Insiders have called this method of handling the distribution of more than 5,000 iron sheets to beneficiaries “highly irregular” and in violation of public service standing orders on the management of government property. The stores team at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has claimed that it distributed the iron sheets to beneficiaries based on phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
The senior inventory management officer noted in a February 13 internal memo that a minister’s aide for Karamoja Affairs and another official had called to let them know that, subject to periodic guidance, recipients of 12,200 iron sheets would be showing up to pick up the items. This information was provided in an official explanation upon request by OPM Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi.
“Accordingly,” the official wrote, “he sent us WhatsApp messages guiding on the distribution and basing on that, we issued the iron sheets to beneficiaries sent by the personal assistant (PA) to the Honourable Minister for Karamoja Affairs until Wednesday 8th February 2023, when we received a call from the Accounting Officer/Under-Secretary (F&A), halting anymore release until further notice.”
The memo stated that 5,500 G28 corrugated pre-painted iron sheets had been sent by this time. There are several recipients on the list, including Goretti Kitutu, the minister of Karamoja Affairs (3,000), Rebecca Kadaga, the first deputy prime minister (500), Moriku Kaducu, the state minister for primary education (200), Rukia Nakadama, the third deputy prime minister (300), and Matia Kasaija, the minister of finance (300).
Amos Lugoloobi (300), government chief whip, Hamson Obua, and junior agriculture minister Bwino Kyagulaga are the additional winners. Without specifying whether the shipments are those originally intended for Karamoja, Ministers Kasaija and Kadaga have independently confirmed receiving some iron sheets and claimed to have distributed them to roof schools and health centers in their respective areas.
In his defence to PS Muhakazini, the senior inventory management officer added: “It is true that we based on the verbal and WhatsApp communication of the personal assistant (PA) to the Hon MKA (Minister of Karamoja Affairs) to inform our decision to issue to the above-mentioned beneficiaries because we had no reason to doubt communication from a fellow officer who works directly with the Honorable Minister for Karamoja Affairs.”
An experienced senior government official criticized the OPM team’s approach as “highly irregular,” contending that the request should have been made in writing and included a copy of the distribution list that was officially signed by the instructing officer.
“The instructions to the stores should also include background [information on how and who made the decision and when],” the source said, “That (explanation that stores team trusted a minister’s PA) is no defence.”
The authenticity of the memo was confirmed by two senior OPM officials. The senior inventory management officer noted that the release of 12, 200 G28 corrugated pre-painted iron sheets to the office of the Karamoja Affairs minister on January 25 was authorized by the accounting officer/under-secretary for finance and administration (AO/US, F&A) in response to a request for the same made by the “US/P&D and the Hon MKA.”
Joyce Babirye, the OPM’s lead communications officer, yesterday declined to comment on whether it was legal under civil or public service regulations for their officers to give away government property to people based on social media posts and word-of-mouth recommendations.