• Sun. Jun 26th, 2022

UGANDA, Kampala Real Muloodi News | A report by the Auditor General has revealed that the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) has lost in the excess of USh200 billion to ghost claimants, double compensations for land from private individuals, as well as dubious payment of goods and services at inflated costs.

The Auditor General’s report on the financial statements of the Commission for the period ending June 30, 2021 also found the Commission made payments for various goods and services it claims to have received, without being able to produce any supporting documentation, such as Local Purchase Orders (LPOs), delivery notes or contracts.

According to the Auditor General, the Commission paid about 27 people USh6,791,760,000, “but [they] were not on the validated list of domestic arrears.”

The Auditor General’s report comes on the tail of the scandal surrounding the the arraignment of embattled ULC Chairperson, Hon Beatrice Byenkya Nyakaisiki, before the Anti-Corruption Court on January 11. Hon Byenkya was charged with obstruction of a search and abuse of office; charges she denied.

The drama began in September last year, when Byenkya blew the whistle on ULC officials for engaging in corruption and bribery, citing overpayment of land fund claimants, irregularities on daily handling of taxpayers’ funds given to the entity, bribery of individuals when handling land fund and other business at ULC, fake land titling at ULC, non-compliance with public service rules and regulations, among others.

As a result of her public calls for investigations into the Uganda Land Commission dealings, members of the ULC intern called for Byenkya’s interdiction.

The member’s alleged Byenkya, as the head of the institution, should have resolved the matter internally instead of writing to outside agencies and damaging the reputation of the Commission. Therefore, they called for her interdiction on the grounds of misconduct.

In response to the misconduct allegations, Betty Kamya, Inspector General of Government (IGG), ordered for Byenkya’s interdiction from her position as chairperson of the Commission to pave the way for investigations.

However, Byenkya ran to court and on December 30, 2021, Justice Musa Ssekaana of the High Court Civil Division, issued an interim order halting the interdiction, allowing Byenkya to stay until the main application challenging her interdiction and allegations against her were heard.

Then on January 4, 2022, Byenkya’s security detail was remanded by the court on charges that they willfully obstructed and hindered officials from the Inspectorate of Government from carrying out a search of the office of Chairperson Uganda Land Commission in relation to the corruption allegations.

Following this, on 11th January 2021 Hon. Byenkya was herself arraigned before the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with obstruction of a search and abuse of office. Byenkya pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Before her appearance in court, Hon Byenkya repeated claims of “overwhelming fraud”, saying that there was proof of double payments. Now, the Auditor General’s findings appear to vindicate her.

The Auditor General’s report confirms that the Commission lost in the excess of USh5.2 billion in paying different people for the same pieces of land.

“In some instances, different pieces of land for different claimants compensated lacked description of plot numbers,” the report says, adding, “In addition, there were no authorisation minutes on the files clearing the payments, contrary to Uganda Land Commission guidelines.”

The report also reveals that the management team at the Commission “regretted the error” and has started putting “proper descriptions and plot numbers on all payments.” It is, however, mute on whether the ULC will be taking any measures to recover resources lost. This also includes “nine persons [who] were paid USh1,153,510,000 whose claims had been rejected by the Internal Auditor General.”

Ms Byenkya had claimed in an earlier interview that there was no transparency in the manner in which decisions on payments are arrived at. She cited the absence of proper records.

“August 2020 we just landed on a list somewhere and we found that over 677 people had been fully pad…it is a challenge to get the list and know [who has been paid and what] because some claimants are recycled,” she said in the interview.

Unsupported Payments

The Auditor General’s report notes the absence of “necessary documents” to support a claim that the Commission paid USh14 billion as compensation for land, indicating “possible financial loss through fictitious payments.”

The Secretary to the Commission, Ms Barbarah Imaryo, who is also the Accounting Officer, was not able to fulfil an earlier promise to furnish the Auditor General with documents to support the said expenditure.

The report indicates that the unsupported payments date back to financial years 2019/2020 and 2020/2021. In the year 2019/2020, USh15 billion was reportedly spent on what the Auditor General describes as overstated payables (inflated amounts for goods and services) and another USh4 billion on unrecognisable receivables (no evidence of receipt of goods and services).

On February 10, 2021, the then Lands minister, Ms Beti Kamya and her junior at the time, Ms Persis Namuganza, clashed with Byenkya over the line ministry’s request for a USh12.1 billion supplementary budget.

The supplementary budget was intended to compensate six people, including Dodovico Mwanje’s Ephraim Enterprises, which had earlier razed St Peter’s Church in Ndeeba. A further USh3.8 billion was to be paid to Medard Kiconco for 3.89 hectares of land in Lusanja.

At the time, Byenkya told members of the Budget Committee of Parliament that the Commission had not asked for the money.

“Much as the Commission needs the money, we never requested for this supplementary budget. I want it to be on record. So when I hear this, I just think the minister is trying to access the money using our institution. That is irregular. How can this be?” Hon Byenkya queried.

She said, “I am shocked to learn that such an amount of money was going to be given to only six beneficiaries. As the Commission, we have been trying to spread the money so that all victims can get something.”

She added, “The disadvantaged ones do not have the economic revenue from their money. Many of them have become old and they need assistance and medication. Giving USh12.1 billion to only six people out of the thousands is irregular and inhuman.”

Hon Byenkya further reported to Parliament that names of people who had earlier been paid had returned to the list of claimants, while other claims were inflated.

Now the Auditor General’s report notes that “neither the management nor the Commission were involved in the request for the said supplementary budget”, adding that “the Accounting Officer explained that the Commission did not initiate any request for the said supplementary.”

The report further notes that the supplementary budget was tagged to “payments of individual persons” and that the funds that were allocated to the Commission exceeded the Commission’s requirement by USh459 million, which the Commission used to pay other claimants.

Betty Kamya, former Lands Minister, went on to become the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and the main arbitrator in the investigation into Byenkya’s alleged misconduct.

Junior Lands minister Sam Mayanja confirmed receipt of the Auditor General’s report, and that the contents will be studied with a view of taking remedial action.

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