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BIG STORY: How gov’t officials spent Shs 9bn on two closed institutions

Bukalasa Agricultural College (File Photo)

KAMPALA, UGANDA: A recent investigative story run by the Daily Monitor publication has revealed how unnamed government officials wired about Shs 9 billion to two agricultural training institutions despite all schools being closed during the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

This money, according to reports was meant for the “settlement of students’ feeding bills” and infrastructure development,

According to Daily Monitor, the monies were sent to Fisheries Training Institute Entebbe and Bukalasa Agricultural College, Wobulenzi in Luwero District in several tranches between October 2020 and August 2021, with some of the expenditure appearing to be repeated.

The information posted on the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS), a centralized government repository for financial, budgetary, and accounting operations, shows that money was also disbursed for procurement of fishing gear for students and hostel rehabilitation.

Other big-ticket expenditures were on inputs, procurement of sanitary materials, repairing septic tanks and latrines, plumbing, fencing, and repair and maintenance of roads.

How the money was spent

Our investigations also reveal that Shs83m, Shs80m, Shs73.4m, Shs82m and Shs8.4m were wired to Fisheries Training Institute’s accounts on December 4, 2020 for review of diploma in boat building and marine mechanics, diploma in fisheries management and technologies, certificate in agriculture and diploma in agriculture, animal industry and fisheries courses.

At Bukalasa Agricultural College, Shs40m was sent in three installments on May 10 for industrial training, and a day later, Shs96m was disbursed to procure stationery and instructional materials alongside Shs240m to “renovate livestock farms”.

On March 10, officials transferred Shs380m for “settlement of students’ feeding bills” and topped it up on the same day with Shs141m meant for Institute of Fisheries’ perimeter fencing works, refills and painting of lecture rooms and blocks.

In addition, Shs159m was on March 10 allocated for “repair of the main gate and upgrading of on-campus driveways to bitumen, another Shs158m was disbursed on the same day for sewerage and drainage systems repairs and Shs140m and Shs63m for gabion reinforcement and surface water drainage and for aquaculture unit and hatchery, respectively.  

Hostel blocks and aquaculture unit cost Shs12m while expenditure on electrical repairs at the Fishers Institute was Shs13m, according to records of the financial transactions.

Asked about these expenses, among multiple disbursements, which appear to be anomalies in the wake of schools closure, the new Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary, Maj Gen David Kasura-Kyomukama, said no such audit query had been raised in the ended 2020/2021 Financial Year, but nonetheless his team will inquire into the allegations.

 “The Ministry [of Agriculture] is not aware of any reported cases of misuse of funds. However, since the emergence of the story, management has tasked the relevant offices to look into the matter. We remain committed to upholding the strictest standards of accountability for public resources and punishing those found guilty of misappropriating them,” he noted yesterday in a reply to our inquires.

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 He added: “The Institutes have an average appropriated annual budget of Shs2.6b to cater for students’ maintenance, feeding, purchase of scholastic materials and undertaking development projects such as construction and maintenance of infrastructure…”

This comment suggests that the Shs8.9b wired to the two institutions is above their annual budgets, raising questions about the reason for expenses and sources of the funds.

Our investigations also show that the alleged misallocation, branded by a whistleblower as “fictitious/doubtful expenditure”, have been reported to the Office of the Internal Auditor General, Police’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Inspectorate of Government and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance/Secretary to Treasury.

“These transactions have been going for the whole Financial Year (2020/2021) as they (officials) keep recycling the activities time and again when there was total lockdown and there were no students at the schools (Bukalasa and Entebbe Fisheries Institute), which clearly indicates something ‘fishy’ or ‘fraudulent’,” a dossier by an internal auditor, also copied to the Ministry of Agriculture permanent secretary, reads in part.

President Museveni first closed schools when he imposed a nationwide lockdown in March 2020, two days before Uganda confirmed its first Covid-19 case, and following a staggard reopening of schools, he again shut educational institutions during the second lockdown on June 18.

The schools have remained closed to-date, with tertiary institutions expected to open first next month.
The whistleblower claims that “…the principal and bursars of one of the institutions told me that for them they are being used as conduits where funds were wired through the school accounts and they are taken back to the Ministry.”

We could not independently verify this claim and both the PS and the Cabinet Minister for Agriculture are new, having been posted there just three months ago.

Mr Gelvan Kisolo Lule, the principal Bukalasa Agricultural College, said he needed time to verify the transfers.
“We have ongoing projects that include renovation and construction under the Uganda Skills Development Project funded by the World Bank and Government of Uganda at Bukalasa Agriculture College. I need time to cross check the alleged information before commenting,” he said.

Agriculture Ministry Response…Alleged Financial Mismanagement. 

The ministry’s attention has been drawn to a whistleblower’s report on the above subject, which the ministry was previously unaware of. 

The ministry carried out audits of these institutions and none had indicated this issue.
Bukalasa Agricultural College and the Fisheries Training Institute are under the mandate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and received operational and development funding through subventions. 

The institutes are semi-autonomous in their operations and as such have sub-accounting officers known as principals. 

The institutes also have independent fiducial organs such as governing councils, contract committees and accounts management systems.

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The institutes have an average appropriated annual; budget of Shs2.6b to cater for students’ maintenance, feeding, purchase of scholastic materials and undertaking development projects such as construction and maintenance of infrastructure. 

This is in addition to the salaries of both administrative and teach staff being paid by the ministry.

The institutes also receive additional support from the related departments and projects of the Ministry through approved Memoranda of Understanding. 

Such support include maintenance of machinery, provision of farm inputs, provision of training equipment, and support to infrastructure development activities.

This is because the ministry has development projects which supplement the meagre resources available under the operational budget, therefore, under normal circumstances transfer of funds to the institutes would not be an anomaly.

The ministry is not aware of any reported cases of misuse of funds. However, since the emergence of the story, management has tasked the relevant offices to look into the matter. 

We remain committed to upholding the strictest standards of accountability for public resources and punishing those found guilty of misappropriating them.

We, therefore, call upon the public to report any suspected misuse of public resources to the relevant authorities both within the Ministry and the other statutory bodies charged to do this.

Questions

A source at the institute, who preferred anonymity, questioned the funding at a time when government slashed budgets for most institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Recently the college board of governors mooted the idea of seeking government support to have a perimeter wall constructed to protect the college property. This was made public at the 56th college graduation on September 10, 2021. It is strange that funds could have been allocated for the project earlier before the college authorities made the appeal… I also don’t see anything like a perimeter wall under construction at the Institute,” the source said.

Monitor reports that there are indeed ongoing works for the construction of a block under the World Bank project.

The Principal of Fisheries Training Institute Entebbe, Ms. Gertrude Abalo, declined to comment on the matter and referred us to the Agriculture ministry.

Ms Charlotte Kemigyisa, the ministry’s spokesperson, told Daily Monitor on Wednesday that: “We have received information and will support the investigating agencies in getting to the bottom of this matter. The new leadership at the Ministry is committed to a transparent manner of conducting government business cognizant of the fact that we hold these offices in trust of the public.”

This story is an extract from the Daily Monitor dated Saturday, October 2, 2021. Views expressed in this article are not in way affiliated or from the editors and journalists at Daily Express


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