Govt agencies failed us, MPs say
The parliamentary report that cleared Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, and ministers Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek of bribery charges in the oil sector also accuses government, in part, of failing its effort to find hard evidence against the officials.
The ad hoc committee was tasked to investigate bribery allegations raised in parliament by Gerald Karuhanga (Youth MP, Western) in an ill-tempered session on October 11, 2011. The seven-member committee was led by Micheal Werikhe.
Karuhanga and his allies on both sides of parliament had presented documents claiming to show that the ministers had solicited bribes from oil companies to influence the award of contracts.
The committee’s 98-page report, which came two years late, blames “bureaucratic hitches” for its failure to get evidence to pin the ministers, among other challenges.
The report cites six major challenges as being the complexity of the investigation, bureaucratic hitches in government, limitations of parliamentary investigations overseas, financial constraints, the limited participation of bedridden MP Hussein Kyanjo and disruption by the Constitutional court.
The report admits that bribery being a discreet vice, the allegations involving high ranking officials of government, and the alleged transactions having occurred in several countries, there was need for sophisticated criminal investigative capabilities which parliament didn’t possess.
“The committee, therefore, had to rely on other relevant specialised institutions both locally and internationally. This inevitably prolonged the timeframe within which the committee had to report to the House,” the report says.
“Parliament, on its own, could not easily and expeditiously access other countries’ institutions without going through other organs of the executive, namely the ministry of Foreign Affairs, Uganda’s missions abroad and the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions],” the report adds, noting that some of the office bearers in these institutions had been implicated in the bribery allegations.
When the probe began in October 2011, MPs were informed that the DPP and the police had instituted investigations into the veracity of the same allegations in 2010.
That forced the committee to seek the help of the investigative organs of the countries in which the acts of bribery were alleged to have occurred. However, in these countries the committee was often “advised to rely on information previously given to the executive of the government of Uganda,” the report says.
“Although the committee had initially tried to circumvent this process, its attempts hit a dead end as international diplomatic protocol required the established procedure to be followed as this was the only way to access information from the various countries,” the report says.
“This exposed the committee to the effect of bureaucratic hitches which affected its efficiency. As such, the committee failed to gain entry in some of the counties involved namely, Malta and the UAE, where the alleged transactions between the accused ministers and oil companies are said to have taken place.”
Interviewed for this story on Monday, the DPP’s spokesperson Jane Kajuga said: “We have not looked at the report yet; so, we wouldn’t be able to comment on a report that we have not read.”
The Permanent Secretary, ministry of Foreign Affairs, James Mugume, scoffed at the committee’s claim that government bureaucratic hitches hampered its work.
“It is not true that we tried to suffocate the committee’s work because we did all in our efforts as the ministry to facilitate its work and I’m sure members travelled to United Arab Emirates, Malta and United Kingdom,” Mugume told The Observer on Monday.
“We even had to guide the committee on how to go about the sovereignty of those states they were seeking to go to because you just can’t write a letter to a sovereign country to tell it that I will be arriving on Tuesday, prepare your team to answer my questions. For example in the United Arab Emirates, the ministry had to translate the committee’s documents in Arabic,” Mugume explained.
“I therefore can’t tell you whether the committee got all it wanted from all those countries because MPs never reported back to us, but I will not be surprised if they did not get what they wanted from there,” he added.
Due to limited access to foreign sources, the committee relied more on “third-party” information to compile its report. The committee also reports that it faced immense challenges in accessing the outcome of initial investigations carried out by government agencies in 2010.
The committee was reportedly informed by the DPP that such information could only be shared after clearance from the countries under whose jurisdiction the investigation had been conducted.
“Subsequently, the committee initiated contact with the UK Central Authority, Malta and the United Arab Emirates to ascertain the outcome of the earlier investigation ... However, British investigative agencies for ethical reasons do not interact with non-investigative foreign officials outside the UK,” the report states.
“While in London, the committee unsuccessfully sought audience in camera with the UK Central Authority officer Suzan Barret [but] only a domestic telephone interface was possible,” the report adds. Moreover, only the committee’s chairperson managed to speak with Barret over the phone on behalf of the entire committee.
“In spite of subsequent inquiries by the committee from Barret, there was no response forthcoming, signaling that possibly there was no new evidence received on this matter,” the report says.
The committee also lamented that MPs “experienced delays in the disbursement of funds for its planned activities both local and international...”
Another crippling factor, the committee reported, was the illness of Hussein Kyanjo (Makindye West).
“In the course of the committee’s investigation, one of the members suffered a severe illness ruling him out for a greater part. The committee inevitably missed out on his vast experience and expertise,” the report noted.
The committee explains that Severino Twinobusingye’s constitutional petition No 47 of 2011 disrupted its work when it halted its proceedings until the petition was disposed of by the Constitutional court.
“This interruption inevitably impeded the otherwise impressive progress of the committee,” the report says, noting that it resumed its work in March 2013, after court had pronounced itself on the petition.
In Malta, the Economic Crimes Unit through Inspector Maurice Curmi requested the Bank of Valletta p.l.c (BOV) to furnish it with all the alleged transactions for verification. According to Inspector Curmi, a thorough and lengthy search conducted by the bank staff yielded negative results.
In the words of Inspector Curmi: “Therefore, it was concluded without any doubt that the companies and persons mentioned in the Letter Rogatory do not hold any accounts with BOV and the transaction receipts submitted are forgeries as no such transfer of monies had ever taken place.”
In the UK, the Central Authority found that no such accounts as mentioned in the bribery allegations existed in the reported banks.
On Kutesa, the committee reports that although it had been alleged that the minister received money from Tullow Oil through his company, East Africa Development Limited, the MPs physically visited and interfaced with the Registrar of Companies in Kenya to ascertain the existence and status of incorporation of this company and it was established that the said company had never been incorporated in Kenya and therefore did not exist.
“In addition, contrary to the allegations, the correspondences from Malta indicate that the alleged transactions did not ever originate from the Bank of Valletta in Malta,” the report added.
Kutesa’s accusers had also claimed that the minister was connected to SLL Company which evolved from Kasese Nile and Wood and controls construction of camps in the Albertine grabben for licensees in the oil sector, but there was no evidence of this either.
“The committee through the Registrar of Companies conducted a search on the afore-mentioned companies and there was no evidence of their existence. It was informed by the Registrar of Companies that no such company exists in the registry of companies in Uganda.”
With regard to Mbabazi, who was accused of pursuing personal business in the oil sector through one Edward Kabuchuchu and a company named Mineral Services Limited, the committee again found no evidence to back that up.