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OPM officials charged for flouting procurement regulations

The OPM officials involved in the COVID-19 relief items scandal appearing in court. Courtesy photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Four senior officials from the office of the Prime Minister have been charged with colluding to commit a fraudulent practice in disregard of provisions of procurement regulations.

The officials who include the Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu, undersecretary Joel Wanjala, Assistant Commissioner for Procurement Fred Lutimba and Commissioner for Disaster Management Martin Owor reportedly mismanaged the procurement of food supplies for people whose livelihood was disrupted by government measures to contain coronavirus -COVID-19.

Preliminary investigations by the Statehouse Anti-Corruption Unit indicate that more than 4 billion Shillings was lost in inflated prices after the officials quoted a price of 3,900 for each kilogram of maize flour as opposed to the market price ranging between 2,500 and 3,000 Shillings. The group also quoted a price of 4,500 Shillings for each kilogram of beans as opposed to the market price of 3,000 to 4,000 Shillings.

Court presided over by Grade One Magistrate Doreen Karungi heard that between March 31 and April 8, at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kampala, the accused persons colluded to commit a fraudulent practice during the procurement process. The government ordered for 9,030,000 kilograms of maize flour and 635,000 kilograms of beans. The suppliers included Afro Kai Uganda Ltd, Global Trust Ltd, Mandela Millers and Aponye Uganda Ltd.

The accused persons denied the charges. Although their lawyers led by Fred Muwema and Ntambirweki Kandebe attempted to apply for bail, their efforts yielded no fruit. The Presiding Magistrate said that she never wanted the process to take more time because the courtroom was too congested contrary to the presidential directive on gathering.

Attempts to decongest the courtroom did not help when the magistrate maintained her position on remand. But Muwema argued that COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to violate people’s rights.

“We are not sure when the COVID-19 situation will end. Nonetheless, the accused still have their rights to get bail. We have strong instructions from our clients and all other issues of congestion were not sanctioned by them because it’s the court to control who comes in and who gets out”, Muwema said.

They were remanded to Kitalya government prison until May 4, when the case will return for mention.

Prior to their appearance in the court, their lawyers had written to the State House Anti-Corruption Unit protesting the conditions under which their clients were arrested, denying them bond and searching their homes in their absence. The lawyers contend that it was illegal for the detectives to conduct a search in the absence of the applicants.

The government started distributing of food and other essential items to 1.5 million people in Kampala and Wakiso districts as an intervention towards vulnerable communities, and families whose livelihood was affected by the ongoing lockdown. Each beneficiary receives three kilograms of beans, six kilograms of flour and a half kg of salt. Lactating mothers and the sick are given two kilograms of powdered milk and two kilograms of sugar.

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