Uganda: Currency Saga Gets Messy As Govt Agencies Contradict

Investigations into the alleged printing of excess currency by Bank of Uganda (BoU) officials have triggered more mystery than clarity after government agencies contradicted on what is being investigated.

Early last week, the State House Anti-corruption Unit and police arrested several BoU officials in charge of currency, procurement and security and officials from the Customs Department, airport police officers and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) staff. This was after the central bank governor, Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, had on June 2 written to State House to investigate an incident where a chartered UK airline carrying Uganda currency also carried extra private cargo of five extra bags alongside 20 pallets of Bank of Uganda currency notes, which triggered suspicion of printed illegal currency.

The chartered UK-based KUEHNE +NAGEL cargo plane delivered the consignment of Uganda currency at Entebbe on April 27.

The incident has since become complex with each government agency telling a contradicting version of what is under investigation.

Contradicting statements

On Monday, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said they had searched homes of six senior BoU officials and the searches yielded documents pointing to the printing of extra currency notes by the implicated Central Bank staff.

"With time, we shall get how much was involved, how much (money) has been recovered, what was genuine (currency), [and] what was unofficial, but genuine money," Mr Enanga said on Monday.

He further stated that police were investigating whether the procedures of printing currency had been followed.

"We want to know who requested for the printing of the currency notes and how much. The director of banking has to initiate the process, then send the request to the board of BoU that authorises and signs before the procurement officer orders for the printing of the money," he said.

However, Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, yesterday dismissed the police statements about the printing of extra currency notes as absolute lies.

"We have seen an absurd statement being attributed to police spokesperson (Fred) Enanga on the ongoing BoU saga. We do not know where he got this information from that they are investigating printing of extra cash. I want to disregard his statement. The ongoing investigation has got nothing to do with printed extra money that was purportedly dumped in our economy," a charged Mr Opondo told journalists in Kampala yesterday.

He accused Mr Enanga of telling lies and said the government had instructed the Inspector General of Police, Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola, to "deal with his people" and recall the statement that was issued by Mr Enanga because it is "misleading."

As the controversy escalated, Mr Tumusiime-Mutebile yesterday threw a spanner in the works when he said he did not know what exactly the police were investigating because he did not know what was contained in the five extra bags found in the same chartered plane that delivered the 20 bags of currency notes.

"I do not have the facts. I am still waiting for the investigations going on to be completed; I am waiting for the investigation report to come out," he told journalists yesterday.

Asked about the ongoing police investigations, Mr Mutebile said: "I do not know what they are investigating."

Without elaborating whether the five extra bags on the chartered flight contained Uganda currency, Mr Mutebile said he did not know what exactly was in the bags. He said that was the reason he sought an investigation into the matter.

Lt Col Edith Nakalema, who heads the State House Anti-corruption Unit, told Daily Monitor yesterday that the investigation seeks to find out why the UK airline chartered by BoU ended up carrying private cargo of different individuals and agencies, which included USAID, UN and Ministry of Health.

"Our key point is why and how did it (airline) carry extra cargo and for who?" said Lt Col Nakalema.

However, she said preliminary findings had indicated that no extra money was carried into the country, contrary to initial reports that about Shs90b excess money was on the flight.

The United States embassy spokesman, Mr Phil Dimon, speaking on behalf of USAID said: "USAID regularly ships in entomology supplies through the President's Malaria Initiative to help Uganda in its fight against Malaria. USAID is currently examining if there were any irregularities with this particular shipment."

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the senior spokesperson of Health Ministry, one of the entities listed as having cargo on BoU chartered plane, said they were not expecting any consignment.

"We leave it to the investigating agencies to establish who actually owns the cargo in the ministry's name," he said.

Mr Jim Mugunga, the Finance ministry spokesperson, said their interest is to ensure the issues related to BoU are quickly but logically resolved.

"We have full confidence in the various investigating arms of government and indeed the leadership of the central bank to work tirelessly to get to the logical conclusion of all the issues. In the meantime, we are confident that both the fiscal and monetary sectors are built on very strong foundation and will survive the unfortunate incidents," he said.

He added: "Our appeal is for the commentators, wider population and various authorities to avoid inflammatory; unfounded and biased statements but allow time for the investigators to undertake their mandate. We are sure that at the appropriate time, holistic information and accountability will be availed to Ugandans on this issue."

Opposition Democratic Party (DP) asked government to institute a neutral commission of inquiry to investigate what happened in the BoU currency saga. The party press secretary, Mr Fred Mwesigwa, told journalists that the matter is critical and should not be investigated by the usual government officers.

"We need a comprehensive investigation and a report to be out as soon as possible. We have a bad history in Uganda that reports do not come out and since there are serious officials involved, we have that instinct that it would be difficult to be released but we are demanding it," he said.

The implicated government officials were arrested and detained last week by the State House Anticorruption Unit but some were later released on police bond pending further investigations.

What we know and what we do not know

What we know

- BoU Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, on June 2, requested State House Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate an anomaly in consignment delivered by a chartered plane at Entebbe International Airport on April 27.

- Almost 10 individuals, government ministries and international agencies had cargo or were alleged to have consignment on the plane.

- Police and State House Anti-Corruption Unit probing owners of the cargo, BoU staff, officials of Uganda Revenue Authority and Civil Aviation Authority.

- UK-based KUEHNE+NAGEL airfreight aircraft, which departed from Liege Airport in France, delivered the consignment of Uganda currency printed by De La Rue, a global leader in currency printing.

- Government has summoned owners and operators of the airline to explain the irregularities.

Unanswered questions

- How much currency notes were printed, for what reason and on whose request?

- How private cargo was loaded and transported on chartered plane, whether owners paid cash, if so, how much and to who?

- Whether money was printed in excess of formally requested amount as alleged.

- Why the BoU Governor asked the Lt Col Edith Nakalema-led State House Anti-Corruption Unit, and not police or the Inspectorate of Government, to inquire into the matter and why it took him seven weeks before notifying authorities.

- Particulars of all suspects under investigation and what they have told detectives.

Reported by: Ephraim Kasozi, Martin Luther Oketch, Shabibah Nakirigya

& Damali Mukhaye.

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