22 June 2017

Uganda: MPs Order Government Officials to Return Shs6 Billion Oil Cash

Photo: Daily Monitor
Some of the recipients of the Shs6 billion presidential "handshake".

Kampala — Parliament has ordered all the 42 government officials to refund the Shs6b they shared as a reward by President Museveni for winning the landmark arbitration tax dispute in London between the Uganda government, Heritage Oil and Gas and Tullow Oil.

Some of the officials could be in more trouble after the Parliament's committee asked the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to investigate them for suspected violation of the law.

Most of the beneficiaries who received between Shs50m to Shs200m had also profited from a Shs56b kitty which was passed by Parliament across seven financial years to facilitate Uganda's legal team to prosecute the tax case against the two British oil firms.

However, some senior officials who took a share of Shs200m each yesterday snubbed the Parliament's directive for a refund. They said they cannot refund the money since President Museveni supported the payment.

Solicitor General Francis Atoke, who pocketed Shs234m, said Mr Museveni okayed the sharing of the Shs 6b.

"Why should I (refund the money)? The money was paid to us, we did not ask for it even when we handled the case. It was the principal (Museveni)who gave us (the money) and we used it, so refund what? There is nothing to refund," Mr Atoke shot back at the parliament's Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) which investigated the oil cash bonus and recommended the refund.

Mr Kabagambe Kaliisa, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy, who was rewarded with Shs 133m, said he did not solicit the payment which was blessed by Mr Museveni and would therefore not refund a single penny of it.

"I did not solicit anything, I did not ask for the ex-gratia (payment); the President appreciated us for the good work," Mr Kaliisa stated in response to Daily Monitor's question on whether he will pay back the money.

Former Attorney General, Mr Fred Ruhindi, who was rewarded with Shs93.3m, declined to comment.

Though the parliament committee's report does not explicitly name the officials who flouted the law and face further investigations by the IGG, it accuse Uganda Revenue Authority's Commissioner General Doris Akol of violating the URA Act and Public Finance Management Act when she authorised withdrawal of the Shs6b from URA account.

The committee termed Ms Akol's designation as accounting officer of the Shs6b "idle and irregular".

Ms Akol yesterday declined to comment on the recommendations of the committee. She took home Shs242m from the controversial oil cash bonus.

"The Commissioner General put herself in a position of conflict of interest to pay out monies to herself and her team from URA funds without the knowledge of the board and in contravention of the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] and the URA Act," the committee states in its report.

The committee stopped short of describing President Museveni's approval of the Shs6b bonus payment as reckless and called it "an error of judgement".

During the committee's investigations, Mr Museveni was twice cross-examined in camera over his role in the payment of the bonus.

He defended the payment as "okurongora" a Runyakore reference for "rewarding good performance/work". He, however, admitted that the right process was not followed.

Correspondences obtained by the committee indicate that the arrangement to pay the money was hammered out during a meeting on May 17, 2015 between Mr Museveni and a select group of the beneficiaries.

Other meetings to discuss the sharing of Shs6b were held informally and no minutes were recorded. In the foregoing, the committee chaired by Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri County MP) was unable to evaluate the proceedings of those meetings and it only had to rely on oral evidence during cross-examination.

"It is evident from the President's letter and testimony corroborated by the (URA) Commissioner General's letter that the team which met the President requested for a reward and the President agreed to reward them," reads the committee report.

The committee had been required to find out whether public servants solicited the reward money contrary to Public Service Standing Orders and concluded that the payment of the Shs6b was in contravention of the standard operating practices of rewarding public officers.

The committee further noted that whereas Ministry of Justice was obliged to deduct 15 per cent Withholding Tax (WHT) from the money government paid to external lawyers who represented Uganda in the oil case, which would have raised Shs3.6 trillion in revenue, only Shs 2.5 trillion was collected. This lacuna created a shortfall of Shs 1.4 trillion in government revenues.

"Whereas the Commissioner General had attempted to obtain approval on advice of the Secretary to the Treasury, the Minister of Finance never gave the authority as provided for under the PFMA. The purported authority given in July 2016 is not founded under the PFMA and is therefore void," the report reads.

Mr Muhakanizi, who pocketed Shs108m, did not respond to our calls to explain the authorisation he gave to URA to pay out the Shs6b.By last evening, Parliament was scheduled to discuss the committee's report findings and recommendations on the Shs6b bonus. The ball will be with the Executive to decide what action to take on the demand by Parliament for the beneficiaries to refund the money.

Background

The decisive arrangement to reward 42 government officials with Shs6b was hatched during a May 17, 2015 meeting between President Museveni and Ms Doris Akol, the commissioner general of Uganda Revenue Authority. The Speaker of Parliament on January 18, assigned the standing committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) to investigate the award. The Committee was chaired by Bugweri MP, Abdu Katuntu.

What they say

"Why should I [refund the money]? The money was paid to us, we did not ask for it even when we handled the case. It was the principal [Museveni] who gave us (the money) and we used it, so refund what? There is nothing to refund."

Francis Atoke, Solicitor General

"I did not solicit anything, I did not ask for the ex-gratia (payment); the President appreciated us for the good work."

Kabagambe Kaliisa, former Permanent Secretary Ministry of Energy

List of beneficiaries

Category A [Core Team Shs 200m)

1. Peter Nyombi

2. Francis Atoke

3. Allen Kagina

4. Doris Akol

5. Ernest Rubondo

6. Harriet Lwabi

7. Christopher Gashirabake

8. Moses Kagwa

9. Elizabeth Nakkungu

10. Ali Ssekatawa

11. Moses Mishach Kajubi

12. Honey Malinga

13. Alex Nyombi

14. Mary Nakabirwa

15. Geoge Kallemera

16. Martin Mwambutsya

17. Robinah Nakakawa

18. Peter Muliisa

19. Matthew Mugabi

20. Samuel Kahima

21. Rodney Golooba

22. Syson Ainembabazi

Category B (Non-Core Team Shs100m)

1. Fredrick Ruhindi

2. Fred Kabagambe Kaliisa

3. Rwakoojo Robinah

4. Harriet Tukamushaba

5. Moses Kibumba

6. Martin Muhangi

7. Annet Bazalilaki

8. Lawrence Kiiza

9. Keith Muhakanizi

10. Chris Kasaami

11. Francis Twinamatsiko

12. Jennifer Musisi Semakula

Category C(Support Staff Shs 50m)

1. Ojambo Paul

2. Adakun Rose

3. Joyce Mbabazi

4. Moses Ekunu

5. Angura Joseph

6. Juliet Nambwayo

7. Veronica Namuwenge

8. Sylivia Nakibirango

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