b in form of "lodging fees" for keeping, feeding and treating the goats on his farm".
"We made an agreement with the agriculture ministry that I charge sh1,500 lodging fee per goat each day it spends on my farm. Multiply 30,000 goats by 1,500 for five years, add it onto the money I have spent on deworming, feeding and taking care of them, makes it sh12b," he said.
Committee chairperson Kassiano Wadri retorted: "This is ridiculous and does not reflect value for money. You cannot claim that the Government owes you sh12b for rearing 30,000 goats in five years."
Paul Mwiru (Jinja municipality) said: "The Government can't waste tax payers' money to pay sh12.5b for 30,000 goats. Even if the goats are to be purchased on the open market, they cannot coast that much!"
The goats were meant for the implementation of a pilot breeding project for strategic export under the President's poverty reduction programme in Sembabule district. About 100 farmers were to benefit from the scheme.
Ssembeguya tendered in a State House letter signed by the President dated November 21, 2005.
He copied it to the Prime Minister, ministers of Finance and Agriculture, Sembabule MPs and local leaders, the presidential advisor on poverty alleviation and his private secretary on legal affairs for land matters over the directive.
"I liked the idea and pledged to support him logistically so that his project would become a nucleus for goat-breeding in Uganda. I directed that he be availed two square miles of land and some money for the expansion of his model project. I expect all of you to work towards the success of this project because we would, ultimately be beneficiaries," the President wrote.
A subsequent query from the Auditor General's (AG) report for the year 2009/10 indicated that all the goats stayed on the farm for five years, but the offspring disappeared under unclear circumstances.
"We want to know whether these goats were on family planning because information before PAC indicates that an adult goat delivers twice within 13 months," Wadri said.
When lead counsel Maxwell Akora (Maruzi county) asked whether the goats reproduced, Ssembeguya said his work was to act as a transit farm to procure, vaccinate, deworm the goats, but not to see them reproducing. "The multiplication role was vested on the agriculture ministry," he said.
An agreement was signed between the Ministry of Agriculture and Ssembeguya Estates to supply goats to farmers.
Under the deal, the estate was required to supply 150 male and 200 female exotic goats using its own funds and 54,000 improved Mubende goats using government funding. But the Auditor General discovered that some goats were not supplied.
The permanent secretary of the agriculture ministry, Vicent Rubarema, told the MPs that the project received shs878.6m from the Government in the financial year 2004/2005, for infrastructure development and purchase of the first lot of goats.
The money did not cater for the distribution until the ministry released more funds in 2009/10, when Ssembeguya distributed an unspecified number of goats.
However, only 3,023 goats were procured. The goats were not distributed to farmers at the time due to lack of sufficient funds.
The agriculture ministry released an additional shs997.3m to the same firm.
The first batch of 3,023 goats the Government procured in 2004/05 stayed at the farm and should have delivered at least 30,230 offspring in five years.
However, there was no accountability for any of the offspring.