Collusion of PM's office and treasury suspected

 

AS MANY as 14 officials in government and banking circles in Uganda may be involved in the alleged diversion of an estimated €12 million in international aid, including up to €4 million from Ireland, reliable sources say.

Arrests are believed possible and there are suspicions of what a source called “collusion” between individuals in the office of prime minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi, Uganda’s central bank and the country’s treasury.

A report on the missing funds by auditor general John SF Muwanga was presented to the Ugandan government on Thurs- day, October 19th, and passed on to Irish officials that weekend.

Irish Aid, the development division of the Department of Foreign Affairs, works closely with the auditor general.

Ireland has provided technical and financial assistance for a number of years to build the skills and capacity required for complex investigations.

Sources said the missing Irish money, along with €8 million from Scandinavian countries, was initially lodged into a donor account and transferred to a “consolidated” account for the country’s northern province to which treasury officials alone were supposed to have access. The funds were then allegedly “siphoned off” to a private account by a person or persons in the prime minister’s office.

A joint statement by the development co-operation ministers of Denmark, Norway and Sweden said: “We want full clarity with regard to the scale of the irregularities. If the information is correct, there must be legal consequences. We will hold indepth discussions with the authorities in Uganda.”

They are to meet Mr Mbabazi on Monday. “When we know more about the circumstances of what has happened we will decide how we will act.”

The missing money was earmarked to aid stability and reconstruction in war-torn northern Uganda by financing clinics, schools, roads, water supplies and judicial institutions.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has suspended €16 million in aid due to be channelled through the Uganda government. Three officials from Iveagh House flew to Kampala on Thursday to investigate, and are to be joined next week by the head of the department’s aid division, Brendan Rogers.

Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith said it was “particularly worrying” that the alleged misuse of Irish taxpayers’ money was not discovered by Irish officials, but had come to light only due to an investigation by authorities in Uganda.

“We need a strong system to ensure value for money and effectiveness in our Official Development Assistance budget. Currently, there is no external oversight of the funding allocated by Irish Aid,” he added.

Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman Seán Crowe said: “I am happy to see that it was Uganda’s own auditor general who noticed the missing funds and alerted Irish Aid officials. This shows that Irish Aid’s work in assisting government officials abroad in reducing corruption is working.”