Why Parliament ordered forensic audit into UWA gorilla permits fraud allegations

by Trevor Lutalo
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In response to revelations of alleged fraud totalling Ushs500 million in Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and their failure to avail important data during the audit process, Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) has taken action. 

During a meeting on Tuesday with UWA officials led by the Executive Director, Sam Mwandha to address concerns raised in the December 2023 Auditor General’s report, COSASE chairperson Medard Lubega Ssegona issued a directive for a forensic audit into the matter.

Lubega stated, “You know that is an audit ordered by the Minister, and by standards, when the Minister orders for an audit, that one goes to him. Now, we are also ordering a forensic audit. We are also ordering a forensic investigation into the same affairs.”

UWA reported to have collected Ushs22.461 billion as revenue from Gorilla and Chimpanzee tracking in 2022/23, but the Auditor General’s report highlighted a lack of access to crucial data during the audit process, hindering efforts to verify the said revenue earned.

The report stated, “Non-provision of required information leads to limitation of audit work in the area of reconciliation of booking details with payments and actual tracking done which hindered the verification of revenue recognised in the financial statements.”

However, UWA’s Mwandha, denied accusations of obstructing auditors, explaining that the previous booking system was under police investigation and access was restricted. Mwandha assured the Committee that the audit team mandated by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities had since been granted access to the system.

The fraud, discovered in August 2023, implicated 14 UWA staff members. Seven underwent disciplinary proceedings, while the remaining seven are still under investigation. Mwandha clarified that those implicated no longer have access to the system, as they were reassigned tasks unrelated to gorilla and chimpanzee tracking.

Regarding the ongoing police investigation, UWA stated they are unaware of its status, as the case was taken over by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Crime Intelligence headquarters.

In addition to the gorilla permits fraud, concerns were raised about Ushs462 million in administrative advances to staff that remained unaccounted for. UWA officials informed the Committee that some vouchers were available for verification, while discrepancies arose from unissued vendor vouchers.

The UWA Audit report also revealed inconsistencies in the names, dates of birth and National Identification Numbers (NIN) of 1,727 employees registered on the main payroll. These discrepancies emerged when it was discovered that the data maintained at UWA headquarters did not match the records held by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

The wildlife body serves as the government agency dedicated to the conservation and management of wildlife across both protected and non-protected areas. Operating under the oversight of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, UWA manages a comprehensive array of natural habitats, including 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, five community wildlife management areas, and 13 wildlife sanctuaries.

As part of government’s rationalisation move to curb expenditure, UWA is scheduled to merge with Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC). This consolidation effort is part of a broader rationalisation plan, which involves relocating 33 agencies to their parent ministries and merging 35 agencies into 19 entities. Furthermore, 80 agencies will maintain semi-autonomy as the government aims to achieve significant savings amounting to Ushs1 trillion.

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