Parliament to discuss report on diverted aid

Fri, Nov 9, 2012, 00:00

The Ugandan parliament will debate their auditor general’s report into the diversion of €12 million in foreign aid, amid mounting domestic political criticism about the government’s handling of the crisis.

Just over two weeks ago, the report found that foreign aid from Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark earmarked for reconstruction projects in the north of the country had been diverted into unauthorised accounts.

Opposition criticism is centring around Pius Bigirimana, the permanent secretary at the office of the prime minister, who was named in the auditor general’s report as having signed off a number of the disputed payments.

Last week, the Ugandan parliament passed a resolution calling for his indictment following the publication of the auditor general’s report.

Despite the resolution, Mr Bigirimana, who is the senior civil servant in the department, remains in office. Two senior government officials are under investigation and more than 15 officials, mostly junior government employees, have been suspended.

“We made a unanimous resolution as a parliament and our resolution was disrespected,” independent deputy Gerard Kamhanga told The Irish Times yesterday. “The permanent secretary has shown to the Ugandan people that nobody can touch him. Parliament as the legislative arm of the government is being completely disrespected. We are very disappointed.”

A number of deputies from president Yoweri Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), also criticised Mr Bigirimana’s continued presence in the role.

President’s response

NRM deputy Ssekikubo Theodore pointed out that permanent secretaries in other departments had been dismissed for comparable offences, while Selina Nabanda, also an NRM deputy, criticised the president’s response. “Museveni is not committed to fighting corruption,” she said.

Earlier this week, Norway became the fourth country to suspend aid to Uganda, joining Ireland, Britain and Denmark, following the publication of the report which found money earmarked for reconstruction projects in the north of the country had been diverted into unauthorised accounts.

Auditor general John Muwanga is due to present his report to the public accounts committee, after which it will go to parliament.

A separate criminal investigation is under way.

A number of deputies have also criticised Mr Museveni’s commitment that he is to repay the money, pointing out that taxpayers’ money will be used.

“Good money is being used to replace bad,” independent deputy Otada Amooti said yesterday, arguing that those who received the misappropriated funds should refund the money.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Beatrice Anywar, a deputy from the main opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) who represents a district in northern Uganda, said the scandal had raised the question of why money destined for the region had been channelled through the office of the prime minister.

“It should have been managed through a separate fund or a specific ministry for northern Uganda, not through the office of the prime minister. The area of Uganda is in desperate need of funds in terms of infrastructure and health.

“The commitment to repay the money means that the ordinary Ugandan people have to pay again. Where is the refunded money going to come from?”

Mr Museveni has been in power for more than 26 years. The main opposition party, FDC, was founded in 2004, but lost the election to Mr Museveni’s party in last year’s election.

FDC leader Kizza Besigye has consistently questioned the election result. Last month he was arrested in relation to anti-government protests in Kampala.