By Agather Atuhaire
What next after Wildlife Authority minister Kamuntu rejects it?
Since Justice George Kanyeihamba released the report of his inquiry into alleged corruption in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry (MTTI), the line minister, Ephraim Kamuntu has been in a pickle.
He needs to act on the findings of the report. But in an unusual twist, the Kanyeihamba Report fingers him too for alleged corruption. So what is he to do; indict himself?
For now, Kamuntu says he will not “recognise the report”.
Kamuntu has picked on the unusual manner in which Kanyeihamba compiled and issued the report to reject it. Kanyeihamba released the report to the press on Nov. 9 when Kamuntu was out of the country.
Kamuntu says Kanyeihamba was “obliged to submit the report formally to him as the minister, who is the appointing authority, to take the necessary action on the findings instead of releasing it to the media and making comments on it”.
Failure to do that, according to Kamuntu, “undermines the integrity of the report”. He says Kanyeihamba must apologise to him publically and submit the report to him formally.
“Even then, I will subject it to judicial perusal to test its authenticity because a lot of people do not have faith in it,” Kamuntu told The Independent.
Kamuntu’s strategy appears perfect if he is aiming for a stalemate. Kanyeihamba, a respected former justice of the Supreme Court, is a stubborn rabble-rouser not given to apologies.
“I do not apologise to criminals,” he told The Independent. As for not handing over the report to Kamuntu, Kanyeihamba says he gave the report to the ministry.
“I called his office and they told me he was out of the country, I called his deputy and they said she was not in office, I sent the report with a letter to the permanent secretary and that is how ministries are supposed to work,” he says.
Kanyeihamba says he also sent the report to the Office of the President, the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and other authorities to take the desired action. That is where Kamuntu’s woes start.
The allegations of corruption that Kanyehamba makes are so shocking and the misuse and abuse of resources so obvious that the culprits must be punished. If no action is taken, Kanyeihamba will be vindicated for asserting that Kamuntu’s claims are mere pretexts to frustrate the inquiry.
How it started
Kanyeihamba chaired a commission of five to investigate the alleged corruption in the ministry of tourism. It was to scrutinise how the World Bank and government of Uganda funded project, Protected Areas for Management and Sustainable Use (PAMSU) was implemented under the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
The PAMSU project, on which about US$38 million (Approx. Shs 100 billion) was spent, was meant improve facilities like roads, observation points, offices and rangers quarters in 10 national parks and 12 game reserves. It was also to provide training for modernisation of the ministry workers to boost tourism.
Tourism, which is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner, fetched US$400 million in the 2009/10 Financial Year compared to US$262 million for coffee. Game parks are Uganda’s main tourist attraction. Uganda was named Tourist destination of the year 2012 by Lonely Planet, the world’s leading tourist traffic monitor. According to the MTTI website, Uganda recorded 844,000 tourist arrivals in 2008 and 817,000 in 2009 representing a 5% decline. The Uganda Tourism Board Newsletter for April May shows that arrivals were 880,000 in 2010. By the time PAMSU was implemented to improve tourism sector performance, around 2005, tourists averaged 247,000. It is however said that very little work was done under PAMSU and the little that was done was sub-standard.
The PAMSU project was to end in 2008. However, red flags went up when UWA applied for an additional sum of US$43 million (Approx. Shs 120 billion) in 2010 to complete the project. Then-line minister Kahinda Otafiire appointed Kanyeihamba to head a “value-for-money” inquiry into the project.
Internal squabbles among the commissioners, the ministry and UWA officials made headlines when a new minister, Ephraim Kamuntu, was appointed and he ordered the inquiry to wind up in August after just five months of acrimonious work.
Kanyeihamba alleges that officials in the ministry and UWA denied him access, and burgled his offices to frustrate him.
Kanyeihamba’s inquiry is the 5th ; the World Bank did two, Ernst &Young one, and another by Kwiringira. They all sought to investigate how the money was spent. They all were frustrated, quit mid-term, and their reports have never been released.
Perhaps sensing that the report of his inquiry could suffer the same fate, Kanyeihamba first petitioned President Yoweri Museveni to extend the life of his commission. When that failed, he appears to have hurriedly compiled whatever he had gathered in to a report.
The result is a stinging indictment of officials including minister Kamuntu who is accused of “economic crimes” and “breaches of the leadership code of conduct”. Other named for either misuse or abuse of PAMSU money are the ministry Permanent Secretary Julius Onen, then-under Secretary Emmanuel Olaunah, then- UWA executive director Moses Mapesa, the acting director Andrew Seguya and former planning officer and community conservation coordinator James Omoding.
These officials allegedly either solicited and accepted bribes, embezzled, diverted and illegally misused public funds and therefore should be investigated by police and prosecuted, according to the Kanyeihamba Report.
The report recommends that other individuals who committed minor offenses like former UWA board chairman John Nagenda, former MTTI Minister Edward Rugumayo, former MTTI Permanent Secretary Sam Nahamya and another former board chairman Andrew Kasirye “should never be entrusted with responsibilities in similar public positions”.
The commission in its report concluded that Uganda did not get value for all the money it acquired to execute the PAMSU project.
