Uganda: Govt Agencies Fail to Account for Shs20b Pensioners' Money

(file photo).

More than half of government ministries and agencies have not accounted for the money they were given to pay pensioners in their departments last financial year.

The Ministry of Finance released a statement last week showing it released Shs26.9 billion during the 2018/19 financial year for pension and gratuity arrears but only Shs7.5 billion has been accounted for.

Out of the 98 ministries and agencies that received the money, 71 have not accounted for the funds.

Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Lands, Health, Trade, Energy, Gender and Water had no accountability at all.

Other government institutions include Auditor General, Uganda Police, Uganda Prisons, Law Reform Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission and Fort Portal, Jinja, Kabale, Soroti and Mubende referral hospitals.

The statement indicates that only eight local governments submitted their full accountability. They are Gulu, Iganga, Oyam, Gomba, Mpigi, Nakasongola, Sironko and Mubende districts.

Kasese District, which was given Shs891.3m, spent more than they received by Shs3m. Mr Hanny Turyahebwa, the district chief administrative officer, said they sought permission from the Treasury to vary the expenditure.

"We were going to have a balance on pension money. Yet there was a file which was not going to be paid. Because there was some enhancement, some file required more than what had been allocated. We asked for permission to use the balance and cleared the file," Mr Turyahebwa said yesterday.

Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the Finance ministry permanent secretary, told Daily Monitor that he had been receiving reports of how his accounting officers have been asking for bribes and inflating figures.

He said the habit was more pronounced in central government agencies. "I was told by somebody from the office of Inspectorate of Government (IGG) that they have started receiving this problem of people when they are calculating the terminal benefits together with people in Public Service, they inflate the number," Mr Muhakanizi said.

Under the central government, Shs10.2 billion was released and Shs915.6m was accounted for while local governments received Shs16.7b but Shs6.6b was paid to the beneficiaries and accounted for.

With decentralisation, Mr Muhakanizi said government has been able to pay civil servants' wages in time in the last three years when reforms were first introduced and have reduced the number of ghost workers and retirees.

He said retirees used to camp at the ministry waiting the processing of their pension arrears.

"At a time when we carried the reforms, arrears were about Shs500b for salary. Today, we are talking of about Shs1 billion. Pension arrears were Shs700 billion. Today, it's about Shs40 billion. Because of lack of accountability, people have gone. Many of you may not know," Mr Muhakanizi said.

Changes

"Look at three years ago, the faces of permanent secretaries and chief administrative officers and today. How many have gone? I don't have to go around that I have sacked so and so. I don't work that way," he added.

The Finance PS invited Mr Robert Ssekate, the principal economist, to explain why ministries were not accounting for the money they received.

Mr Ssekate said although they have continuously reminded the accounting officers to present full accountability, many have not.

"Where you see accounted for, that is where the accounting officer has come back with proof that the given client who was reported claiming was paid and that proof must be a copy of a bank slip. We have been writing to them. It is not necessarily that they have not paid but they have not fulfilled the requirements to clean it up from our data base," he said.

Asked whether it does not worry them that the officers they supervise, despite reminders, can't prove that they paid their clients, Mr Muhakanizi admitted it was a big worry for the ministry.

However, he said in two weeks he will give feedback on errant accounting officers who will not have presented their accountabilities.

"Yes, it worries us that there is a framework of accountability, call it inefficient, call it stealing, I don't care which one. This must be dealt with," Mr Muhakanizi said.

"There are allegations that some officers are soliciting bribes from pensioners and have deliberately refused to process and pay out verified pension and gratuity arrears cleared for payment by the ministry unless the bribe is paid. Any officer found inflating gratuity figures, receiving or asking for bribes from pensioners will be penalised because this is against the law."

Ms Colleen Tumwine, another economist at Finance ministry, said 3,323 officers were supposed to be paid their pension, gratuity and salary arrears last year, but only 877 had been accounted for by last Friday.

Health ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyona said: "All accountability was done. If it is Finance which wants it, it will be made available. We don't have any outstanding accountabilities for pension."

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