Parliament has overwhelmingly approved recommendations from its Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises requiring the 42 public officials to refund the Ushs 6 billion they shared out for participating in the oil tax arbitration case that the government of Uganda won in London.
This was one of nine recommendations made by the Committee on COSASE, chaired by Hon. Abdu Katuntu (FDC, Bugweri), following months of investigations into the reward, which was paid to the officers by the President.
In January this year, the Speaker asked the Committee on COSASE to investigate claims that the public officers solicited for a payment, honorarium, bonus or golden handshake totaling to Ushs 6 billion, contrary to standard practices of rewarding public officers. The Committee was also asked to investigate the basis used to determine the amounts of the bonus payment, including the full account of the role of each beneficiary in the court cases.
During their investigations, beneficiaries denied soliciting for the reward and told the Committee that it is common practice both in public and private sector governance to reward individuals for excellence.
Beneficiaries of the reward included Hon. Fred Ruhindi, Deputy Attorney General; Fred Kabagambe Kaliisa, who was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development; Mrs. Allen Kagina, Commissioner General, URA; Mrs. Doris Akol, Commissioner Board Affairs and Rulings, URA; and Mrs. Jennifer Musisi, who was Commissioner Legal Services and Board Affairs, URA.
Others included: Ms. Harriet Lwabi, who was the Ag. Solicitor General; Mr. Christopher Gashirabake, the Director Legal Advisory Services in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; Hon. Peter Nyombi, who was the Attorney General and Head of the Uganda Government Legal and Technical Team.
During the debate MPs said that none of the beneficiaries was entitled to the funds since they were performing their normal duties. Members demanded that the beneficiaries refund the money with interest since the money was meant for investment. Legislators also proposed that the officers resign since they had lost moral ground and public trust to stay in the positions.
Further, legislators suggested that property from the 42 persons is attached to avoid the beneficiaries from refunding the money out of public funds.
“There are other more deserving people in this country. They showed impunity as they defended the reward while appearing before the Committee,” said Hon. Anna Adeke (Ind., Youth/Female/National). “I suggest that on top of refunding the money, they each make a public apology,” she added.
Government Chief Whip, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa said there was need for more time to have other government agencies carry out further investigations into what the Committee observed and concluded. She promised to present the Report to the Leader of Government Business, who would then lay it before Cabinet.
“Cabinet will discuss the Report and assign relevant agencies to start on the implementation of its recommendations,” said Hon. Nankabirwa.
Katuntu said that since COSASE was not a prosecuting or investigating agency, it did not recommend that the implicated officers step aside but that the Inspectorate of Government could recommend that in order to investigate the persons without any interference.
He said that although Presidents the world over give out donations, a policy was needed to regulate the practice since, currently, some cases do not deserve to be rewarded. Katuntu also ruled out MPs proposals to attach property belonging to the 42 officials arguing that that could only happen after a court process.
The recommendations from the Report were as follows:-
• All officers who flouted the law should be held accountable and in this vein, the IGG should institute investigations with a view to establish the culpability and possible offences;
• The Executive should come up with a Bill within 90 days to regulate and streamline the presidential donations budget;
• The supplementary request of Ushs 6 billion currently before Parliament should be rejected because the virulent created a liability infringing section 22 of the PFMA;
• Parliament should revisst Section 8 of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Act, 2013 with a view to amending it and provide for technical people to be signatories to PSAs;
• All recoverable costs incurred by oil companies should be submitted to Parliament quarterly;
• The Attorney General should take immediate steps and measures to recover the costs amounting to US$ 4 million awarded by the International Arbitration Tribunal and report to Parliament within 90 days;
• URA should take immediate steps and measures to recover costs awarded by the Tax Appeals Tribunal and High Court in 2010 and the High Court Civil Appeal in 2011;
• The Auditor General should carry out a special audit into deductions of withholding tax on fees paid to the external lawyers – Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP by URA and report to Parliament within 90 days.