Was Abim Nusaf Money Stolen?

Was abim nusaf money stolen?
Appeared in The New Visionon 05 Nov 2020

Scores of people, including district officials and local leaders, have allegedly stolen Abim's Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF3) funds over five years, the resident district commissioner has said.

Samuel Mpimbaza Hashaka made the allegations as a team from the Inspector General of Government (IGG) began a verification exercise of NUSAF3 community-based organisations in Abim district.

He also asked the statehouse anti-corruption unit led by Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema, to join in the probe. Recently, Hashaka said, he was forced to close NUSAF3 general bank account in Kotido, citing improper handling of funds meant for community projects.

The issue prompted the office of the IGG to embark on independent verification of the existence of the groups in the district.

Hashaka said the widespread corruption was enriching few people and their relatives, leaving the beneficiaries in misery, despite efforts by the Government to improve lives at the household level.

He said the sh5b that was stolen could have changed the lives of the communities over the years. Hashaka explained that the money got lost in the formation of over 30 ghost groups.

However, he could not list down the clusters but insisted that some district officials were responsible for the embezzlement of the funds. "A lot of money was swindled through the award of tenders to non-existent companies and substandard work," he said.

Hashaka faulted the district for having failed to furnish his office with information, saying he does not know how contracts, tenders, and NUSAF activities are handled.

LC5 chairperson speaks out The chairperson of Abim, Jimmy Ochero, denied Hashaka's allegations, though he conceded that there was corruption.

"Corruption exists all over, but not to the extent that sh5b has been embezzled from the district coffers," Ochero said during a stakeholders' meeting held in the RDC hall at the district headquarters in Abuk.

He said the investigation into corruption allegations were healthy but added that a probe into non-existent groups was uncalled for.

He was optimistic that the IGG would only discover isolated cases of corruption in the district. Ochero asked the IGG team to visit the alleged sites, to establish whether the projects exist.

Maiden investigations

Meanwhile, the preliminary investigations handled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week, indicated the availability of all the 57 groups for the financial year 2019/2020.

The investigations were carried out in Alerek and Magamaga sub-counties by the team from the Inspectorate of Government.

However, the residents faulted the RDC for what they called blocking their money on the account, saying they spent a lot of energy on the project implementation, but have not been paid.

Martin Amet Okong, a resident, said Abim district is excessively corrupt and requested the Government to take over its administration for a while. Another resident, Nicholas Ochieng, accused the district leaders of not giving the due attention to projects in the district.

James Bumenda, a resident of Abim town council, said the masses are suffering at the hands of malicious people.

"We have suffered since 2017. What can a poor person do to stop suffering?" he asked, adding that the district should release their savings.

Efforts to speak to the chief administrative officer, Luke Obwangamoe, were fruitless as his phones were off.

Cases being investigated Part of the investigation includes the expenditure of about sh238m annually sent to Abim district for water, yet over 150 boreholes have remained non-functional for over four years.

The information available indicates that partners repair boreholes, but the district leaders claim they do rehabilitation at sh5.5m per borehole.

The partners say they were spending sh400,000 on repairs per borehole per year or less. Other issues include the inflated costs of repairs of part of the district fleet of cars.

Over sh200m was lost under cassava block farm cultivation, while repairs on Awach road are said to have cost sh1.9b, yet the road remains impassable. On 1.3km Butu-Winy road, stone pitching was done on only a few meters at a cost of sh88m.

The district reportedly paid sh51.8m for four Bajaj bikes, at a cost of sh13.2m each.

The councillors are also accused of sharing the 18 Friesian cows that the officials of Operation Wealth Creation meant to benefit peasants. The officials from the inspectorate of the Government were told that four of the cows had been poisoned.

According to Hashaka, it is alleged that several millions of shillings were used for routine maintenance of a National Agricultural Advisory Services vehicle.

He also alleged that sick and blind goats had been supplied to the people and that when they were rejected, the supplier disappeared with them till today.

The district hall has stalled after sh200m disappeared. According to Hashaka, in the last financial year, one company was awarded over 10 contracts, an issue that raised concern over its capacity to complete the projects.

He also said the coronavirus fund worth sh165m from the central government was also stolen, as well as food for the isolation and quarantine centres.

IGG RESPONDS

The director, Project Risk Monitoring and Controls, James Penywii, said Abim district was faced with huge problems. He said nobody is a criminal till proven guilty. Penywii added that contrary to the allegations, the Office of the IGG "does not sit on files". He said a team will be dispatched to Abim to investigate the alleged corruption scandals.

However, Penywii acknowledged the delays in some cases, saying his office will take responsibility. "We are doing our best to ensure we provide good service," he said, adding that it is not easy to retrieve exhibits to be presented in court.

Penywii added that his office will ensure a comprehensive report is released soon, to ensure that funds for the groups are released.