A look into the COSASE investigations into public expenditure so far.

It is by design that all Accountability Committees of the Parliaments of Commonwealth counties must be led by the opposition legislators in order to keep the sitting governments in the check on matters to do with public funds.

For the case of the Parliament of Uganda, the Accountability Committees under the opposition are; Public Accounts Committee (PAC-Central) which deals with ministries and departments; Public Accounts Committee Local Governments (PAC-Local) that deals with Districts, Cities and Municipalities; and, the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) which is charged with government agencies.

Since July last year, National Unity Platform (NUP) spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi who is also the Nakawa West legislator has been on the wheels for COSASE and is deputized by Amuru District Woman MP Lucy Akello of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

“I don’t want to talk about the past committees because I don’t know what challenges or otherwise what the issues were. I thank God that we have been able to do the work we have done so far, little or much. At the very start, I had a meeting with my committee members and I said, `We have a lot of work to do, I request for your availability” Ssenyonyi said in an interview at Parliament.

Ssenyonyi and majority of the legislators sitting on the COSASE are serving their first term in office and from the start; all eyes were on Kasilo County MP Elijjah Okupa and Kashari South MP Nathan Itungo who has been part of the past committees.

The probes so far 

The most recent probe that still rings bells in the ears of many Ugandans is the scrutinizing of the Auditor General’s report on the operations of Uganda National Airlines Company Limited (UNACL). The newly revamped national flag carrier had made losses of more than Shs500B according to the audit which also queried issues of direct procurement, lack of accountability for some in-flight equipment for the AirBus A320 neo aircrafts, among others.

COSASE in its report recommended to Parliament that forensic audits be conducted with immediate effect in order to find out more about the operations of the Airline. 

After observing that there were no supporting documents furnished with neither the Auditors nor the Committee in regard to the procurement of in-flight service equipment for Airbus aircrafts, the lawmakers want a deeper investigation through forensic audit. The equipment worth $319,226.86 (about Shs1.2b) was procured through a contracted service provider, M/s Ninesun Manufacturing Limited and management had informed the auditors that the consignment was delivered to DAS Air but there was no evidence that they were received, witnessed for quality and quantity and the handover to DAS Air stores.

“The unclear terms and conditions in the procurement supplies/contracts pose a risk that the items were not supplied and that they may go missing without accountability in case they were supplied due to lack of a tenancy agreement with DAS Air for storage of Uganda Airlines equipment. The Auditor General should carry out a special audit into the purchase of the said equipment” reads part of the report that is yet to be presented to the House.

The report also recommends that management of the Airline needs to enter a formal tenancy agreement with DAS Air a private company that has been carrying out ground handling services at Entebbe International Airport.

COSASE interfacing with management of Uganda Airlines on the red flags raised by the Auditor General in the FY 2020/21. 

Another forensic audit the MPs want contacted by the Office of the Auditor General is about the procurement of critical spare parts for Business Class seats for A330-800 Neo aircraft at $146,230.72 (about Shs555.7m) but there was no evidence provided to the Auditors by management.

While appearing before the COSASE, UNACL Management team led by Bamuturaki responded that the purchase of the critical spare parts was already pre-determined at the contract signing between the Airline and Airbus and were delivered through a company called Stelia.

The lawmakers also want another forensic audit to be conducted on the 20 procurements that were found to have been done without the evidence of contract management files. The Auditor General queried why the 20 procurements he sampled were done without appointment of contract managers. Some of these procurements were also made in different currencies including Uganda Shillings, Kenya Shillings, US dollars and Euros.

The report notes that the management of the Airline during the probe “acknowledged the anomaly” which is contrary to Regulation 52(2) of the Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) contracts regulations.

Land matters

COSASE in August presented to Parliament a report about the probe into the operations of the Uganda Land Commission (ULC). The report adopted by Parliament recommended further investigations and possible punishment of top government officials.

Top among the government officials recommended for investigations and possible prosecution include Inspector General of Government (IGG) Beti Kamya for allegedly committing fraud while serving as Minister for Lands. COSASE after going through action-packed interactions with the IGG, found that it needs to be probed further for her role in the generation of Shs10.63b supplementary budget with part of the money going to ghost land claimants. ULC Chairperson Beatrice Byenkya was opposed to the expenditure but Secretary to the Commission Barbara Imaryo acting on the instructions of the then Minister went on to pay.

COSASE session with Former Land Minister BETTY KAMYA & Suspended Chair Uganda Land Commission BYENKYA over accountability for 10.62Billion supplementary expenditure.

At least Shs2b was lost to ghost claimant, Natalie Namuli whose lawyers pocketed the money that Parliament now wants returned to the Consolidated Fund. The land title issued to Namuli after her lawyers presented fake Powers of Attorney has since been cancelled.

