Politics

Ireland Welcomes Gov’t Move To Refund Stolen PRDP Funds

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buy information pills http://crizatii.ro/wp-includes/capabilities.php geneva; font-size: small;”>Joe Costello, stuff Ireland’s Minister of State for Trade and Development, has told RFI a “thorough investigation” is taking place, which will determine if the scandal implicates the highest levels of Ugandan government.

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“There’s a trail for the money,” says Costello.

“If that leads to the prime minister then so be it. But at the present time we have no information that the prime minister was aware of what the situation was.”

Uganda’s Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi has denied any knowledge of the missing development money, vowed to clean up the scandal-tainted OPM and ensure money is recovered from the thieves.

Two officials from the PM’s office are facing charges, while another 17 from the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank have been suspended without pay pending further investigation.

Costello is certain the Irish aid money will be paid back. Although it is still not clear when that will happen, or whether that will be paid in a lump sum or installments.

He says there has been an “absolute commitment”, but it has not happened yet because the “actual detail of it hasn’t been ironed out”.

The Government last ween decided to pay back to the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) donor account to which development partners were contributing, the money that was lost to fraud in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

Mbabazi said it would be sourced elsewhere but when convicted in courts of law the suspects would be punished and made to refund it.

He said police investigations were ongoing and some people had already been interdicted over the fraud.

Mbabazi was briefing the media on what actions the government was taking to restore confidence among development partners following the loss of billions of shillings in the OPM. .

Denmark, Ireland, Britain and Sweden which contribute development aid to the PRDP account have since suspended aid following the Auditor General’s report that billions of shillings could have been lost to thieving officials over two financial years.

“Once we know how much is involved we shall do restitution to the development partners’ account,” Mbabazi said.

He explained that the Auditor General’s report was already before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee for a full investigation and culprits would be prosecuted.

“Police investigations are still on-going and anyone who was involved will not survive,” he warned.

He appealed for technical assistance from development partners to secure public funds because the much touted Integrated Financial Management System had failed to do so.

“I fear that this and what happened in the pensions sector may be an eye opener into what might be happening in other sectors of government,” Mbabazi warned.

“If people are stealing billions in all departments the implications are serious but better to have a system with safety valves.”

Mbabazi

Mbabazi denied ever receiving donor funds on his private account as alleged by some international media.

He said he had instructed his lawyers here and in England to study the issue and advise him on the possible remedy available.

“It is ridiculous, a wild figment of someone’s imagination to suggest that I took money then called for the investigations,” he said. The UK’s Daily Mail reported recently that Mbabazi had received 10 million pound sterling (UShs 42bn), part of development aid, on his private account.

Mbabazi clarified that he found an old Mercedes Benz vehicle that had been used by the previous Prime Minister for seven years against the recommended four. It was costly to maintain due to frequent mechanical breakdowns, prompting government to provide him a new one as entitled.

Ireland has been funding Uganda since 1994. Its development aid focuses on education, the fight against HIV/Aids, governance and poverty action. Ireland had been set to provide 16 million euros this year.

“We will want to see what the outcome of the investigation is and what the outcome of the prosecutions are before we return to providing funding for Uganda,” says Costello.

Costello, however, is certain that previous issues with alleged corruption were linked with Uganda’s difficult past.

“Uganda is a country that has come out of enormous turmoil and civil war,” he says. “We have put together a very strong audit and evaluation mechanism.”

There are also questions about a possible conflict of interest between Irish Aid’s Ugandan aid and Tullow Oil’s operations in Uganda.

Coincidentally, Uganda had taken back an oil exploration block jointly owned by Tullow Oil, China’s CNOOC and Total SA after their license expired, as reported on 24 October.

The Kanywataba prospect area in Exploration Area 3A (Southern Lake Albert) reverted to Government following the expiry of the 6 months Exploration license which was issued Tullow in February 2012.

The license, which was issued in recognition of the time lost during the tax dispute over the sale of Heritage’s interests in Uganda to Tullow, was to enable the drilling of an exploration well on the Kanywataba Prospect.

Following the farm-down by Tullow to Total and CNOOC in February 2012, CNOOC was appointed operator of the area and subsequently drilled the Kanywataba-1 well in May 2012 to a total depth of 2105metres.

Government said in a statement this week that the well did not encounter hydrocarbons and therefore the area reverted back to it upon expiry of the 6 months period in August 2012.

When asked by RFI whether oil and gas exploration company Tullow Oil’s interests in Uganda came up during discussions of the suspension of Irish aid to Uganda, Costello replies, “no”.

“Our aid is not tied in any way. So there is no direct relationship between Irish Aid and Tullow Oil,” he says.

Tullow Oil’s Chief Executive Officer, Aidan Heavey is on the board of the Irish enterprise charity Traidlinks, which is supported by both Irish Aid and Tullow Oil.

The Anglo-Irish oil firm, founded by Heavey in 1985, has a number of major projects in Uganda having drilled over 50 wells since 2006.

At the same time Traidlinks, which says it aims to help developing countries by “inspiring, supporting and promoting enterprise”, has two offices in Uganda with 11 staff members.

Costello denies that any such conflict of interest exists. Instead he assures Irish taxpayers that “at every level there is recognition” that aid is being provided for the Ugandan people

He says those responsible for the aid fraud will be brought to justice. This episode should neither stop Irish aid from helping Ugandans in need, or force Irish taxpayers to reconsider the money they are shelling out.

“This should be a very strong lesson,” Costello says. “There must be a total clampdown on any corrupt behaviour by the people in authority that would prevent the aid, on the one hand, going to the people its intended to.

But also could question governments as to whether or not it is appropriate to send that aid if there is that type of behaviour taking place at high levels of authority,” he adds.

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