Kampala | RedPepper Digital – The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Jane Frances Abodo has discontinued charges against four officials from the Office of the Prime Minister.
The acquitted were accused of inflating prices of food meant for the vulnerable poor under the Covid-19 food relief program last year.
The freed officials are; former Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu; Head of procurement Fred Lutimba Kyeyune; Under Secretary Joel Wanjala; and the Commissioner for Relief Disaster and Preparedness who was also the Head of the Covid-19 Relief Management, Martin Owor.
In the August 2020 communique, the DPP ordered for the trial of the accused persons to start before the Anti-corruption division of the High Court.
However, in a letter dated August 19, 2021, and signed by the DPP herself, charges of abuse of office, fraudulent false accounting, and corruption have been dropped.
No reason has been stated by Justice Abodo to withdraw the 24 counts against the officials.
The DPP had alleged that in abuse of the authority of their respective offices; Guwatudde and Kyeyune prepared and issued an award letter to various companies to supply maize, beans, milk, and sugar amounting to Shs32.3 billion in total disregard of the procurement procedures.
The four had again jointly been charged with Martin Owor for colluding to commit a fraudulent practice between March and April 2020.
Meanwhile, Joel Wanjala, the former Accounting officer/Undersecretary finance and administration in the office of the Prime Minister’s office, and one of the formerly accused when contacted by this newspaper had to say following the DPP’s acquittal letter.
“I am glad that justice has been served though delayed. I served diligently during a difficult time where u had to implement a Presidential Directive within the Law to save a life. Well aware that Parliament had not approved funds for food supplies. I am finally glad that this is over even though it has left me with painful scars on my family and I have spent close to one month in jail for no good reason. I have served for 21 years with a clean record that I’m proud of. I thank almighty God for touching the hearts of those in charge to see the truth. We should fight corruption in a transparent and realistic manner after understanding the underlying circumstances. I intend to report to my parent Ministry for further instructions after today’s (August 2020) verdict.”
Prior to this development, then Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda in an October 5th 2020 letter wrote to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni requesting for a review of the matter of the accused persons.
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Rugunda observed that most of the activities were guided by the National Task Force (NTC) on Covid-19 including food supplies procurements. Rugunda also made it clear that these officials were acting under immense pressure given the Covid-19 panic which also food prices to be hiked but nevertheless all the vulnerable in Kampala got food. He goes on to reveal that even the Auditor General Report revealed that “there was no financial loss caused to Government”.
“Procedural matters in procurement were expected to be regularized and ratified in retrospect as guided by the PPDA Act on emergency procurement. Retrospective ratification to comply with the law has been our modus operandi for many actions taken during abnormal periods of the pandemic. I propose their actions are treated in the same way, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and that action has been primarily focused on saving life,” Rugunda continues and further clarifies that OPM officials including PS Guwatudde Kintu have always been exemplary servants who have served the country well in the various capacities and departments.
He makes it clear that decisions are taken “were well-meaning and intended to ensure that the government programmer of relief food succeeds”.
“…it is against this background, your Excellency that I request that you review this matter as you see appropriate,” the former Prime Minister’s letter reads in part.