Parliament's committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) has started investigations into the irregular procurement process of 350 branded pens by Bank of Uganda at Shs 125 million.
According to an internal audit report seen by The Observer, BOU procured the branded pens as souvenirs for distribution among a special list of recipients during celebrations to mark 50 years of the bank's existence, as well as the Joseph Mubiru Memorial Lecture in 2016.
While meeting officials from BOU led by deputy governor Louis Kasekende, committee chairman Abdu Katuntu directed the central bank to submit all documents relating to the procurement of the pens, whose purchase has caused public furor.
"We want to look at the procurements of that occasion when you celebrated... We shall then be looking at other procurement processes in the bank. In all these institutions, we are always having a problem with procurement; so, we are going to take samples from BOU which the committee will look at," Katuntu said.
He added: "We were intrigued yesterday to see something on TV and when we have something that eventually becomes public debate, whether it is an overzealous press or not, it has to be sorted out... After the auditing process, we are going to require you to have clarification on the matter."
MP Elijah Okupa (Kasilo) further demanded that BOU officials present a sample of the branded pens.
"You should come with a sample of that pen because I know there are pens which cost $2,000 like the Monte Blanc, but this is public money. We need to see that sample pen," Okupa said.
According to documents seen by The Observer, the director of communication at BOU, Christine Alupo, in a letter dated July 26, 2016, made a request for procurement of BOU @50 branded rolling ball pens for distinguished guests.
Alupo wrote that Aristoc Booklex Ltd had been identified locally to supply the 350 branded pens at Shs 125 million.
The pens, whose eventual cost was summed at Shs 357, 142, were curiously delivered on August 2, 2016, way before the procurement process kicked off.
At a meeting held on August 4, 2016, the bank's contracts committee deferred approval of tender documentation for supply of the branded pens because the date of requirement for the pens had been exceeded, questioning the relevance of the pens. The committee further wondered whether the market price for these pens was considered when the price was being estimated.
On August 18, 2016, Pelly Mugasi, the director of procurement and disposal department, wrote to Alupo asking her to avail more information to the contracts committee regarding the concerns they raised on the procurement of these pens.
In an August 23, 2016 letter to the procurement and disposal department, Claire Lwasa, a senior procurement officer at BOU, submitted the market price for the specified pens from two online stores, Amazon Business and SOUQ store, quoting the cost price, shipping costs and logo engraving. One branded rolling pen on Amazon Business was quoted at Shs 285, 777 while those at SOUQ store cost Shs 311, 455.
On September 1, 2016, the contracts committee approved the tender documentation and issued a letter of caution to the communications department because the procurement process was initiated after the required items had been ordered for, contrary to the provisions of the law.
"The tender documentation approved was already taken by events given that the goods being ordered had already been received in the bank and the supplier has submitted an invoice for payment," Gloria Wakooba, the acting director contracts committee wrote in another letter on September 23, 2017.