The 2020 OPM’s posho and beans ‘scandal’

The OPM Building in Kampala. Courtesy photo.

OFFICE of the Prime Minister [OPM] in Uganda oversees the ‘entire affairs’ of the country. In brief, the OPM is headed by the Prime Minister – who’s the Head of Government Business.

The Prime Minister is also assisted by 1st and 2nd Deputy Prime Ministers, respectively.

In the OPM, there are various departments; key among many, the Department for Disasters Preparedness and Management. It’s politically managed by a Cabinet Minister, and deputised by a State Minister.

However, under the department, we have a commissioner in charge and the chief accounting officer is the Permanent Secretary.

Going forward, Uganda, like other countries in the world, is under pressure to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 88,965 lives, with 1,524,833 infections as of Thursday, 9 April 2020.

In trying to control this global pandemic, in which Uganda has registered a total of 53 infections with no death, President Museveni appealed to well-wishers, philanthropists, organisations and companies to support the fight by donating vehicles and food, among others.

Last week, the government distributed posho and beans to a number of households [vulnerable poor] in Kampala – starting with Kawempe division. The government says they will extend the provision to other parts of Kampala Metropolitan area and, subsequently, to the rest of the country.

The posho and beans donated by the government is to support Uganda’s “hand-to-mouth employees” who have been affected more by the one-month lockdown.

As government fulfils its obligation of providing food, security and other constitutional mandates, especially during this time of health disaster, Office of the Prime Minister is expected to play significant role to ensure that government achieves its mandate.

However, like the president recently said, “there are pigs” trying to undermine his directives and that of the Ministry of Health, some officials from the OPM are, perhaps, true personifications of the president’s description.

On Thursday, the State House Anti-Corruption Unit – headed by Lt Col Edith Nakalema arrested four OPM officials on corruption-related allegations.

“On Wednesday 8th April 2020, following a directive by His Excellency the President of Uganda, General Yoweri K. Museveni, the State House Anti-Corruption Unit, acting under Article 90 (4) of the Constitution of Uganda, in liaison with the Criminal Investigation Directorate acting under Article 120(3) (a), carried out a special investigation on the on-going COVID-19 related food procurement exercise in the Office of the Prime Minister,” Lt Col. Nakalema’s letter partly reads.

Innocent until proven guilty: Some of the OPM officials arrested by SHACU on Thursday
The OPM Permanent Secretary [in-front] was also arrested. All photos by SHACH Team

“Preliminary findings have established that the accounting officers in the Office of the Prime Minister were inflating prices and rejecting lower price offers from various suppliers of maize flour and beans,” the letter continues.

“In this regard, the Permanent Secretary, Ms Christine Guwatudde Kintu; the Accounting Officer, Mr Joel Wanjala; the Assistant Commissioner Procurement, Mr Fred Lutimba; and the Commissioner Disaster Management (Head COVID-19 Relief Management), Mr Martin Owor, have all been arrested to help with the on-going investigations.”

“Further updates will be provided in due course.”

What the Law says

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty.

In many countries, presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Under the presumption of innocence, the legal burden of proof is thus on the prosecution, which must present compelling evidence to the trier of fact (a judge or a jury). The prosecution must in most cases prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If reasonable doubt remains, the accused must be acquitted.

Article 23 (4) of the Constitution of Uganda grants suspects under detention a right to be brought before court not later than 48 hours from the time of their arrest. This right should not be violated regardless of the allegations against them.

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