20 April 2018

Uganda: Queries Arise As Land Probe Budget Hits Shs23 Billion

Kampala — Ministry of Finance officials have agreed to release Shs2 billion to the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Land Commission to wind-up their investigations.

Sources told this newspaper that the decision to release the funds in question was reached after the Justice Bamugemereire team complained that their time was running out and Ministry of Lands had not released the funds. The support staff also refused to hand over as instructed last week, and instead threatened to petition Parliament over continued non-payment.

The Commission tasked to investigate land conflicts in the country, has also been given up to the end of the financial year to account for all the funds they received.

Failure to account for the funds, officials in the Lands Ministry said, the Auditor General will be called in to audit their expenditures.

However, there is no decision on their supplementary budget request. Finance is still scrutinising the documents they submitted last week.

Ms Dorcas Okalany, the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Lands yesterday confirmed the new supplementary budget request, and immediately distanced herself from accountability queries.

The PS also explained that in case of any accountability queries, the Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, will come in and establish whether public funds were spent on approved items. The seven-member Commission was appointed by the President in December 2016 but started work in May 2017.

"They had a budget which was agreed between the Commission and Ministry of Finance officials. What they are spending is what they agreed with Finance," Ms Okalany said.

"If accountability has problems, then, that's the work of Auditor General because it's the audit which can verify that," she added.

The lawmakers on the Physical Infrastructure committee on Wednesday threatened to block the supplementary budget and demanded for accountability of all the funds.

The budget comes days after Daily Monitor reported that Justice Bamugemereire team was entangled in accountability queries and accusations of 'lavish' expenditures.

Sources said last week that the team requested for Shs7b to conclude their investigations, including writing the report and settling of staff arrears.

But Justice Bamugemereire said: "As you are aware, the Commission is conducting a public interest duty and in many of the cases undertaken which we have had to deal with, there have been costly investigations."

She added: "Our books of account are available and open to scrutiny by authorised officers. Please note that no more amount of threat, blackmail, dirt-throwing and kitchen sink and other under-hand methods will deter us from executing the assignment HE the President entrusted with us."

Uncertainty

On the team's request for additional funding, Ms Okalany explained: "I received their supplementary and submitted it to Ministry of Finance. I don't know whether it will be granted or not. It is not me to decide that, it is Ministry of Finance. In any case, we all have money pressures, but when we don't get additional funding, we adjust and move on. It's like school children going to their father with a list of items. The father decides who gets what."

Although Ms Okalany declined to divulge the details of the new supplementary request, sources close to the Commission and Finance ministry, talked of Shs7.8b which Ministry of Finance is currently scrutinising after they questioned the planned expenditures and demanded for details of their budget and work plans for the remaining period. The commission ends its activities on May 9.

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