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Irish to probe aid after Uganda scam

The Irish government is to launch a probe into overseas aid to Uganda and other countries under the Third World aid budget, following massive fraud in the Office of the Prime Minister.

According to the Irish newspaper, Independent, the taxpayer watchdog is set to launch “a special investigation into the spending of the country’s third world aid budget following revelations of a €4m fraud in Uganda.”

It is estimated that Uganda, among the major recipients of Irish aid, receives about €33m annually from the European country. In light of the fraud, a member of the Irish Public Accounts Committee wants a special meeting to deal with how Irish overseas aid is being spent.

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris wants to know what checks and balances are in place to ensure taxpayers’ money sent overseas is utilised as intended.

“Ireland and Irish taxpayers have continued to support overseas aid projects despite the economic difficulties in our own country.

“It is absolutely essential that these funds are spent correctly, arrive in the destination they are intended to and that the state has the appropriate checks and balances in place to ensure that this happens,” he told the Irish Independent newspaper.

Ireland has since cut aid to Uganda worth €16m. On Monday, the Ambassador of Ireland, Anne Webster, read the riot act during a meeting with the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, demanding that the stolen money be repaid.

“Mbabazi and the Irish ambassador had frank discussions, where Webster made it clear that the [Irish] government expects the funds to be repaid,” reported the Independent newspaper.

Webster attended the meeting alongside the ambassadors of other donor countries, namely, D. E. Frederickson (Denmark), Urban Undersson (Sweden) and Thorbjoorn Gaustadsaether (Norway). Others were Daniel Graymore (head of the Department for International Development), Theo Hoorntje (Charge d’Affaires of the European Union) and Ahmadou Mustafa Ndiaye (World Bank country manager).

A report by the Auditor General, John Muwanga, shone more light into the malfeasance in the Office of the Prime Minister, the ministry of Finance and the Central Bank, where officials used a sophisticated racket to steal billions of shillings. In addition to two senior officials being charged, one of whom is the Principal Accountant, Geoffrey Kazinda, 17 others have been suspended without pay while the investigation continues.

Mbabazi said his government was actively examining the issue of restitution of funds and would be coming back to the donors in the near future. The 17 officials that have since been suspended include the commissioner for disaster preparedness, Martin Owor; a senior accountant, Arthur Mumanyire; senior accounts assistant, Musiho Byekwaso; accounts assistant, Isaiah Oonyu; assistant records officer, Beatrice Kezaabu; office attendant, Keneddy Lubega; senior accountant, Yahaya Kasolo and driver Charles Oyugi.

The others who were sacked are the senior accounts officer Irene Birungi and accounts assistant Lydia Nalwanga. Those axed from the ministry of Finance include an economist in the aid liaison department, Mariam Kiggundu, Wilbert Okello, Tony Yawe from the Treasury, and David Mugisha from the Macro-economic Department.

Officials still under investigation include Doreen Masiko, Joy Nuwagira, Eunice Kahimakazi, Catherine Lajul, Beatrice Atipo, Jennifer Kayombya, Consilata Baguma, James Minjo, Henry Kimuli, Emily Kamya and Beatrice Mubukute. Mbabazi on Monday defended Permanent Secretary, Pius Bigirimana, saying there was no evidence in the report against him.

“The PS has not been interdicted not because he cannot be interdicted. My view is that in the Auditor General’s report, there is no evidence that he stole the money. What came out in the audit report are audit queries and the PS must answer them,” said the Prime Minister, who also noted that Bigirimana was the whistleblower who brought the scam to light.

The stolen money was supposed to rebuild the shattered lives of Lord’s Resistance Army victims under the Northern Uganda Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP). The funds were mainly a donation from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Britain.

mutaizibwa@observer.ug

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