By Agather Atuhaire
Ministry of Tourism officials were paid for trips they never made
Tourism minister Ephraim Kamuntu has been in the news lately for stopping a commission of inquiry into alleged corruption in one of his departments; the Protected Areas Management for Sustainable Use (PAMSU). Now fresh information appears to show he too irregularly received money.
Kamuntu’s case could, if proved, confirm Justice George Kanyeihamba’s claim that the work of the commission he led was blocked by corrupt officials protecting each other.
Kanyeihamba has vowed to continue with the investigation on which more than Shs 300 million has been already spent.
“There must be hidden motives but whatever they are, I am not going to stop uncovering the truth until the president says so,” said Kanyeihamba.
The Independent exclusively learnt that about Shs 25million has been withdrawn from UWA account since July to allegedly pay for trips the minister and other ministry officials made.
In a show of the extent of the abuse, in one incident almost the whole ministry top brass requisitioned for money from the PAMSU parent body, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), to visit the same place at the same time.
Emmanuel Olaunah who was the under secretary in the ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry wrote to UWA Acting Executive Director, Dr Andrew Seguya on July 7 directing the latter to facilitate the minister’s entourage to mount Elgon protected areas.
According to the vouchers The Independent has seen, UWA released Shs 17 million for the minister, state minister, permanent secretary, under secretary, commissioner wildlife, two personal assistants, two body guards and four drivers for their “on spot visit to assess the extent of the encroachment”.
On August 24, Shs3.7 million was requisitioned for the minister’s trip to East Madi for what the requisition forms calls the PA’s (protected areas’) disputes with local communities.
On the same date, Shs2.2 million was requisitioned for the State Minister Agnes Akiror to visit the same place. It is said that even the permanent secretary, the under secretary and the commissioner wildlife also requisitioned for facilitation to the same place although The Independent did not get their vouchers.
Minister Kamuntu did not in fact make one of these trips and neither did the permanent secretary and the under secretary. Sources say only the state minister travelled but none of the others who had requisitioned for facilitation money and did not travel returned it.
Although The Independent could not reach minister Kamuntu, he has always denied allegations of him getting money from UWA. On September 30 he told a press conference: “I admit I have asked UWA even before I became minister to treat my animals because Zebras cross to my farm and bring ticks to my cows but I have never gotten even a penny from UWA.”
Olaunah, who wrote the letters requesting for facilitation money from UWA, admits that under normal circumstances, the ministers’ trips whether UWA related or not are not supposed to be funded by the institution. He says, however, if an emergency arises in case the ministry does not have available money, they appeal to UWA to facilitate the minister or any other official directed to resolve the emergency.
Olaunah also told The Independent that the minister went with his deputy to acclimatise her.
When asked about claims that only the state minister made one of the trips where other four officials had requisitioned money for facilitation, Olaunah said it is only him and permanent secretary Onen that did not go.
“And we refunded that money,” he said, adding that they instead returned the money to the ministry’s accounts not UWA accounts where it had come from.
At the same press conference, Kamuntu told journalists that Kanyeihamba’s commission must stop its activities and leave UWA even if they have not concluded their work because their time is over.
He said the time they had was enough to establish how much money was meant for PAMSU project, whether it was spent in line with the objectives, the infrastructure on the ground and to establish whether there is value for money.
“We cannot be open ended to an inquiry when it is hurting a sensitive industry,” Kamuntu said.
Kamuntu rejected Kanyeihamba’s views that the commission has already taken too much time and resources to be stopped half way yet there is a lot to uncover.
He said Kanyeihamba must first compile a report of what he has done in the four and half months and what his commission intends to do.
Kanyeihamba’s six-man commission was instituted in March to investigate the alleged misuse of the over US$33m (approx. Shs 95 billion) loan from World Bank that was meant to be used by UWA through PAMSU between 2002 and 2010.
The money was meant to construct infrastructure in Uganda’s 10 national parks and 12 reserved areas (civil works), purchase goods and equipment, provide consultancy services, training and operational expenses.
But Kanyeihamba sparked a mutiny among his commissioners when he recommended the interdiction of UWA Acting Executive Director Dr Andrew Seguya for alleged misuse of funds. Two of his commissioners and its lead counsel disagreed. He is also fighting to have four UWA workers he indicted on Seguya’s recommendation reinstated.