by Moses Walubiri, New Vision
August 18, 2012 (TSR) – The state of Uganda’s 29 embassies in different capitals is an embarrassment to the nation, the Auditor General has revealed.
In his report for the financial year 2010/11, the Auditor General lays bare not only a string of accountability and procurement flaws, but also the near condemned buildings housing Uganda’s missions abroad.
The report highlights the challenges and indignity facing Ugandan Foreign Service officers operating from facilities that have long been condemned by the authorities in those cities.
Ugandan missions in Brussels, Dar es Salaam, Ottawa, Copenhagen, Paris, Rome, Abuja, Pretoria and New Delhi are run in buildings that could be condemned soon, according to the report.
It notes that Uganda risks losing prime property, if it fails to urgently repair its mission buildings in Ottawa, Copenhagen and Brussels.
“The mission stands to lose property in Brussels if funds are not availed to construct a new building within a specified time period. The chancery building in Ottawa could also be demolished if repairs are not done urgently,” reads the report.
The ambassador’s official residence in Rome at the time of the audit reportedly had no curtains and the furniture belonged to the landlord.
The Auditor General noted that a huge chunk of foreign mission budgets is spent on rent, where Uganda does not own property.
Efforts to develop plots donated to Uganda in prime locations in Beijing, Abuja and Riyadh have hit a snag due to financial constraints.
In Dar es Salaam, one of the mission’s three properties that were swapped for properties in
Kampala may be condemned soon.
The report notes that a proposal by a private developer to build 24 apartments on the mission’s plot in Dar es Salaam, has not yet been cleared by authorities in Kampala. The developer proposed to give 10 apartments to the mission and sell the 14 to recover money from the investment.
In Pretoria, the ambassador’s official residence requires $386,981 (about sh958m) for repairs.
However, the ‘poster child’ of dilapidated missions seems to be the former chancery building in Kinshasa, which was vandalised during instability.
Although the building does not have windows, doors and a sewerage system, the Auditor General says Uganda can rake in millions in rent, if it takes advantage of the construction boom in Kinshasa.
The Auditor General expressed concern over accountability queries ranging from wastefulness of funds by mission heads through committing the Government beyond mission budgets, spending non-tax revenue without approval from the treasury and flouting procurement rules.
One such questionable expenditure was the renovation of the official residence of the mission head in Washington at $1.2m (about sh2.4b), after the initial cost was estimated at $394,150 (about sh975m).
The Auditor General also raised concern over $220,709 (sh546m), which was spent on furnishing the ambassador’s residence.
Also in contravention of the Public Finance and Accountability Act (PFAA) 2003, a host of missions spent over sh2b in non-tax revenue (mainly from visa fees) at source.
Accounting officers are expected to adhere to budget allocations per vote or obtain permission prior to making any amendments to the approved budget in line with the PFAA. The report cites the Washington mission as the biggest culprit in flouting the PFAA. The mission claims of having remitted sh1b in non-tax revenue to the consolidated fund was not backed by an acknowledgement receipt from the treasury.
The embassies overshot their budgets by sh1.1b, with the mission in Kinshasa (sh341m) and Canberra (sh183m) being the worst offenders.
The report also noted that most missions flouted guidelines governing procurement.
The guidelines require each mission to procure goods or services in accordance with its approved budget.
Missions in London, Dar es Salaam, Ottawa and Moscow carried out ad hoc and direct procurements to the tune of sh301m.
In Guangzhou and New Delhi, contracts of three officers, including a high commissioner, had long expired although they continued to execute their duties. In Berlin, the mission had two unqualified staff on the payroll.
“Most embassies do not even celebrate national days, or fly the flag of the country. They claim there is no money, yet a few people get the money and abuse it,” said a source.
Government has moved fast to crack the whip on erring Foreign Service officers by recalling them.
“The Kinshasa mission accounting officer has been recalled over a host of issues. His case has been committed to the ministry’s disciplinary committee,’’ James Mugume, the Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Affairs ministry, said.
‘‘If there is anything criminal, he will face the law,” he added.
Sources told Saturday Vision that Foreign Service officers from six missions including Brussels could also be recalled to face disciplinary action over accountability issues.
MP Jack Wamanga says replacing career diplomats with political appointees has messed Uganda’s missions abroad, adding that many of them do not know what they are doing.
The foreign affairs committee chairperson, Alex Byarugaba, called for a sustainable source of funding and housing for the missions.
Mugume said: ‘‘It is criminal to use non-tax revenue at source without approval of the treasury even amidst financial challenges.”
Source: New Vision