Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Executive Director of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), David Livingstone Ebiru, has left members of Parliament in shock after he admitted to giving a bribe of Shs100 million to secure his job.
He made the admission during a meeting with the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE), which was scrutinising the report of the Auditor General on the financial statements of UNBS for the financial year ended 30 June 2022.
On Wednesday, 19 July 2023, during the committee’s meeting with the bureau, Ebiru admitted to offering the bribe when he faced the possibility of dismissal from his position.
Ebiru’s confirmation came after the committee chairperson and Nakawa Division West MP, Joel Ssenyonyi, presented printed evidence indicating that Ebiru had written to Robert Mwanje, a council member, inquiring whether he had received part of the bribe.
Ssenyonyi read the message from the phone, which stated, “You remember how much I forked out to our colleagues for protection during the Inspector General of Government (IGG) issue, Shs100 million, I thought this would bind us to guard each other in the future but alas.”
Mwanje, who was present in the meeting, told the committee that it was true he had a conversation with the Executive Director but was equally shocked to hear about the matter and attempted to find out if it had indeed happened.
“I was very surprised, and I tried to find out from the two people what could have happened and so that is how I inquired from the chairman and from Mr Mohammed Omar, also a council member,” Mwanje said.
When given the opportunity to speak, Ebiru stated that he found himself in a difficult situation when a letter of dismissal from the Inspectorate of Government (IG) and the trade minister was directed to the chairman of the National Standards Council, Charles Musekuura, asking for his termination.
Ebiru explained that he was approached by the chairperson of the council, who informed him about the dismissal letter and stated that only he, as the chairman, could save him, requesting for a bribe in return.
“I confirm that I had that discussion with Mr Mwanje. I handed the money through the representative of the chairman, one of the board members, Mr Omar. He came to my office and picked it in a bag. I borrowed this money,” he testified.
Ebiru stated that the chairperson called him to a restaurant in Panamera, in the city suburb of Naguru, around June.
However, Omar told the committee that it was not true that he received any money from Ebiru. “Definitely not, Mr. Chairperson. The first time I came into contact with that information was through WhatsApp, where a gentleman told me that the ED was spoiling your name, that is what is going around, and you better be very careful,” he said.
When the chairperson questioned the council members, all of them denied receiving any part of the money, and some of them were shocked to hear about it during the committee meeting.
Upon being asked to comment on the matter, Musekuura denied that Ebiru handed over any money as a bribe. He asserted that Ebiru, who made the allegations, has the burden of proving them and instead called for a complete overhaul of the institution’s leadership, stating that it was corrupt.
The deputy chairperson of the committee and District Woman Representative for Amuru, Hon. Lucy Akello, stated that although Ebiru came clean and did not waste the committee’s time, he is not off the hook.
Ssenyonyi handed over the three officials – Ebiru, Omar, and Mwanje – to the Parliament Police to record statements on the bribery allegations.
This was the latest bombshell as COSASE continues investigation after the UNBS board accused the MD of misappropriating Shs12.5 billion shillings, which they say he used without obtaining the required clearance from the Secretary to the Treasury and approval from Parliament. Ebiru admitted he broke the law by appropriating money without clearance.
During a meeting a day earlier, the Chairperson of the Board of UNBS, Charles Musekuura said that the Director, Ebiru had caused financial loss at the entity and was at the helm of corruption and numerous irregularities.
COSASE is scrutinizing the report of the Auditor General on the financial statements of UNBS for the financial year ended 30 June 2022.
According to Musekuura, UNBS maintains a collection account for money received from PVoC suppliers, a programme that involves inspecting and verifying goods through appointed inspection agents in the exporting country, which generates royalties.
However, he said that all funds from this account are intended to be transferred to the Consolidated Fund.
He revealed that out of the total US$4.9 million in the account, only US$1.5 million had been sent to the Consolidated Fund, while the remaining US$3.4 million was converted and utilised to support the bureau’s operations at its source under the authority of the director.
“The US$3.4 million was used at the source which, to my understanding, was contrary to the law and I am mindful that whatever it is that I have to do at the bureau, I am guided by the law,” Musekuura said.
He said that money moved from the PvOC account to a Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) account, a programme that was being run by the UNBS. The account was meant specifically to receive money from donors.
Additionally, Musekuura commented on five members of staff who caused financial loss of Shs9.2 billion and were still at the office to date.
Upon receiving information about staff involved in malpractice, the director initiated an internal investigations committee.
Subsequently, the investigations revealed that five individuals had a case to answer and the report was submitted to the director in October 2022.
However, the director ordered another investigation to ascertain the exact amount lost.
As a result, two implicated staff have since left the bureau while the other three are still in employment.
“The meeting resolved that the ED evaluates the report of the Shs9.3 billion and takes appropriate action given that it is not a disciplinary report; it was an investigations report. So that management meeting did not think that it would be a disciplinary matter,” he said.
Museruuka said when he attempted to find out what an appropriate action he took through a letter to the director, the infighting started.
He added that although the UNBS Council recommended a special audit related to the happenings of at the bureau, the director couldn’t allow this.
When asked by the Committee Chairperson Ssenyonyi to explain what happened, the Director, Ebiru stated that indeed he had broken the law by appropriating money without clearance, but there was an urgent need.
“Our budget was cut by over Shs20 billion and it was core operating activities. I wrote to the Secretary to Treasury that this limits the bureau as it will not be able to meet staff obligations like payment of gratuity,” he said.
When asked by Ssenyonyi how much he spent at the source, Ebiru said he did not have the figures readily but pledged to provide them in the subsequent meeting.
Ssenyonyi said that Ebiru had asked for a supplementary budget of Shs27 billion, questioning whether this was the amount that he used at source since it is what he had asked for.
“I did what the chairman is not very happy with and of course, what is contrary to the Public Finance Management Act on the basis that I tried my best to keep the institution running rather than creating arrears for the government where I would personally be held liable, so these are legitimate expenditures,” he said.
Ssenyonyi ended the meeting, asking the bureau to provide all documentary evidence of the transactions including certified bank statements, official meeting minutes and letters and correspondences from the minister responsible.