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MPs grill Ministry of East African Community for failing to utilise UGX31Bn for pensioners

Public Accounts Committee during a probe recently. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – Lawmakers on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday 14 grilled officials from the Ministry of East African Community Affairs over failure to fully utilize Shs31Bn meant for payment of pensioners and gratuity.

The team from the Ministry was led by Edith Mwanje, Permanent Secretary who had been summoned to respond to queries raised in the audit report of 2017/2018.

In his report to Parliament, the Auditor General John Muwanga noted that the Ministry was provided a total budget of UGX 63.8Bn but by close of the financial year, only UGX52.2Bn was spent resulting in an unspent balance of UGX 11.6Bn.

Further scrutiny of the budget performance indicates that the unspent balances were in respect of gratuity arrears for the former employees of the defunct East African Airways (EAA) amounting to UGX 11.2Bn in unpaid salaries of UGX 244.2M and pension arrears amounting to UGX 209.3M.

Mr Mwanje defended the failure to absorb all the funds arguing that there were a number of factors beyond the Ministry’s control pointing out that the UGX 31Bn was meant to cater for the 624 employees of the defunct East African Community but when the Ministry put out a call for the beneficiaries to turn up for validation, only 420 people showed up out of which, only 400 qualified for the payment worth UGX20Bn, prompting the Ministry to send the UGX11Bn balance back to the Consolidated Fund.

Hon Micheal Tusiime, the Mbarara Municipality MP tasked the Ministry to explain why they didn’t carry out the verification of the defunct EAC before requesting for the funds from Treasury noting;

“Whereas you indicated to the government the urgent need to retire pension arrears and allocated money, you could not consume. This leads to suffocation of allocations to other entities.”

Mr Mwanje defended the Ministry’s decision arguing that at the time, the Ministry didn’t have time at its disposal to carry out the verification before the budget process and had to rely on the 624 beneficiaries earlier sent to the Ministry for verification from the Ministry of Public Service Ministry.

With the back and forth debate, the Committee ordered the Permanent Secretary to table all evidence indicating that over 200 former staff declined to respond to call to pick their payment as well as evidence indicating that the 400 people paid were the rightful beneficiaries.

The Ministry was also questioned on the accumulated arrears that have now hit the UGX 40.4Bn with most of them resulting from payables in respect to outstanding contributions to international organisations as well as pension and gratuity.

Lawmakers also faulted the Ministry for failing to fill up the recommended staff capacity after the audit report pointed out that out of the approved posts of 103, only 69 are filled leaving 34 posts vacant among which include Director Political Affairs, Commissioner Social Affairs, Principal Regional Integration Officer, Principal Economist, Senior Policy Analyst among others.

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