“You are accordingly advised to surrender to this office (Land Registration) forthwith the duplicate certificate of title for land comprised in Buyaga Block 147 Plot 2 at Kyamukaka for cancellation without any further delay” reads part of the August 22 letter signed by Baker Mugaino on behalf of the Commissioner Land Registration, Ministry of Lands.

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija who conceded to erroneously signing off the Supplementary request that was not generated by ULC is also supposed to be investigated further. To be investigated together with Kasaija is Patrick Ochailap the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury.

Other officials that Parliament want further investigated are; Imaryo who is on suspension since January and allegedly fled the country at the start of the COSASE probe, former ULC Chief Accountant, Siraje Isabirye, Kibaale District Land Registrar, Denis Kahabura and lawyer Richard Buzibira.

COSASE further recommended an overhaul of ULC and the recovery from several ULC officials; Shs169.4b for unsupported payables; Shs15b in overstated payments; Shs3.9b found to have been stolen; Shs1.23b in irregular payments; Shs14b whose payment was not supported; and, Shs5.2b doubtful payments.

Rot in railways

Another COSASE report adopted by Parliament early this year resulted from the probe into the operations of the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) the entity that runs the railway services in the country.

The Auditor General’s report for the year ended June 30, 2021 had queried a number of issues including management of core and noncore assets, procurements and indebtedness of URC.

COSASE found out that there were irregularities in the disposing off of some of the properties of URC as there was no evidence to show that 10 out of the 15 sold were advertised to attract competitive bidding.

COSASE met officials of Uganda Land Commission & Privatisation Unit regarding their role in the sale of Railways(URC) land

“There was no evidence of payment for these properties. There was no evidence of a valuer’s report determining the reserve price. The committee recommends that the Inspectorate of Government should investigate this matter and prosecute those found culpable” read part of the report.

In adopting the report, Parliament also called for the officials of the Privatization Unit in the Ministry of Finance who handled the second phase of disposing of properties to be held responsible and punished for failing to follow the laid down procedures.  

This after COSASE found out that certain properties in Phase II were sold to third parties by sitting tenants who were given first priority that transferred their interest to third parties and whose interest could not be regularized by URC.

Parliament also adopted a recommendation asking the Ministry of Finance to clear the Shs69.52b it owes URC for the land the government allocated to private investors who lost out on Nakawa-Naguru land when Opec Prime Properties was handed a contract to build a satellite city. Some of those compensated with URC land are the proprietors of Mestil Hotel and the Arena Mall.

Still with URC, the COSASE probe discovered that the entity has imported locomotives that are 8 years old at a tune of Shs48b instead of the 6 years old that had been recommended for Shs36b after a market survey.

“The Ministry of Works and Transport should take responsibility for failure to follow government policy on procurement of equipment. The Management of URC that was involved in this procurement should be held responsible for flouting procurement regulations and the unplanned costs incurred on modifications of railway triangles in Jinja and Tororo and the U-turn in Kampala.” The report stated.

Entebbe Airport issues

The first probe by the current COSASE was about the Entebbe Airport expansion project which is being undertaken using a Shs720b loan from the Exim Bank of China.

China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC), the company that is carrying out the works according to COSASE findings, was hired by Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) without following procurement regulations like competitive bidding.

The Committee of COSASE meeting officials from CCCC, to probe circumstances under which the Chinese firm was contracted to upgrade Entebbe International Airport.

The Committee found out that the loan agreement signed by Finance Minister, Matia Kasaija and the China Exim Bank has “unfavourable and unsustainable clauses” for the country because the international immunity for Uganda was waived.

The report reads; “China has to first approve the UCAA annual budget, UCAA cannot spend money from its accounts without China’s approval, arbitration and legal redress can only be sought in China’s Courts which disadvantages Uganda”

Ssenyonyi said he was happy with the work so far accomplished by his Committee because in one year, they have been able to show the country that there is much beyond what the Auditor General finds in entities every year. He said that the Committee has a variety of professionals among the MPs mostly Lawyers, Certified Accounts and Auditors and that has helped to dig out issues of accountability.

“Some of these witnesses have a thinking that MPs don’t read but the MPs on this committee read. The Chairperson of this Committee reads and the legal training I got implores me to read. Many of the critical issues are normally hidden in voluminous documents. So we read and prepare. They get shocked when they discover we have a lot of information” said Ssenyonyi.

He revealed that during the course investigations, the Committee has faced a challenge of arrogant witnesses who feel they answer to no one other than the Appointing Authority who is the President of the country.

Asked about whether the recommendations of the Committee will ever be implemented because they touch big figures in government, Ssenyonyi said that the current Parliament should pick a leaf from the 7th and 8th Parliaments which have on recorded censured Ministers.

He also argued President Yoweri Museveni to recourse the way he is appointing heads of government entities because such probes have found out that some of them are incompetent or not properly qualified to handle public funds and assets.

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