COSASE orders forensic audit into Shs500m gorilla permit scam

UWA officials led by Executive Director, Sam Mwandha at parliament on Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Kampala, (UG):- The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (COSASE) has ordered a forensic audit into the 500 million Shillings gorilla trekking permit scam at the Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA.

Hon Medard Lubega Sseggona, the COSASE Chairperson issued the directive on Tuesday while probing UWA officials led by the Executive Director, Sam Mwandha to answer queries raised by John Muwanga, the Auditor General in a FY 2022/2023 report relating to staff connivance to defraud the entity.

The audit report cited weak security features on Gorilla Trekking Permits in contravention of the financial procedures manual 2016 that requires UWA to establish effective systems and controls for the identification, receipt, collection, and safeguarding of its financial resources.

“The permits extended to Tourists tracking Gorillas lack security features that could deter fraudsters,” the audit stated.

Further, the report cited several conditions that are required to be placed on the back of the permit such as dates, visitor’s particulars, booking, and receipt numbers which would assist UWA in assessing information in case a tourist gets any complications were not given the due attention.

Gorilla and chimpanzee permits are issued by UWA to both local and foreign tourists for trekking activities. Issuing fake gorilla permits implied that the UWA officials pocketed the money and caused significant financial loss to the government.

READ HERE: Over 100 UWA staff transferred staff after multi-billion gorilla permit fraud

Uganda is renowned as the “Pearl of Africa” due to its significant population of approximately 459 mountain gorillas, which represents half of the world’s total number of these endangered species.

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In Uganda, Gorilla trekking is conducted in two destinations; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with the cost of a single gorilla trekking permit at US $700, approximately 2.6 million Shillings per person.

The fraud caused the public following media reports prompting UWA to institute an internal audit leading to the suspension of 14 staff.

According to the Audit report, non-adherence to the Financial Procedures Manual leads to financial losses as such inconsistencies are likely to lead to the creation of duplicate permits leading to the loss of Gorilla trekking revenue for the Government.

However, Mwandha told the committee that UWA Management has rolled out a new booking and revenue collection system which is integrated with the accounting system.

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To mitigate the problem, the Audit reports that UWA should review the design of the permits and enhance its security features and system to improve revenue collection and eliminate the risk of loss of revenue from Gorilla trekking.

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