Convicted and jailed last year, Stephen Kiwanuka Kunsa, the former commissioner in charge of Pensions at the ministry of Public Service, has written from his cell in Luzira Murchison Bay prison urging Lt Col Edith Nakalema, head of the State House Anti-Corruption unit, to investigate Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire.
He claims the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs knew and pushed for the release of the misappropriated pension funds. Kunsa, Jimmy Lwamafa, the former permanent secretary, ministry of Public Service, and Christopher Obey, the former principal accountant in the ministry, plus lawyer Bob Kasango were convicted in December last year and sent to jail for their role in the loss of more than Shs 15.4 billion in pension funds.
Obey was sentenced to 14 years in jail, Lwamafa and Kunsa got nine years each while Kasango was handed 16 years.
In his letter to Nakalema, Kunsa suggests that some of the convicts were unjustly arrested, tried and convicted due to “deliberate actions and inactions” of police investigators. He claims Grace Akullo, the director Criminal Investigations Directorate, CID, George Komurubuga and Osuna Opendi failed to nail and charge the right person.
Akullo didn’t pick nor return our repeated calls yesterday. Kunsa cites a September 29, 2011 letter Otafiire wrote to Maria Kiwanuka, then minister for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, informing her of a payment claim lodged at his ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
He suggested that the payment claim should be referred to the ministry of Public Service. The claim stemmed from a High court decision of August 4, 2011 resolving a suit by Charles Abola and others against the attorney general over their outstanding pension payments.
“I have after consultation within this ministry, studied the matter and we are convinced that this matter, having previously been handled by the Ministry of Public Service, should continue to be so handled. It relates to payment of pensions and the Ministry of Public Service has all the records relating to the claimants and the history of the claim,” Otafiire’s letter, a copy of which The Observer has obtained, partly reads.
Otafiire further told Kiwanuka that since the Attorney General was sued in a representative capacity, the ministry of Justice’s already overstretched budget should not be strained further.
“I am, therefore, referring this matter to you for onward budgetary transmission to the Ministry of Public Service for better management and continuity,” Otafiire further wrote.
Kunsa claims that following Otafiire’s letter, Keith Muhakanizi, the permanent secretary, ministry of Finance and secretary to the Treasury, took up the matter and forwarded it to Lwamafa, the jailed former PS of Public Service. Muhakanizi’s letter to Lwamafa was written on October 5, 2011 – referring the payment claim to public service.
“The purpose of this letter is therefore to draw your attention to the above mentioned case and forward the claim to your ministry for necessary action,” Muhakanizi wrote.
Soon after the ministry of Public Service made the payments, Kunsa claims, Otafiire wrote another letter to Lwamafa, this time asking him to pay Kasango’s law firm, Marble Law Firm.
In the said letter written on October 13, 2011, Otafiire told Lwamafa that any payments should take into consideration the lawyers’ remuneration as contemplated by the claimants and their lawyers, together with the costs of the suit.
Otafiire’s letter came on the coat-tails of Kasango’s letter to Lwamafa a week earlier, demanding full payment of his law firm’s claim.
“The purpose of this letter is, therefore, to request that you be pleased to make arrangements to settle in full the outstanding amounts as awarded by court to our clients, together with interest and costs and also that you be pleased to settle our fees as set out in our retainer agreement,” Kasango wrote on October 7, 2011.
Four days after Otafiire’s letter, Kasango wrote another letter, on October 17, 2011, still to Lwamafa, demanding payment of his professional fees. Kasango quoted Otafiire’s October 13, 2011 letter to Lwamafa, demanding payment of more than Shs 12.4 billion in retainer fees and costs of the suit.
Interviewed for a comment on Monday, Otafiire said he intervened to help the pensioners as a concerned Ugandan.
“That matter was investigated by parliament and nothing wrong was found with what I did; I was just trying to help the pensioners as a concerned Ugandan,” Otafiire said.
The parliamentary investigation was conducted by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2015. Former Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso, who was the committee chair at the time, said in an interview on Monday that the process was never concluded.
“We had to stop because someone went to court, and they cited for us the sub judice rule. We actually presented no report to parliament,” Alaso said.
The total sum paid was Shs 15.4 billion, which later resulted into the prosecution and conviction of Kunsa, Lwamafa, Obey, Kasango and Milton Muteganja.
They were felled by charges of diversion of funds intended for pension and gratuity to Marbel Law Firm to settle legal costs, and conspiring to defraud government. In his letter, Kunsa wonders why Otafiire who initiated the process of the payments was never interrogated or charged.
“The payment of the claim for damages, fees and interest by the Ministry of Public Service was instigated by Hon Kahinda Otafiire. However, he did not record a police statement about the matter, and when I asked Opendi [the investigating officer] about this at CID headquarters, he told me that I should have known that Hon Otafiire was an army general,” Kunsa wrote.
Investigations revealed a conspiracy involving officials at the ministries of Finance and Public Service, Bank of Uganda, Cairo International Bank and the East African Community Beneficiaries who opened bank accounts in Cairo International Bank in the names of beneficiaries. The money ended in the officials’ pockets.
Their scheme got exposed after they disagreed on how to share the loot.