Ministry of Defence fails to account for Shs 536bn pension money


Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs officials on Tuesday were put on the spot over funds meant to pay pensions and gratuity for UPDF veterans.

The Ministry officials led by the Under Secretary Edith Buturo appeared before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to respond to queries arising from the Auditor General’s report  on misuse of funds.

In the report, the Auditor General John Muwanga raised a number of accountability issues in the Ministry.

Lawmakers sitting on the committee were astounded to note that the Ministry is struggling with outstanding salary arrears of Shs 718.4bn and another Shs 536.4bn debt in pension and gratuity arrears.

Additionally, the ministry also has a Shs 78.4bn debt meant for land compensation and another Shs 103.5bn for sundry creditors.

The MPs were mostly concerned with the pensions and gratuity funds, tasking the Ministry of Defence team to explain why former soldiers are still being tossed around for their pension money.

This was after Buturo told the Committee that the Ministry carried out a verification exercise to establish the actual number of pensioners in 2010, but eight years down the road, the exercise is still ongoing.

Buturo told the Committee that the Ministry carried out a verification exercise to establish the actual number of pensioners in 2010, but eight years down the road, the exercise is still ongoing.She also said they do not have a clear criterion to pay veterans, saying new veterans were being paid.

She also said, the Ministry’s arms are tied due to the limited resources envelop.

She also said that the problem was worsened by the fact that the Ministry inherited the pensions payment from the Ministry of Public Service, following the decentralization of of payment of pensions and gratuity.

The Ministry indicated that out of the Shs 536Bn, only Shs 16Bn has been paid, leaving a balance of Shs 520Bn.

Asked to present the schedule detailing the people who are yet to be paid and how much they are demanding, Buturo was hesitant saying it would raise expectations of the officers of being paid, yet there was no money at the time.

However, PAC chairperson Angelline Osegge (Soroti Woman MP) rejected Buturo’s argument, wondering why the Ministry has turned the issue of pension political.

“Every election time, you do this same thing of verifying pensioners. What does the information you collect help you to do? Why would you ask somebody to open an account when the money isn’t ready. How do you expect them to run those accounts?” Osegge asked.

Buturo however refuted allegations that the Ministry has turned UPDF pensions subject political, saying the verification has to be undertaken to eliminate ghost pensioners.

There are over 85,000 persons who served in the army awaiting payment.

Buturo said they are working with Ministry of Finance to ensure the pensions department works in a project format where the department is entirely dedicated to working on pensions and gratuity.

ELECTION BUDGET

The Ministry’s team was also asked about the more than Shs1.2bn budget that was meant for supply of fuel and tyres during the 2016 election period.

According to the Auditor General, a total of Shs 450m was paid out in cash on October 8, 2015 to procure fuel and lubricants on grounds that the supplier had failed to supply fuel due to accumulated unpaid debts.

The requisition indicated that Shs391m was for bulk fuel while Shs 36.8m was to be loaded on fuel smart cards but there is no documentations to confirm that fuel was delivered at the Ministry premises.

Butuuro however said by the time of the audit, they had not yet collected receipts from the areas where fuel was supplied.

“We have since furnished the Auditors with relevant receipts confirming the supply of fuel and they have confirmed that indeed the supply was effected,” Butuuro told the MPs.

The committee also querried the controversial expenditure of Shs 823.3m on procurement of tyres for election operations.

According to the Auditor General’s report, much as the Ministry claims to have paid the money, a review of available support documentation revealed that a request for supply of tyres was made on January 29, 2015 to from security budget of Shs1bn.