Sharp exchanges between MPs and ministers capped hours of yesterday’s bitter debate on the investigation report into the Shs 6 billion reward to 42 government officials who performed commendably in the London tax arbitration dispute between Uganda and Heritage Oil and Gas and Tullow Oil.
The report by the parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) committee, presented to the House yesterday, recommended that the beneficiaries should refund the Shs 6bn. However, the deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana, suggested that the inspectorate of Government should first conduct an investigation of its own.
But the MPs noisily rejected that suggestion. The MPs stopped government’s attempt to shelve the recommendations, which are largely unfavourable to the beneficiaries of the bonus payment.
According to the report, the payout to the beneficiaries was irregular and flouted the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Some of the beneficiaries included Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Commissioner General Doris Akol and former Attorneys-General, Fred Ruhindi and Peter Nyombi, KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi, Solicitor General Francis Atoke, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance Keith Muhakanizi and UNRA Commissioner General Allen Kagina.
Shortly before the debate on the report commenced, Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana pointed out the contradictions in the committee recommendations.
In trying to cushion the 42 government officials from receiving double punishment, Rukutana explained that ordering someone to refund the money before being duly investigated by the IGG was not right.
The AG suggested that keeping in line with one of the recommendations, the IGG should first establish whether the beneficiaries should refund the money before they are punished.
“I find these two recommendations rather contradictory. Suppose the IGG carries out investigations and finds that actually the officers are not culpable or guilty, yet you have already condemned them to refund the money and be held accountable?” Rukutana said, amidst boos from legislators.
COSASE Chairman, Abdu Katuntu did not take the AG’s submission lying down. He accused the AG of not reading the law, which provides guidelines for the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) on expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
Katuntu, who presented the 90-page report, explained that Sections 78, 79 and 80 are clear on liabilities and penalties against officials who flout the law. He noted that it was imperative for Parliament to also give a heads-up to the IGG’s office in the event that there was criminality detected in the payment of the Shs 6 billion bonus.
“The issue about referring, we have clearly found out that the money was paid out contrary to the law. The committee investigated and in the process, noted the possibility of criminal offences having been committed. Since we are not a prosecuting agency, we referred this to the IGG,” Katuntu said.
During the committee probe, legislators faulted the AG’s office for failing to advise the president on the payment of the bonus, which the committee noted was not provided for in the public service standing orders.
Katuntu said Rukutana’s objections to the committee’s recommendations were a slap in the face of his committee’s efforts to put things right.
“We are having a conflict and the president was in a dilemma on this matter. The offices that should have advised him are the ones involved in that issue, so as we take advice from the office of the AG, we should also take that into consideration,” Katuntu stated.
Majority of MPs who backed the committee’s recommendations insisted that the implicated officers should refund the money. Silas Aogon (Kumi Municipality) demanded that the beneficiaries, and not the president, should be tasked to refund the money and, if need be, surveillance made to ensure they do not run away with taxpayers’ money.
Anne Adeke (Female Youth) said the beneficiaries must offer public apologies to all Ugandans.