FIVE UWA BOSSES FIRED AS AUDITORS UNEARTH ROT IN GORILLA TRACKING DEALS
By Isaac Wandubile
A group of ruthless auditors, led by Innocent Ijuka, have exposed a syndicate of UWA corrupt officials who have been embezzling billions of government revenue meant to be realized from the sale of gorilla tracking permits. The criminal syndicate, that has been ongoing for years, involves Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) sales executives conniving with rogue-minded tour operators. The conspirators have been making a difference of between $200 and $500 per permit sold to especially international tourists (basically those coming from outside East Africa).
And this is how it works; an international visitor (of foreign origin) pays $600 for gorilla tracking especially in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park but the sales executives work with colleagues in the reservation office to ensure that only $400 is recorded (mis)categorizing him/her as an East African tourist liable to paying only $400 as opposed to $600!
Yet that isn’t all. There is another category of tourists paying for the “habituation experience.” Under this, East Africans are supposed to pay $1000 and foreign tourists outside EA pay $1,500. To rip off the GoU, the syndicate members have been conniving to ensure hundreds of such foreign tourists are captured in the UWA records as East Africans. And in the process, they have been saving a cool $500 per tourist.
The tour operators, who mobilize and bring such tourists, will charge the international tourists the appropriate fees but pass on less after working with their partners among UWA’s reservation and sales staff. The difference, often thousands of dollars per day, is shared between UWA staff and tour operators.
The Innocent Ijuka-led auditors established that the fraud was orchestrated by reservation staffers working mostly with UWA reservation office and the Southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. And as a result of the latest audit report, the UWA management has expelled five sales executives namely Joyce Nambuya, Doreen Kansiime, Leilah Babirye, Mellon Tukaikiriza and Rose Namutebi. Our investigations show that the five ill-fated employees had previously been suspended pending audit findings. This falsification of records, resulting into financial loss to government, is criminal and actionable in the courts of criminal justice system which is why there is pressure for the five not to only be expelled but also be criminally prosecuted.
Knowledgeable insiders say auditors have always exposed similar rot without much action being taken partly because of godfatherism at UWA. Some tour operators have for long been encouraging gorilla tracking tourists to pay on site, a thing that enables UWA in-charges to receive and pocket the money which they subsequently share with reservation officers ad other godfathers in the Kampala headquarters.
This anomalous behavior too has been rampant at Bwindi Southern Sector whose long-serving in-charge (for Rushaaga zone) Geoffrey Twinomuhangi has curiously been transferred. Prior to that, similar transfers were effected targeting all the clerks working in Bwindi. Only last year, as was exclusively reported by Mulengera News, 12 UWA staffers were fired after being implicated in illegal gorilla tracking. This was after UWA investigations manager Mitchel Okot unearthed extreme fraud involving clerks and accountants manning several National Parks under UWA.
Okot further exposed the fact that cases of junior UWA staffers arbitrarily authorizing tourists into the Parks and pocketing the money themselves were increasingly becoming rampant. There is pressure now from some Board members to management demanding that the alleged accomplishes of all this fraud in senior headquarters positions (from accounts and operations departments) be equally reprimanded because these are well known actors.
Equal pressure is being mounted to ensure that the whip is equally cracked on rogue-minded managers in the engineering services department. The disputed areas include vehicle purchases and UWA fleet management. That one of the city garages doing fleet maintenance and servicing for UWA vehicles wasn’t properly procured. Some Board members have confided in Mulengera News claiming to have established that UWA Director Finance Mr. Jimmy Mugisha has previously investigated alleged fraud in the garage procurement and he has a lot of information that can lead to culprits being identified, isolated and punished. That among other things, the Director Finance in his private investigations established that UWA vehicles had for long continued to be serviced at exorbitantly inflated rates occasioning further financial loss to government. That the garages often share the enjawulo with some insiders in the organization.
In a related development, some Board members are angry with persistent rumors that some of their colleagues are in the habit of extorting money from potential recruits each time a job advert for senior positions gets published. That desperate job seekers are asked to pay gratifications and sweeteners to some insiders to get shortlisted for interviews and subsequent recruitment. Quite often, many such victims have ended up not getting the jobs prompting some of them to confide in people they consider to be close to the Board Chair though not much action has been taken thus far. This is something some are demanding to be looked into and rectified by members of the HR Committee of the Board who include Akankwatsa, Leo Wamakote and Diana Nalwanga.
The missing accountability for the Shs900m that was expended off the UWA coffers ostensibly to finance the elimination of “invasive species” in Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth National Parks is another issue polarizing the Board. Some Board members remain dissatisfied with the accountability that was given and one of them says what was delivered was shoddy work moreover done using UWA equipment. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).