Legislators continue to push for sacking of errant Accounting Officers as taxpayers continue to suffer losses.

On April 12, 2023, Parliament directed the Executive to within one week furnish it with information about the 71 Accounting Officers that have been fired by the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Treasury (PS/ST), Ministry of Finance, Ramathan Ggoobi, ahead of the new financial year.

The MPs argued that it is erroneous for public officers indicted over audit queries to continue holding public offices and called for further investigation to recommend their suitability in positions they are accused of abusing.

In March, Ggoobi wrote to Parliament notably indicating that, Godfrey Sseremba the Under Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister; Leonard Mulekwa the Secretary to the Electoral Commission; Robert Mugaruru Ssemogerere the Under Secretary for Equal Opportunities Commission; and, David Livingstone Ebiru the Executive Director of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) had been relieved of their responsibility as Accounting Officers over unanswered audit queries.

The list also includes 2 Accounting Officers for Regional Referral Hospitals; Acting Town Clerks of six City Councils; 35 Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs); 12 Acting CAOs; Seven Municipal Town Clerks; and, and four Acting Municipal Town Clerks.

The institutions affected are; Office of the Prime Minister; Equal Opportunities Commission; Electoral Commission; UNBS; Masaka regional referral hospital; Soroti regional referral hospital; the cities of Fort Portal, Gulu, Jinja, Lira, Mbale and Soroti.

A week elapsed and the information was not laid on the floor of Parliament as the House was busy with the processing Ministerial policy statements ahead of the national budget for the financial year 2023/24.

However, a month later, Parliament has been shocked with revelations about the poor performance of Accounting Officers especially in the local government set-up. The local government in Uganda caters for regional cities, Districts and Municipalities. Under these there also lower local governments like the Sub-counties, city divisions and municipal divisions but these are not self-accounting.

A report of the Public Accounts Committee (Local Government) has raised durst over the performance of some of the Accounting Officers in districts, cities and municipalities covered by the report presented by Martin Ojara Mapenduzi on Wednesday.

The report from the probe on 27 District Local Governments, three cities, five Municipalities and four city divisions, pinned some Accounting Officers on gross negligence and recommended that the PS/ST holds them personally liable and reprimand them for failing to perform their duties and causing the return of funds to the Consolidated Fund.

During a heated debate presided over by Speaker Anita Among, legislators recommended that the Accounting Officers found to be in breach of the law be dismissed from service.

“The idea that once an accounting officer is implicated, he is transferred to another work station is making these officers think that they are invincible.” Said Joseph Ssewungu, the Kalungu West MP.

Adjumani District Woman MP Jesca Ababiku, proposed that apart from holding the accounting officers responsible, other line ministries should also be held liable. She gave an example of the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) Programme where the lands ministry delayed in planning and delivering plans for the projects.

According to the report, 35 local government votes considered were warranted a total sum of Shs1.2 trillion which is equivalent to 21.3 per cent of the total warrants to the local governments’ budget during the financial year under review.

Only Shs1.1 trillion was expended, representing 91 per cent absorption of the budget released and then Shs114 billion unspent balances were returned to the Consolidated Fund as a result of failure to absorb the resources.

The Leader of the Opposition, Mathias Mpuuga, argued that local governments have been finding themselves in ugly situations which Parliament must carefully analyse. He pointed at centralization saying it has suffocated the operations of the local governments.

“We need to have a potted conversation as to whether de-centralisation is viable. We said we were taking services closer to the people but we instead took corruption. I want to invite this House to re-think the whole idea of devolution of powers. We need very serious reforms including through legislation,” Mpuuga said.

The Aruu North County MP, Santa Okot, reminded the House that issues of returning money to the Consolidated Fund was not a recent matter and queried why the Government was not finding any solutions to the problems yet the Auditor General’s report always has the same recommendations.

Soroti City MP, Jonathan Ebwalu, informed the House that cities are still operating with municipality budgets and are borrowing equipment from the municipal as a result of underfunding.

The Minister of State for Finance (General Duties), Henry Musasizi, said that the money returned to the Consolidated Fund is spent on other priorities and cannot be ringfenced for the same previous appropriation.

Musasizi pledged to present a comprehensive report from the central and local governments on money returned.

Back to Accounting Officers

During the April 12 sitting of Parliament, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa said that he was not happy seeing such lists of dropped Accounting Officers every time the final estimates for the National Budget are tabled.

The Finance Minister Matia Kasaija on 30th March, 2023 tabled a Sh50 trillion final National Budget estimate for the 2023/24 financial year. And before the budget is passed, Parliament is always first furnished with a list of accounting officers that will control the different votes provided funds for in the new financial year.

Tayebwa wondered why after being dropped as Accounting Officer, named culprits continue to hold offices and have their juniors appointed as Accounting Officers for the same Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

“There is a point of concern which the front bench (Government) will help us to understand. I saw the PS/ST dropping people as Accounting Officers. But these people continue holding senior positions. You drop a Permanent Secretary or a CAO as Accounting Officer and give the responsibility to an Under Secretary or a Chief Finance Officer who will report to the PS or the CAO,” Tayebwa noted.

He raged that it is an anomaly for an indicted officer to continue holding a public office yet audit has shown that the person in question can no longer be entrusted with public funds.

The PS/ST derives the mandate to appoint and drop Accounting Officers from Article 164 of the 1995 Constitution and Section 45 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), 2015.

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