Six staff from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have been remanded to prison for allegedly embezzling Shs 11 billion under Karamoja’s Peace Initiative.
The six are; Deogratious Masigazi, the undersecretary/head of the Pacification and Development Program, Joshua Abaho, senior assistant secretary, the principal assistant secretary Barbara Asasira, Emmy Tonny Ameny, the assistant commissioner programs, Peter Amodoi, the programs officer, and the assistant secretary Samuel Ofungi.
The group was arrested on Wednesday morning by detectives attached to the office of the Inspector General of Government (IGG). They appeared before the acting senior principal grade one magistrate Abert Asiimwe and were charged with 12 counts of causing financial loss, abuse of office, and embezzlement.
They were charged alongside Geoffrey Sseremba, the undersecretary and accounting officer, who was however not in court. It is alleged that between February and June 2022, Sseremba and Masigazi approved a total cash payment of Shs 4.4 billion to various members of staff without a proper work plan for a genuine activity to be carried out.
The prosecution said they had reason to believe that their acts would cause financial loss and indeed, they caused a loss of Shs 3.3 billion to their employer, the government. Masigazi and Sseremba were also charged with abuse of office for having arbitrarily approved the said money without following guidelines.
The prosecution argues that Masigazi and Sseremba’s conduct was prejudicial to the interest of their employer. Court heard that in June 2022, Abaho stole over Shs 2.4 billion advanced to him for coordinating various peace-building initiatives in the Karamoja region.
According to the prosecution, Abaho had been given a total cash payment of Shs 2.4 billion but never conducted the activities and failed to account for it. The state further alleges that between April and June 2022, while employed as principal assistant secretary, Asasira received a total cash payment of Shs 538 million and failed to account for the entire sum.
Relatedly, Ameny, an assistant attached to the commissioner of programmes is accused of stealing over Shs 225 million. Peter Amodoi is accused of stealing Shs 100 million between March and June 2022. He allegedly failed to account for Shs 217 million. Prosecution alleges that Ofungi stole Shs 25 million.
He allegedly received Shs 69 million but didn’t conduct any activity and failed to account for it. All the accused denied the charges. Their lawyers led by Paul Kuteesa and George Muhangi told court that they had instructions to apply for bail. They asked the court to remand them for a short period of time, such that they can attend trial as they come from home.
Prosecution led by Rogers Kinobe from IGG’s office informed court that investigations into this case sanctioned by the IGG Beti Kamya herself are still ongoing. Prosecution also prayed for a criminal summons to be issued against Sseremba, but the magistrate ruled that Sseremba should produce himself in the court on June 16.
He also issued a production warrant ordering prisons to produce Abaho on Thursday before the chief magistrate for other cases. Abaho, the personal assistant to the Karamoja Affairs minister Mary Gorreti Kitutu was sent back to Luzira prison just a month after he was granted bail on a file in which he is implicated with minister Kitutu and her brother Michael Naboya Kitutu.
The group is jointly facing trial on charges related to the diversion of more than 14,500 iron sheets also meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja under the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program.
In December 2021, parliament passed a supplementary budget worth Shs 39 billion to support various programs in Karamoja. Of these, Shs 22 billion were meant to purchase goats while Shs 5 billion were for the procurement of 100,000 iron sheets which have also since been diverted.