COVID-19 Procurement Scandal Rocks OPM
State House’s anti-corruption unit has arrested four senior officials at the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) over mismanagement of funds meant for the government’s COVID-19 response program.
The unit is understood to have swung into action on Wednesday after it received information that some officials at OPM had inflated prices for food items that were procured for distribution under the program.
The suspects that have been handed over to the Police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) are, the Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu, the accounting officer, Joel Wanjala, assistant commissioner for procurement, Fred Lutimba and the commissioner for disaster management who also heads COVID-19 relief management, Martin Owor.
The quartet was arrested following reports that they had rejected prequalified suppliers who were offering lower prices for maize and beans and instead awarded contracts to companies that accepted the inflated figures.
Aponye Uganda Limited, a company owned Apollo Nyegamehe, the NRM chairman for Rukiga district, was awarded the contract to supply the food items.
He competed for the contract with Afro Kai Uganda Ltd, Global Trust Ltd and Mandela Millers.
Since the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda last weekend flagged off the distribution of the COVID-19 relief food in Kampala, there have been concerns about the quality of food being distributed with some commentators on social media calling it unfit for human consumption.
But some government officials and the contractor quickly watered-down the reports as intended to discredit the government.
According to the head of the State House’s anti-corruption, Lt.Col. Edith Nakalema, President Yoweri Museveni directed her on Wednesday, April 8, to investigate the on-going COVID19 related food procurement exercise.
Museveni issued the directive after receiving reports that the prices quoted for the food supplies where much higher than what the majority of suppliers he talked to had indicated.
Museveni had been told that normal food prices range between Shs 2500 to Shs 3000 for a kilo of maize while beans cost between Shs 3000 and Shs 4000.
What Museveni found strange was that the responsible officers at OPM had awarded supply letters to a company that quoted Shs 3900 per kg for maize flour and Shs 4500 kg for beans.
This meant that for 9.03 million kilograms of maize flour, that the government procured, more than Shs 4.5 billion was lost while Shs 317.5 million was lost in the inflated cost for 635,000kgs of beans.
“Following a directive by H.E the President, we carried out a special investigation on the ongoing COVID19 related food procurement exercise. Preliminary findings have established that the accounting officers in the office of the Prime Minister were inflating prices and rejecting lower price offers from various suppliers of maize flour and beans. They have been arrested to help with the on-going investigations,” Nakalema said.
If found guilty, the officials will be charged with abuse of office through an arbitrary act of prejudice to the interest of their employer, causing financial loss and facilitating fraudulent accounting and conspiring to commit fraud.