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Cooperatives Registrar Robert Barigye Arrested as War Loss Compensation Money begins to bite!

KAMPALA, September 6, 2023 – The Internal Security Organisation [ISO] and the State House Anti-Corruption Unit [SHACU] have begun hunting for officials in the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives [MTIC] who allegedly connived with various law firms in Kampala to embezzle over Shs 20 billion meant to compensate cooperatives for the losses incurred during the war and political insurgencies.

A report was published a few years ago showing at least 1,110 cooperative unions demanding government Shs 162bln in war reparations, some of which government has paid, but beneficiary cooperatives only received a portion of the money, with the rest allegedly going back to the Ministry’s officials as kickbacks.

A source who spoke to this website on the condition of anonymity said President Yoweri Museveni has been receiving complaints about some officials in the Ministry of Trade, conniving with some of the leaders of cooperatives and law firms to swindle the money meant for the compensation of the cooperatives, which has, according to security operatives, forced the President to ask ISO and SHACU to intervene.

Indeed, an official from MTIC on Wednesday morning confirmed to this online publication that ISO and SHACU have arrested Robert Bariyo Barigye, the Commissioner of Cooperatives Development at MTIC. Barigye was reportedly arrested from Rukungiri district following a tip-off.

Sources told this website that Barigye knew that any time he would be arrested, and that is why he had taken refuge in Rukungiri. Another source alleged that Barigye had been appearing in the office only during weekends to patch up some work, sign off documents and immediately disappear to escape arrest.

“Barigye has been coming to office only on Sundays, knowing that if he appeared during weekdays, he would be arrested,” the source said, adding that there is a need to clean the entire MTIC of corruption.

A source further said other people at MTIC under investigation are Robert Mpakibi, the Assistant Commissioner of Cooperatives, Kavundira Leonard, the Principal Cooperatives Officer, Henry Magero, Chairman of Jinja Multipurpose Cooperative Society and Lubanga Ngobi the Secretary of Jinja Multipurpose Cooperative.

A source at SHACU said they are investigating more senior figures at the Ministry, and does not rule out the possibility of involving politicians as well.

The Law firms alleged to be involved in the big scandal include Matovu and Matovu Advocates, Kirya and Co Advocates, Probata Advocates, Makada and Co Advocates and some managers of the cooperatives that were supposed to receive the compensation money.

It is alleged that on one occasion where the Ministry of Trade was supposed to compensate Buyaka Growers Cooperative Society based in Bugiri, Shs 5bln was paid contrary to the Accountant Generals report of Shs 6bln. This leaves at least Shs 1bln unaccounted for.  This payment was purportedly effected and brokered by Kirya and Co Advocates.

It is further claimed that of the Shs 6.8 Billion paid to Buyaka Growers through Probata Advocates and Kirya and Co Advocates, only Shs 490mln was received through their DFCU Bank account while a sum of Shs 6.3bln was allegedly retained by the law firms and the Ministry of Trade officials.

On another instance, a total of Shs 5.3bln also meant for Buyaka Cooperative Society was transferred to Kirya and Co advocates out of which Shs 1.5bln was paid to Probata Advocates. It is suspected that behind this transaction was Leonard Kavundira, the Principal Cooperative Officer at MTIC who allegedly forced Buyaka to sign a Memorandum of Understanding entitling the law firm 30 percent of the money. The law firm only remitted Shs 200mln of the total sum.

The Source said that on August 7, 2023, ISO and SHACU launched an investigation into the issue focusing on Busoga Growers Cooperatives Union Ltd, Jinja Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society and Namisindwa District based Buyaka Growers Cooperative Society.

The source further revealed that this scandal involves some Members of Parliament on the Budget Committee who he refrained from mentioning and mentioned that measures to deter the suspects from escaping from the country have been put in place.

MPs probing cooperatives

The Members of Parliament on the Committee of Tourism, Trade, and Industry effective Monday this week began investigating cooperative unions to ascertain whether the money they received as compensation for the war losses was put to good use.

According to the Trade Committee chairman Mwine Mpaka, the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among initiated the probe of the cooperative unions following numerous complaints to her office calling for a value-for-money audit.

Among others, the leaders were supposed to use the money to rejuvenate the cooperative unions affected by the wars.

“The speaker instructed the Committee of Tourism, Trade, and Industry to investigate budgetary allocations that have been going to cooperatives. She gave us instructions to start from the 9th Parliament up-to-date,” Mpaka said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Mpaka said his committee has been gathering the necessary information and hope to be in the field effective Monday for 10 days.

“We want to first interact with the beneficiaries on the ground. We have written to the CAOs, we have written to the RDCs, we have written to area Members of Parliament where these cooperatives are,” noted, adding, “We have also invited leadership and membership of all the cooperatives. So we shall have public hearings.”

He said the committee wants to establish how much money the Finance ministry disbursed to the Trade ministry and if the latter disbursed the money to the cooperative unions, and whether the beneficiaries actually received the money.

“We are going to trace the transactions, bank statements to see whether the money actually went to the cooperatives. We are going to be interacting with the leadership of the cooperatives. We want to get as much information as we can,” said Mpaka, the Member of Parliament for Mbarara City South.

The government has over the years fully or partly compensated some of the cooperative unions. For instance, Masaba Cooperative Union, and Busoga Growers Union received Shs 2 billion each. Masaka Cooperative Union, Banyankole Kweterana Cooperative Union, Lango Cooperative Union among several others, have also received some war compensation for the loss of properties but it said they had to send some of the money back to the Ministry.

Years ago, a report was published showing 1,110 cooperative unions were demanding government Shs 126 billion in war reparations.

According to a Parliamentary Brief on the Cooperative Sector in Uganda, published by The Uhuru Institute for Social Development [TUI] in April 2022, most members do not know the status of compensations awarded to their cooperatives for the loss of property like trucks, capital finance, land stock, and human resources.

Cooperators who interacted with TUI appealed to 10th Parliament to take keen interest in the compensation process, including negotiations, the final agreement between every Cooperative Union, or Cooperative Society involved, and the government of Uganda.

They added: “Such keen interest may include demanding that the responsible minister provides regular reports to parliament on the status of compensation until all the cases are concluded to the satisfaction of all parties.”

Cooperatives are also based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. Cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.

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