New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Govt Returns U.S.$14.5 Million to Donors in Office of the Prime Minister Fraud

Government has so far returned sh38b to donors following the financial scam in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Parliament has heard.

Sate minister for northern Uganda, Betty Otengo said this Thursday while responding to queries raised by the committee on presidential affairs.

During the discussions on the budget of OPM, MPs demanded to know how much money was lost in the scam.

Otengo was part of the team that was led by the Third Deputy Prime Minister, Moses Ali to respond to queries raised by MPs on the medium term expenditure framework Paper regarding OPM.

Other ministers present were; Mary Karooro Okurut (information and national guidance), Betty Christine Aporu (Teso), Ernest Kiiza (Bunyoro) Rose Namayanja (Luweero Triangle) and Barbara Oundo (Karamoja). Also present was the Permanent Secretary, Pius Bigirimana.

The three-hour long meeting was characterized by heated exchanges between Tinkasiimire and Ali. At one time Ali told Tinkasiimire that "you are not going to determine whether I'm in charge or not."

Besides queries on the money lost in OPM, the officials were also grilled about the operations of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) without a board, the resolution by Parliament to have Bigirmana interdicted, money spent on baraza's and their impact, and why Karamoja was getting a "lion's share" compared to what Teso and other regions were getting, among others.

Otengo said so far sh38b has been refunded to the donors, but told MPs that she did not have details of the balance.

Explaining to loss, she said there is money that was lost, money that was unaccounted for and money that has not done any work.

She said the money which has been misappropriated did not reach the consolidated fund. 'It bypassed it and landed in bank of Uganda and then to OPM," she said. She said once it reached OPM, it went to unauthorized accounts.

She revealed that about sh6b was used to prepare a document which had already been prepared. She said a lot of money went to the crisis management account. Some money, she said was said to have bought food, fuel which was not the case.

"This money did not go to the OPM budget and the ceiling of the OPM budget remained the same," she said. She admitted that OPM was used to siphon money out of the government system.

Ali declined to reveal to the committee how much money was lost in OPM saying the question was going to interfere into the court process. "Nobody is able to know how much money was lost as of now,' he said.

Reading from a prepared statement, Bigirimana said operations of UBC are affected by the absence of a duly appointed board of directors. "UBC has continued operations without a board because of the unfortunate alleged mismanagement by the old board which is still suspended. Legal hurdles stand in the way of putting in place a new board," he said.

He said that an average of sh30m is spent in each district for two baraza meetings but MPs demanded details.

On the UBC Board Karooro said, "We cannot do anything which is outside the law." She said that government is getting legal opinion from the Attorney General on the matter.

MPs expressed concern about under- funding of Bunyoro and Teso ministries.

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