Uganda: Probe All Embassies, Culprits Must Refund Stolen Money

1 September 2020

This month, the country was astounded by a leaked audio of senior diplomats at Uganda's embassy in Denmark planning to steal public money under their custody.

In a leaked electronic recording of a virtual meeting, the diplomats were heard discussing how to share the money and get a complicit Auditor General's officer to straighten their accountability.

Further, the officers were heard planning to divert more money to their personal use and give false accounting with the help of the complicit auditor from the Auditor General. From the recording, it sounded like dipping their hands in the public purse by these officers was a matter of routine.

The ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press statement on August 24, 2020 neither confirming nor denying the criminal conspiracy of their officers. Instead, the statement signed by permanent secretary Patrick Mugoya expressed 'grave' concern about the allegations and that the ministry 'takes the matter seriously."

Mugoya promised that the ministry in consultation with the Permanent Secretary/ Secretary to Treasury and Auditor General would investigate the matter. And in order to pave way for investigations, the implicated officers were recalled to the ministry headquarters. Mr Mugoya did not indicate how long the investigation would take and whether the outcome would be made public.

But he added that if the findings do not favor the officers, appropriate sanctions will be taken against them. This is not the first time Uganda's diplomats are in involved in corrupt acts. Many of them have diverted public funds to personal use with impunity.

Some have gone unpunished because they are political appointees into Foreign Service. In answerable societies, such officers who are saddled with scandals would not wait for the recall, but would resign honorably. But Uganda being what it is, the culprits may walk scot-free with a little pat on the shoulder, and life continues as usual.

The Observer has learnt that many of the political appointees as opposed to career diplomats have serious integrity and financial impropriety issues. Trouble is, meritocracy has been replaced by mediocrity.

The Denmark scandal is just a microcosm of what is happening in all Uganda's foreign missions. Perhaps this is the opportune time for the ministry to do a lifestyle audit of all its officers to establish whether what they declared with the Inspectorate of Government is actually what they own.

The investigations should make comparisons of known income with the standard of living to identify gaps and indicators that someone is living above their means.

Should the investigation find that the officers indeed diverted the money, they should return it with the attendant interest. They should also never be trusted with any public office again.

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