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Finance Minister Kasaija on spot over Custodian Board double role

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija has been put on the spot over issues at the Departed Asians Custodian Board, where billions of shillings and property remain unaccounted for (PHOTO/PML Daily)

KAMPALA – A select task force of the parliamentary Committee on Commission, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) investigating circumstances under which departed Asians properties that were fully compensated for by government ended up in hands of individuals and companies has put Finance Minister on the spot for holding two public offices at the same time.

Mr Kasaija, who doubles as both the DAPCB Board Chairman as well as the Finance Minister appeared before the Committee on Thursday and admitted that it was peculiar to holding the two positions, but claimed he would seek guidance of the Attorney General William Byaruhanga over the matter.

Asked whether it was lawfully to occupy two public offices, the minister admitted it was not right, but claims he was appointed by the President on the double role.

“I will seek guidance from the Attorney General William Byaruhanga on this matter and report back to this committee,” the minister said.

The committee quizzed Kasaija why the Attorney General is always absent in the custodian board meetings.

The Parliamentary inquiry started after the Board chaired by Mr Kasaija claims unspecified amount of money was paid to undisclosed claimants for properties which were sold by the Custodian Board prior to receiving repossession claims by original owners.

The MPs have challenged the Custodian Board to publish a list of the beneficiaries to confirm whether they did not pay ghost claimants.

While appearing before COSASE last week, the executive secretary of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB), Mr George William Bizibu, admitted the accountability queries when questioned by MPs. During the interface with the MPs, Mr Bizibu who has been at the helm of the DAPCB for about two years said the board does not have information on the current ownership of several plots despite the records indicating that they were compensated by the government.

However, the MPs accused Mr Bizibu of trying to trying to cover up senior government officials accused of grabbing the Asian properties.

The composition of the board has become a matter of public scrutiny.

The Board members include Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, Lands Minister Betty Amongi, Attorney General William Byaruhanga, State Minister for Local Government Jenifer Namuyangu, State Minister for Industry and Cooperatives, Mr Michael Werikhe, Gen Salim Saleh who is a “co-opted member”.

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija appearing before MPs on Thursday (PHOTO/PML Daily)

According to Section 5 (1) of the Assets of the Departed Asians Act mandates the board to sit at least once every month.

However, it has emerged that failure by the board members to meet has over the years facilitated a lot of fraud at DAPCB where hundreds of properties have been stolen. An Auditor General’s report has raised accountability queries at the Custodian Board such as theft of public funds through fictitious compensations of up to Shs1.7b, double allocation of properties, forged land titles, sale of assets without proper valuation, missing documents among other illegalities.

The February 2011-March 2016 report of the Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, revealed that the Board chaired by the Finance Minister failed to maintain proper books of account and annual financial statements were not prepared. In the result, it took Auditor General 15 years to audit the Custodian Board activities.

In the process, billions of shillings in taxpayers’ money was misappropriated. The Auditor General’s report for instance, shows that Shs50.2m cash was not banked and lacked accountability documents at the time of the audit. Another Shs15.2m was receipted as cash received but could not be traced in the bank statement. Also, about Shs500m was spent directly from the collection account without the authority of the Board.

“It was also noted that Shs292.3m was withdrawn from the bank without explanation as to the nature and purpose of the payments… these actions are not in accordance with best practices in financial management… [inquiry into the use of these funds should be instituted],” the AG report reads in part.

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