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Bigirimana to PAC: Audit Queries are not Criminal charges

In the realm of parliamentary proceedings, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC/) has long been a crucible for accounting officers, subjecting them to a grueling and often vexing interrogation style that leaves them questioning their life choices. 

However, the tide might be turning, as Judiciary Permanent Secretary (PS) Dr Pius Bigirimana voiced a call for change. 

On a Monday, February 19, 2024, preparatory meeting convened by the incoming PAC chairperson, Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi of Butambala county, NUP, Bigirimana addressed the issue, drawing a crowd of accounting officers from various ministries, departments, and agencies. 

Among them were PS Ketty Lamaro from the education ministry, Director Immigration and Citizenship Control Maj Gen Apollo Kasiita-Gowa, and Hajji Yunus Kakande, the undersecretary of the Office of the President.

Reflecting on more than a decade in Parliament, Bigirimana lamented the past tumultuous interactions, describing them as laden with drama and public spectacle, at times feeling like persecution. 

He made a plea for a shift in approach, emphasizing that audit queries should not be treated as criminal charges, but rather as obligations that demand fair, respectful treatment, acknowledging the responsibilities of the accounting officers.

Pointing to legal foundations, Article 79 of the Constitution empowers Parliament to legislate for the peace, order, development, and good governance of Uganda. Article 164(3) mandates parliamentary oversight of public fund expenditures aligned with sector mandates. 

Section 45(1) of the Public Finance Management Act (2015) places the responsibility on accounting officers to manage allocated funds properly, authorize commitments, and oversee resources received.

Bigirimana urged for restraint, especially in cases like domestic arrears, where delays often stem from budgeted activities not receiving approved funds. He called on lawmakers to support accounting officers when explaining such situations, citing contractual obligations like rent payments that may face delays. He boldly declared, “I am going to be a habitual defaulter so this query of domestic arrears will always be there with me. So, I have to tell you in advance. On rent, I will not apologize on that, Finance should apologize.”

Responding to these concerns, Kivumbi assured accounting officers of a more considerate environment, promising to break away from past perceptions of persecution. 

However, he emphasized the need for thorough and precise answers, questioning the rationale behind an annual allocation of shillings 52 trillion when historical revenue and expenditure have not surpassed shillings 45 trillion.

Sarah Opendi, Tororo District Woman MP, chimed in, urging accounting officers to avoid being absent during hearings. 

She stressed the importance of communication, requesting prior notification if an accounting officer is unable to attend. 

Opendi suggested that in such cases, the committee could summon a readily available agency to appear. The meeting sought to usher in a new era for PAC hearings, marked by fairness, accountability, and improved communication.

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