Mofa recalls embassy staff over plot to steal money

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Ugandan embassy in Denmark

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recalled embassy staff who were recorded in an audio plotting how to siphon government funds.

Ambassador Patrick Mugoya on Monday said they have instituted investigations in consultation with the Permanent Secretary/ Secretary to the Treasury and Auditor General.

“In the meantime, the officers implicated have been recalled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Headquarters to pave way for investigations”.

The zoom plot  

Victoria University

Mugoya’s release is in response to a newspaper article by Daily Monitor which says diplomatic staff at the Uganda embassy in Denmark convened a Zoom meeting and discussed how to share government money they were not able to spend during the 2019/20 financial year that ended in June.

An audio clip of proceedings of the meeting shows how the diplomats at the embassy in Copenhagen sat with their junior staff and agreed to share the money.

At the end of each financial year, government institutions are required by law to return all unused balances to the Treasury in Kampala.

In the clip the diplomats are heard discussing how they would raise funds to bribe auditors who would certainly find what one of them described as “jumbled funds” at the mission.

According to Daily Monitor, the outgoing accounting officer at the embassy, Alex Hope Mukubwa, on May 25, wrote to the Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi, requesting to be allowed to retain the unspent funds.

Mukubwa argued that it was necessary to retain some funds for transport and settlement of a new Financial Attaché’ who had been posted to the mission.

The unnamed Attaché had been unable to take up her position at the mission in March due to travel restrictions following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Muhakanizi refuses, prompts zoom meeting

Muhakanizi rejected the request and wrote back to the embassy on June 11.

“In light of this legal provision (Section 17 (2) of the PFMA) you are required to remit unspent balances to the Consolidated Fund at the end of the Financial Year and provide evidence of remittance…the purpose of this letter therefore is to inform you as above and advise you to remit all unspent balances at the close of the Financial Year (2019/2020.”

The diplomatic staff instead convened a Zoom meeting although the mission has been closed for several months due to Covid-19.

On the spot are; Head of Mission Nimisha Madhvani, Deputy Head of Mission Elly Kamahungye Kafeero, Alex Hope Mukubwa, the Minister Counsellor / Accounting Officer, Gordon Katureebe, the First Secretary, Richard Biribonwoha, the Third Secretary / Head of Chancery, Sylvia Nambooze Kayongo, the Administrative Attache, and Mugisha Wilfred, the Immigration Attache.

In the recording a male voice is heard telling his colleagues that they could allocate themselves some of the unspent money as per diem and not Safari allowances.

Then another official asks about the number of days they would be entitled to for per diem.

At this point, a female voice interjects.

“That is why I am asking. For who? How much for each? I thought for each eight days,” she says in the recording.

A male voice is then heard revealing the criteria of how to share the money.

“Head of Mission eight days, deputy head of mission eight days, accounting Officer eight days and they [junior staff] decided for themselves that each one four days,” he says, but is overruled by the female voice who proposes that the other staff be given per diem for six days.

Under the Foreign Affairs standing orders officers at ambassadorial level are entitled to per diem of $390 (about Shs1.4m) per a day, while junior staff are entitled to $360 (about Shs1.3m) a day.

Going by that arrangement, each of the three top diplomats at the Uganda mission ‘earned’ $3,120 (about Shs11.4) as per diem for no work done, while their junior colleagues took $2,160 (about Shs8m).

The female voice is also heard telling her subordinates to find ways of making use of all unspent balances before end of the financial year, which ended in June.

“So we share with these two people that whatever there is in those other balances find a way to utilise the funds… and not to discuss with the local staff. Please do not discuss this with the home-based Mugisha’s and the others,” she says in the recording.

At some point during the Zoom discussion, the male voice is heard telling his colleagues that this can be avoided depending on who the accounting officer is at a particular mission.

He confessed to have given a bribe in order to have the matter covered up during audit.

“When I was in Switzerland they asked officers who had gone back to Kampala to pay, but since I was the Accounting Officer I wanted to protect my former colleagues. I discussed with the auditor, the head of mission was also good. He was concurring with me. So twamulabamu (bribed him) as a mission. Twamulabamu nabidroppinga (We bribed him and he dropped the query).”

Source: Daily Monitor

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