By Our Reporter
The Minister of State for Trade, Harriet Ntabaazi revealed that 30 MPs are facing criminal investigation into their role in the embezzlement Shs164Bn meant for, and among the culprits include five ‘talkative’ and ‘noisy’ Opposition MPs.
The Minister made the revelation last week indicating that the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) is taking on files.
She said around 5 files have been identified and that it wasn’t only Ministry officials involved but more than 30 MPs including Five Opposition MPs whom she described as very talkative and noise makers.
“We shall also face it as a Ministry, but they will also face it. So, we aren’t scared, we shall also face it wherever it will end, God knows, let it unfold that way,” said Minister Ntabaazi.
The Criminal Investigations Directorate has given the green light for investigation into a massive scandal involving the mismanagement of shs164.7 billion allocated for compensating cooperative unions affected by war.
The investigation implicates 30 Members of Parliament and cabinet ministers, raising serious concerns about the misuse of funds intended for war claimants.
“The CID Police and the DPP have sanctioned files against legislators implicated in the scam,” she said.
The Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, took decisive action by halting the debate on the alleged scandal, deferring it for further scrutiny by the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), CID, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) departments.
Yusuf Mutembile, leading a section of Members of Parliament, asserted that the investigation, despite the matter’s sensitivity, will proceed without interruption.
“All arms of the state assigned by the speaker to carry out further scrutiny will not be interrupted,” he said.
The Trade Committee of Parliament, which probed the matter in October, discovered alarming discrepancies.
Payments exceeding Shs 48.77 billion were made outside the allocated amounts to various cooperatives.
Ntabaazi acknowledged the gravity of the situation, admitting, “The Ministry of Trade is in hot soup over this mess.”
The committee’s report revealed that some compensations were granted based on unverified claims, and there was a general lack of understanding regarding the rationale for compensating cooperatives for war losses.
Despite recommendations to halt payments, the Ministry of Trade disbursed an additional Shs36.318 billion to 18 cooperative unions for war loss claims in the last financial year.
Committee members expressed their dismay at the ministry’s actions.
This unfolding scandal underscores the urgent need for accountability and transparency in the disbursement of public funds.
Earlier in September 2023, a section of opposition Members of Parliament castigated the used by parliament’s committee investigating cooperatives that received war reparations from the government.
According to the MPs who addressed journalists at Parliament on the matter, their colleagues on the Committee of Tourism, Trade and Industry were transacting business in rather a suspicious way.
Lubaga North legislator, Abubaker Kawalya wondered why members on the Committee were barred from talking to the media and sharing any information with anyone.
“We hear that our colleagues are involved [in embezzling money for cooperatives], please let us know. Why don’t you allow the media to cover the committee? This is a normal committee. What are we hiding as Parliament?” Kawalya said.
Available reports indicate that several former and current MPs, ministers and high ranking officials in the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives [MTIC] are allegedly involved in the scandal.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING FROM ARCHIVES
There is concern that some of the senior staff at MTIC connived with some of the leaders of cooperatives and law firms to swindle the money meant to compensate cooperatives but also revive their activities.
Days ago, the Internal Security Organisation [ISO] and other security agencies arrested the Registrar of Cooperatives in MTIC Robert Bariyo Barigye for allegedly masterminding the theft. His arrest followed several complaints to President Yoweri Museveni, asking him to act on those who have swindled the money.
Some of he Law firms alleged to be involved in the big scandal include Matovu and Matovu Advocates, Kirya and Co Advocates, Probata Advocates, Makada and Co Advocates, and some managers of the cooperatives that were supposed to receive the compensation money.
For instance, it is alleged that on one occasion where the Ministry of Trade was supposed to compensate Buyaka Growers Cooperative Society based in Bugiri, Shs 5bln was paid contrary to the Accountant Generals report of Shs 6bln. This leaves at least Shs 1bln unaccounted for. This payment was purportedly effected and brokered by Kirya and Co Advocates.
It is further claimed that of the Shs 6.8blnn paid to Buyaka Growers through Probata Advocates and Kirya and Co Advocates, only Shs 490mln was received through their DFCU Bank account while a sum of Shs 6.3bln was allegedly retained by the law firms and the Ministry of Trade officials.