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Otafiire on the spot over UWA saga

By Agather Atuhaire

Received money purporting to visit wildlife areas on voting day

The alleged misuse of PAMSU funds, now under investigation, could be just a part of a larger scheme in which top officials in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry abused money meant for the Uganda Wildlife Authority activities. For example the then Minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry Kahinda Otafiire and his junior minister Serapio Rukundo used to be paid fuel and other ‘facilitation’ allowances from the Uganda Wildlife Authority account.

Some sources inside UWA allege that Otafiire handpicked the current acting Executive Director Dr Andrew Seguya in order to safeguard his interests. Sources say Seguya’s appointment was contrary to the Uganda wildlife authority Act.

The sources allege that Seguya whose appointment has been challenged in court was behind the suspension of four UWA officials who were interdicted by the Justice Kanyeihamba Commission of Inquiry into alleged misuse of PAMSU funds. The commission suspended Conservation Director John Makombo, Financial Accountant Grace Kyomuhendo, Warden’s Accountant Juliet Anguria and Marketing and Research Officer Vanice Mirembe about two weeks ago, accusing them of concealing information and obstructing the commissioners’ work. The commission said their continued stay in office would jeopardise its investigations.

However the suspended officials allege that their predicament was masterminded by Seguya in a scheme to victimise whoever opposes him at UWA. They allege that the victimisation started with Mark Kamanzi, the UWA Director for Legal and Corporate Affairs who was suspended when he reportedly opposed Seguya’s appointment as illegal.

Kamanzi had spent two months as acting Executive Director when then Executive Director Moses Mapesa was interdicted in October 2010. Kamanzi had been recommended for the job by the board which was disbanded by court following the petition by Mapesa who had been suspended.

According to the UWA Act the Executive Director is appointed by the minister on recommendation of the board. However sources say Otafiire unilaterally appointed Seguya when there was no board. Seguya had been Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Education Centre Trust before his UWA appointment in December 2010.

“With this communication, and by the virtue of the powers entrusted in me by the Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200 of 2000, I am appointing you as Ag. Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for a period of six months,” the appointment letter signed b y Otafiire reads in part.

Seguya was to serve a probationary period of six months pending confirmation. However it is alleged that upon taking over office he demanded an employment contract from UWA’s Human Resource Manager. The HR manager sought Kamanzi’s legal opinion. “I have received verbal instructions from Dr Andrew Seguya, the acting executive director, to prepare him an employment contract. As you are aware all contracts go through the legal unit for perusal. Please find attached for your legal advice,” the HR manager wrote on Dec 13

Kamanzi replied that Seguya’s employment contract wouldn’t be legally proper since the Executive Director is supposed to be appointed by the minister on recommendation of the board, which was not yet constituted following the disbandment of the old one. “The cardinal responsibility of the executive director is to administer the UWA Act; this cannot be fulfilled where his appointment and contract contravenes the provisions of the same Act,” Kamanzi’s wrote back.

Kamanzi was later suspended by Otafiire on charges of insubordination. Sources in UWA say that Otafiire wanted to get rid of Kamanzi because the latter opposed the minister’s arbitrary demands for money from UWA. Kamanzi petitioned court challenging his suspension and appointment of Seguya. The case is still pending in court.

With Kamazni out of office, UWA sources say Seguya was at liberty to honour Otafiire’s financial demands under the cover of ‘minister’s fuel facilitation and accommodation’ on matters not even related to UWA activities. For example on February 17, 2011, Seguya wrote to the Finance Director demanding fuel facilitation to the ministers (Otafiire and Rukundo).

“As you might be aware, government has not released any money to the ministry of tourism except subventions. The ministers however have to continue performing,” Seguya said. He instructed the UWA Director of Finance to release Shs2m and Shs1.8m to Otafiire and Rukundo respectively per month.

In another voucher dated February 15, 2011, the director of finance was instructed by Seguya to release over Shs7m for the ministers’ five day visit to areas in Rukungiri which had been ravaged by wild animals.

This is quite intriguing because general elections were held on February 18. It’s inconceivable that the ministers who were both standing for parliamentary election in their constituencies in Bushenyi  and Kabale would be away in Rukungiri on the voting day purportedly to visit areas ravaged by wild animals. The reasonable conclusion is that this “facilitation” to the ministers was to facilitate their election.

However Seguya said it’s a normal practice for the line ministers to get facilitation from UWA. Seguya said the President had directed that the areas affected by wild animals be fenced off and that Otafiire was required to go there irrespective of the election time. But he could not tell whether Otafiire actually visited the said areas.

“I did not do that because I have a special relationship with Kahinda Otafiire like they allege. The ministers got that money because ministers do not have budgets to do UWA activities and we are supposed to fund the activities of the organisation,” he said.

