21 February 2013

Uganda: Produce CAA Boss, MPs Order Police

The Parliamentary committee on statutory authorities and state enterprises (COSASE) has directed the criminal investigations department to swing in action and find Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) boss, Rama Makuza and issue summons to him compelling him to appear before the committee today (Thursday) without fail.

The directive was given by the chairperson, Patrick Amuriat and supported by members after Makuza failed to show up yesterday (Wednesday) as had been directed by the committee on Monday.

"This is contempt of Parliament. We are not going to beg witnesses to come here. We are asking police to go after CAA and especially the accounting officer. I am going to sign the summons. Find out in detail why they have not come. They have responsibility to explain themselves to this committee," Amuriat said after the committee resumed sitting after a 20 minute adjournment.

On Monday, the MPs told Makuza and his team to report back to the committee at 10am yesterday after the committee found their responses to queries raised by the Auditor General in his report for the period ending June 30, 2011 wanting.

Yesterday, MPs waited for Makuza and his team to appear in vain. At about 10.30am the chairperson suspended the meeting for 20 minutes as the MPs waited but the CAA officials did not show up.

The MPs expressed shock at the Sh5.4b paid by CAA to Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA), a private firm, for collection of a debt which government had already committed itself to pay.

They on Monday tasked the MD, Rama Makuza and his team to explain whether it was necessary to have a debt collector and what magic KAA applied to recover Sh54b, which the government owed to CAA.

"One letter was written by KAA to the Ministry of Finance and this triggered payment of the Sh54b. There was already a commitment by government to pay. We are extremely suspicious about what went on. Sh5.4b is loss to the taxpayer," Amuriat said on Monday after he had suspended the committee for five minutes to enable the CAA team organize themselves.

The money was subject of an investigation by the Auditor General (AG), who in his report for the period ending June 30 stated that in 2009/2010 a verification exercise established that as of 2006 the government owed CAA Sh54b.

"The Treasury committed itself to paying this debt. Ideally, once government commits itself to pay a government agency whose line minister is a member of Cabinet, there should be no need to appoint a debt collector to collect such a debt," the AG said.

The AG observed that there was no evidence that the Solicitor General had approved the variation in the contract between CAA and KAA. "This expenditure was unnecessary, could have been avoided and resulted into a loss of CAA funds amounting to Sh5.4b. The transaction was not taken in accordance with PPDA regulations."

The MPs wanted to know whether it was necessary to engage the services of a private debt collector when CAA had its own legal department. They further tasked the team to explain how the private firm was sourced and why the contract was revised upwards by 7.5%. "Show us evidence of rigorous efforts by KAA to recover the money," Igara east MP, Michael Mawanda demanded.

The MPs asked the officials to produce CAA policy on management of vehicles. They questioned the sh67m spent on repairing seven vehicles. They were stunned to learn that an engine for a bus was overhauled at Sh18m.

The MD gave a chronology of events that led to the procurement of KAA for debt collection but the information he was giving did not tally with the information that he had given to MPs in a dossier early on, which infuriated MPs.

He argued that the government debt was very difficult to collect and that was the reason why CAA contracted out the job. "Government departments occupying rentable space at the airport refused to pay rent and most of them do not even pay for utilities," Makuza said.

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