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OPM officials trial commences over relief food procurement scam

The accused OPM officials appearing before court. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The trial of four interdicted officials in the Office of the Prime Minister on charges of abuse of office has commenced at the High Court Anti-Corruption Division.

The officials are the permanent secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu, accountant Joel Wanjala, assistant commissioner for procurement Fred Lutimba and commissioner for disaster management Martin Owor.

On Tuesday, they appeared in the High Court before Justice Margaret Tibulya, weeks after they had been sent there for trial by the Anti-Corruption Court Chief Magistrate Sarah Namusobya who didn’t have jurisdictions to try them.

The trial process started with appointing three court assessors who included Clemensia Nabudde, Noah Nimrod Wambuzi and Rehema Babirye.

The accused are charged with 24 offences related to abuse of office and false accounting.

It is alleged that the accused persons did acts prejudicial to their employer when they prepared and issued false entries in award letters to several companies to supply COVID-19 relief items such as maize and milk worth more than 32 billion Shillings in total disregard of the procurement procedures.

The companies that were contracted between March 31 and April 8, 2020, include Aponye Uganda Limited which was given 19 billion Shillings to supply several kilograms of maize, Mandela Millers Limited which was given 9 Billion Shillings and Afro Kai Limited which was paid 2 billion shillings.

The other companies include Mehta Group which was given 900 million, Operation Wealth Creation which was paid 450 million, Pearl Dairy Farmers Limited with a bill of 525 million shillings, Nmacks Investments Limited with 225 million shillings and Global Centre Limited given 240 million shillings.

It is also alleged that the accused persons used their offices to defraud government after making false entries of the said award letters to the companies to supply relief items purporting that the money had been allocated by the OPM contracts committee which was false.

According to the summary of the evidence, the accused persons started the procurement process four days towards the official announcement by the President Yoweri Museveni.

The public announcement was to procure and distribute food to the vulnerable urban poor in Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono and Mbale districts who had been badly affected by the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown.

As a result, Guwatudde signed the award letters to suppliers to distribute the required food items without authorization from the accounting officer also her co-accused Joel Wanjala.

It also indicates that the suppliers were contacted by John Martin Owor through telephone calls and Whatsapp messages.

The DPP’s evidence also shows that the procurement didn’t go through any bidding process to select the suitable companies to supply and neither was there a market survey to establish the actual cost of the maize, beans, sugar and powdered milk that was to be supplied.

As such, the state alleges that this exposed consumers to poor quality food and government at risk of paying for sub-standard items since most of the companies were found not to be qualified.

However, evidence also indicates that after a renegotiation with the suppliers who had been informed by the accused persons to supply a kilogram of beans at shillings 5,000 and maize at 3,000 Shillings, more than 4.5 billion worth taxpayers money was saved.

The court has now ordered that the prosecution discloses to the accused persons and their lawyers including Evans Ochieng, Andrew Mumpenje, Medard Lubega Sseggona and MacDusman Kabega the evidence they intend to use against their clients.

The trial is scheduled to start on March 15th to 26th 2021.

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