In his court petition, Kamanzi had prayed that Seguya be suspended until the case was disposed of. But Seguya argued that with the Financial Accountant Kyomuhendo already out on suspension, suspending him would cause an administrative crisis at UWA. The court declined to suspend him.

The interdicted UWA officials claim that Seguya influenced the Commission to get rid of them so that he creates the administrative crisis to justify why he should not be kicked out of office pending the disposal of the petition challenging his appointment.

Seguya however dismissed the claim saying it’s the Commission which suspended them using its judicial powers.

“My letter to them was administrative to restrict their presence around UWA property which I did in compliance with the commission’s directions,” Seguya says.

He said he has no power to influence a person of the calibre of Justice Kanyeihamba,  who chairs the commission, to do something illegal.

“Do you think an ordinary man like me can influence the judgment of a man as honorable as your Lordship Kanyeihamba to suspend innocent people?” he asked.

However what is clear is that Seguya is a man of unquantifiable determination in asserting his authority at UWA. On Feb 16, he wrote to the permanent secretary of the Tourism ministry asking him to approve him as the UWA Accounting Officer to have full powers over the Authority’s funds.

Onen in turn wrote to the Secretary to the Treasury on February 16 seeking his opinion. But the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi replied on March 15 saying that Seguya had not been appointed on contract and therefore could not be appointed as an accounting officer.

Although Seguya was appointed in December in acting capacity for six months, in March Otafiire wrote extending his tenure before the end of his probation.

Otafiire, in characteristic style, would not say anything about the allegations when The Independent asked him to comment. He said he had nothing to do with matters of the ministry he has already left.

Otafiire is Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in following the May cabinet reshuffle. He says he cannot be responsible for what he did or did not do in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry (MTTI).

“I am now answerable to the omissions and shortcomings of Kiddu Makubuya [his predecessor in the justice ministry] and there is a person who should be responsible [for my omissions or deeds] in the Tourism ministry. MTTI is not my garden and I am no longer responsible for what is happening or what happened there,” Otafiire said.

Sources in UWA say Otafiire is responsible for the turmoil in UWA which started way back in 2010 when he reappointed Mapesa as Executive Director even when the Board had not approved him.

When Otafiire disagreed with Mapesa over financial issues, according to Vanice Mirembe one of the suspended UWA officials, he sided with the board chaired by Dr Boysier Muballe to terminate his contract. In his affidavit in court when Mapesa filed a case challenging his sacking, Otafiire admitted he had no powers of recommending and appointing and that it was the reason he revoked Mapesa’s appointment after realising he had acted in error.

“That I realised I had acted outside the law in re-appointing Mr Mapesa without the recommendation of any board and on 13th August 2010, I accordingly wrote to Mr. Mapesa revoking his appointment,” Otafiire’s affidavit reads in part.

But the same Otafiire again in December 2010 appointed Seguya as Executive Director of UWA without the recommendation of the board and even extended his contract before he completed his six-month probation.

He also suspended Kamanzi who was appointed in acting capacity in September 2010 by the board. He went ahead to appoint Seguya without consulting the board because he had not appointed it.

One of the suspended UWA officials Grace Kyomuhendo said it’s unfortunate that the Commission of Inquiry which was supposed to be independent acted on baseless information arising from UWA’s internal conflicts.

“I am the financial accountant who is out of the organisation on unclear accusations and UWA doesn’t have any approved budget as we speak which might lead to more cases of money loss,” she said.

John Makombo, suspended Director of Conservation, said their suspension was politically instigated and the commission of inquiry should beware of the internal fights in UWA in order to make a credible report. “There is a big problem if we can’t get justice where we expect it,” he said.

The UWA officials accuse the commission of suspending them without giving them a fair hearing. “If someone who has spent such a long time in justice like retired Supreme Court judge does such an absurd act, who else can the grieved run to?” Makombo asked.

They said they have written to Justice Kanyeihamba and that the retired judge seem to have realised they had been victims of internal intrigue but that they will be back to their respective offices when the commission completes its investigations.

The Commission however maintains that it received confidential information that the presence of the four officials could hinder their investigations and decided to tempo­rarily have them out until the inquiry is over.

Catherine Muganga, the commission’s sec­retary, said the officials will return to their offices. She dismissed the claim that the commission was influenced by anyone to suspend the UWA officials.

“We did not allow them to defend them­selves because we feared it would be a threat to the investigation. But things will be cleared soon and they will come back to resume their duties,” she said.

One of the four suspended officials, Mirem­be, said they have also written to the new minister of Tourism, Ephraim Kamuntu but he has not responded.

Whereas the ongoing investigation is restricted to alleged abuse of the PAMSU money, it’s apparent the abuse is much larg­er and it spreads across the entire Uganda Wildlife Authority and the supervisory line ministry.

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