The report has, however, been criticised and minister Kamuntu says he was wrongfully implicated in the report without any fair hearing and with other accused individuals saying they were not in their current positions during the implementation of the project.
Kamuntu, who came into the ministry in June 2011 when Kanyeihamba and his inquiry were too months into the investigations, is furious.
“It is absurd that a retired judge can just be keen on tarnishing people’s names by accusing them of all sorts of crimes unfairly without caring about what they have to say in defence,” he says.
“At no time during its investigations did the commission summon me as a witness to appear before it to make a presentation about the alleged offences,” said Kamuntu.
Kanyeihamba is accused of putting his personal feelings to the matter and “implicating innocent people and leaving out the real culprits”. Many are surprised that the report does not implicate most people who oversaw PAMSU, including Minister Otafiire.
The PAMSU project began in 2002 and was meant to end in 2008 and observers say the line ministers during that period, the executive directors, the board chairman and the project coordinator would be in a better position to explain how that money was spent and why it did not accomplish all the planned projects.
Only Mapesa, who was the authority’s executive director from 2005-2010 is implicated together with individuals that came into the ministry when the project was long completed.
During the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry, it emerged that former MTTI minister Otafiire had requisitioned for money at various occasions even during the general election period to supposedly do UWA related activities.
But Otafiire who instituted the commission of inquiry was not mentioned anywhere among the individuals liable to be punished.
Kanyeihamba defends his sheltering of Otafiire.
“General Otafiire said he did not get that money himself or for his personal use but the permanent secretary who was his accounting officer did,” said Kanyeihamba.
But the PS, Onen, says he had nothing to do with PAMSU because he came into the ministry in 2009 when PAMSU activities were long wound up.
His former undersecretary Olaunah also denies being part of PAMSU saying he was appointed into that position in 2009 when the remaining operations of the project were only in UWA.
Kanyeihamba is accused of being emotional and unprofessional. He allegedly used his inquiry to get back at every one who disagreed with him.
According to Kamuntu, Kanyeihamba implicated him in the PAMSU saga because he declined to extend his (Kanyeihamba’s) commission further.
Kanyeihamba says Kamuntu came to his office and he brought the accusations against him to his attention and that the minister acknowledged them so “that was fair hearing enough”.
On the minister saying he was not in UWA during the time of PAMSU, Kanyeihamba says his commission’s second last term of reference allows them to investigate matters incidental or consequential to misallocation of funds.
“It does not mean that I will see something going wrong and turn a blind eye because I was investigating only PAMSU, I was investigating corruption as a patriotic Ugandan,” Kanyeihamba said.
Onen and Olaunah on the other hand say Kanyeihamba became bitter with them because they transferred the commission from an office which they were preparing for the new minister of State for Tourism, Alice Akiror.
Kanyeihamba accuses Onen, Oulanah, and Sseguya of abusing PAMSU money under the guise of facilitating trips of ministers. But the officials insist it is normal for agencies under any ministry to facilitate the line ministers when they are doing agency-related work.
What is unacceptable, Onen says, is failing to account for that money or getting facilitation both from the ministry and the agency.
Mapesa who is the main suspect says there was no money misappropriated.
“It is true, the money did not accomplish all that it was expected to, but it is not necessarily because it was diverted,” Mapesa told The Independent. “Which money disappeared? Nobody, at least in my know, has come up and said this amount of money got lost.”
He said the money was not enough just like someone plans in any other venture and things do not turn out as planned.
Some say, PAMSU was the most successful project in the tourism sector and it is thanks to the same project that Uganda earns what it earns from the sector today.
“How do you determine the project was not successfully implemented even before the project completion report is out?” a source from UWA who prefers anonymity said.
According to the source, the project sponsors the World Bank and the government of Uganda, are yet to release the report which the minister should have waited for to institute a commission of inquiry if it was necessary.
Mapesa says the commission purposely set up to punish him for refusing to fund Otafiire’s political ambitions and for disagreeing with his choice of the Board of Trustees (BOT).
“When I declined to fund his countrywide tour in search for the NRM secretary general support with UWA money, Otafiire started leveling against me one accusation after another,” said Mapesa.
He says their souring relationship became worse when he (Otafire) brought on the board people that the players in the sector did not agree with. Among then new board was its chairman, Bousier Muballe who allegedly demanded a retainer of shs 2 million, a sitting allowance of Shs300, 000, night allowances of Shs 400,000, 200 litres of fuel and airtime worth Shs 200,000 per month.
All of these demands are said to have been approved by the minister but opposed by Onen and Mapesa who was sacked soon after. Kanyeihamba in his report commends Muballe as a professional, dedicated and patriotic Ugandan. For now, however, Kanyeihamba’s praise or indictment is as worthless as a gorilla in a game park with no tourist in sight. Only Kamuntu’s next move can change that.
Accused of corruption
- Tourism Minister Ephraim Kamuntu
- Tourism Permanent Secretary Julius Onen
- Former Tourism Under Secretary Emmanuel Olaunah
- Former UWA Executive Director Moses Mapesa
- Acting UWA Executive Director Andrew Seguya
- Former Planning & Community Conservation Coordinator James Omoding