Parliament Orders Forensic Audit Into UGX 500 Million Gorilla Permit Scam At UWA, Exposes Internal Irregularities

Parliament Orders Forensic Audit Into UGX 500 Million Gorilla Permit Scam At UWA, Exposes Internal Irregularities

By Spy Uganda

Kampala: Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) has ordered a forensic audit into the UGX 500 million gorilla permit fraud at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) after the Auditor General reported that he was denied access to the chimpanzee and gorilla booking data during the audit process.

The directive was issued by Medard Lubega, Chairperson COSASE,  during the meeting held between the Committee and officials from UWA, who had appeared to respond to a number of audit queries raised in the December 2023 Auditor General’s report.

” You know that is an audit ordered by the Minister, and by standards, when the Minister orders for an audit, that one goes to him. Now, we are also ordering a forensic audit. We are also ordering a forensic investigation into the same affairs”, Lubega said.

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The Auditor General noted that although UWA reported to have collected UGX 22.461 billion as revenue from Gorilla and Chimpanzee tracking in 2022/23, his request for data regarding financial transactions such as records of invoices, payment and reconciliation to the system was denied, a decision he said limits his audit work into verifying the correctness of the said earned revenue.

”Non-provision of required information leads to limitation of audit work in the area of reconciliation of booking details with payments and actual tracking done which hindered the verification of revenue recognized in the financial statements”, read in part the Auditor General’s report.

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In response, Sam Mwandha, Executive Director Uganda Wildlife Authority, denied allegations of blocking auditors from accessing the system, telling the Committee that the old booking system was declared a crime scene by the Police, prompting the Criminal Investigation Department to block any third parties from accessing the system, but he assured the Committee that the audit team from the Office of Auditor General requested by Ministry of Tourism has access to the system.

”It is therefore not true that management denied the audit team access to information. At the time of the audit, the GoChimp system was under investigation by the Police, and the investigations are still ongoing. In January 2024, the audit team undertaking the forensic audit was given access to the system by the Police and all the required information was accessed”, Mwandha insisted.

UWA informed the Committee that the fraud that was discovered in August 2023 by the Authority’s Internal Audit department implicated 14 staff members.

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The officials said that after internal investigations, seven staff members underwent a disciplinary process, while the other seven staff members are still facing disciplinary investigation. They also revealed that those staff members have been denied access to the new system.

Kole North MP Samuel Opio asked whether the employees implicated in the fraud still have access to the new system.

”You talked of hearing ongoing, and some of them are still working, and in the list you shared, some are Information Technology persons, some are in accounts, do they still have access to the system”? he asked.

Mwandha informed the MPs that the implicated staff, upon return from their suspensions, were given other assignments that don’t require their interface with the gorilla and chimpanzee system.

He added that the controversial system was later discarded, and a new system worth UGX 1.3 billion was procured, and it is the one being used by tourists.

”No, they do not. Whereas the Employment Act requires that you can only suspend for one month, when they came back, we told them to do other jobs that don’t require them to go onto the system so that they don’t compromise the investigations until when they are fully cleared. What we were actually doing before the fraud was discovered was developing a new booking system that was less prone to fraud, and that system was almost ready, and indeed when we discovered the fraud, with effect from October, we started utilising it” Mwadha further noted.

UWA also revealed that they aren’t aware of the status of the Police investigations into the fraud because the case was taken over by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Crime Intelligence (CIID) headquarters, and the team directly reports to the Director of Public Prosecution and several of UWA staff have interfaced with the investigators.

During the interface, UWA officials were also questioned on the UGX 462 million paid as administrative advances to some staff that remained unaccounted for.

The officials informed the Committee that some of the vouchers under scrutiny were now available for verification, while some of the unaccounted funds were as a result of vouchers that weren’t issued by the vendors.

The UWA Audit report also raised queries on the inconsistencies in names, dates of birth and National Identification Numbers (NIN) of 1727 employees on the main payroll.  This was after it was discovered that their data at UWA headquarters wasn’t corresponding with that at the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

Auditor General John Muwanga warned that such inconsistent information undermines the integrity of the entity’s records and may complicate the employee service history and retirement procedures.

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