Uganda Cooperative Alliance(UCA) Board Chairperson Johnas Tweyambe and General Secretary Ivan Asiimwe have been asked to step aside from their respective positions amidst ongoing investigations into allegations of fraud, financial impropriety and abuse of office that have rocked the cooperatives’ apex body over the last 10 months.
In a letter dated 24th October 2019 a copy of which the Cooperator has seen, the Registrar of Cooperative Societies in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Joseph William Kitandwe noted that “Initial findings point to the chairperson of the board and General Secretary of UCA Ltd as being at the center of frustrating the proper conduct of business at UCA Ltd,” adding that “For purposes of conducting a fair and transparent investigation, the two officers are hereby directed to step aside until further notice.”
Investigations into the malaise affecting UCA have been ongoing since May this year, when following a petition by members of UCA to the board and later Mr. Kitandwe, the board finally agreed to constitute a 3-member sub-committee to carry out investigations and report back to the board.
Genesis of UCA troubles
In February 2019, senior managers of UCA’s member cooperatives wrote to the board chairman Jonas Tweyambe requesting a meeting with the UCA board to discuss what they thought was the systematic mismanagement of the institution.
In the petition, the staff accused Mr. Asiimwe of forgery, financial impropriety, and abuse of office, which they said were posing a risk to the resources, image, and integrity of the Board of UCA and the entire cooperative movement.
In particular, the petitioners pointed to a resolution by the UCA Board purportedly issued at its 129th meeting, complete with signatures of the Board members, a stamp and signature from the registrar’s office, which Asiimwe had presented to the Uganda National Roads Authority to retrieve titles of UCA’ residual plots, which remained after the passage of the northern bypass.
It turned out the entire resolution had been a forgery. Confidential sources from UCA told theCooperator that in late 2018, Mr. Asiimwe conducted an orientation training of UCA’s new board members, which he later packaged as a formal meeting on the basis of which he concocted the resolution under question. The said resolution suggested that the UCA board had vested all its power in Asiimwe to conduct business on UCA’s behalf, a move industry experts equate to the dissolution of the board.
On another board resolution dated 22nd February 2019, Asiimwe was accused of manipulating the board to secure authorization to borrow Shs.200 million from Housing Finance Bank on behalf of UCA, and falsifying the Commissioner of Cooperatives’ signature and stamp to complete the transaction.
Apparently, Asiimwe told the board that the money was needed implement the Vegetable Oil Development Project(VODP), on which UCA had been contracted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries(MAAIF) to train farmers in cooperative best practices to produce better vegetable oil yields. The petitioners pointed out that the said loan was unnecessary because about Shs350 million of the VODP funds had been released in December 2018.
In a related case, the petitioners pointed to another loan of shs.500 million that UCA, through Asiimwe secured, as a performance bond guarantee for another project – the Agricultural Technology and Advisory Services Project(ATAA), in which UCA had been contracted by MAAIF to do country-wide profiling of farmer-producer organizations. The petitioners alleged that when MAAIF eventually paid UCA for their services worth shs.900million in 2018, Asiimwe, instead of paying off the loan, rescheduled it, spreading it over a 17-year period, a decision which the board was not privy to.
Investigations Sub-committee indicts Asiimwe.
But theCooperator has learnt, the meeting requested for was never convened by the board, prompting the complainants to petition Mr. Kitandwe, who by virtue of his position, is in charge of regulating the cooperatives’ sector in the country, and is also an ex officio member of the UCA board.
Following receipt of the petition, the Commissioner wrote to the UCA board chairperson to cause a meeting that would discuss the raised issues. Consequently, the board sat on 2nd May 2019, and a three-member committee was constituted to investigate the allegations levelled against Asiimwe.
On July 22nd, the UCA Investigations sub-committee chaired by Mr. Emmy Sayekwo Geoffrey, the Chairman of Sebei Elgon Cooperative and a magistrate in Kasese District, presented its findings to the board, issuing a damning indictment of Asiimwe that suggested he had “serious criminal” and “administrative cases” to answer.
On the particular issue of the resolution with which Asiimwe had obtained UCA’s tittles from UNRA, the committee found that all board members contest the appearance of their signatures on a resolution they never passed. It concluded that “the said resolution is, therefore, a forged document punishable under the cooperative laws and the penal code Act.”
The committee also confirmed the falsification of the registrar’s signature on account two, and concluded that “the perpetrator is guilty of dishonesty and uttering a false document to the registrar.”
On the handling of UCA loans, the report confirmed the petitioner’s allegations that UCA’s loan liability with Housing Finance Bank had gone up with the addition of the shs.500million, which should have been cleared after UCA was paid for its consultancy services by MAAIF. It recommended that “more investigations ought to be done in connection to the acquisition of other loans and the required paperwork in SFOAP, and PROFIRA funds.”
As the UCA countrywide membership waited on the board to take action in line with the investigative subcommittee’s recommendations, the Police Criminal Investigations department based at the Uganda National Roads Authority(UNRA) headquarters in Nakawa picked interest in the matter, following a tip-off by a whistleblower that the roads body may have carried out a transaction with UCA based on forged documents.
In a letter to the UCA board dated July 23rd, the Police Criminal investigations department wrote; “Investigations and Compliance Department at UNRA is investigating a case of suspected forgery of board minutes and powers of attorney.”
theCooperator has learned that on July 26th, Mr. Asiimwe appeared before the Investigations and compliance department for questioning. Since then, several other top officials from the UCA board and management including Mr.Tweyambe have also appeared before the same department, as police seek to get to the bottom of the allegations.
Asiimwe has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying that money transactions at UCA have to be approved by the Board and the treasury secretary. His denials have been collaborated by Tweyambe, who has previously told theCooperator that he is not aware of any misconduct or mishandling of the institution funds by Asiimwe.
But Tweyambe’s critics say he is not a fair arbiter in this matter, accusing him of being “worryingly close” to Asiimwe, with others claiming that the latter influenced his election as board chairperson in 2018. These allegations gained traction when early on in the course of investigations, Mr. Tweyambe and UCA treasurer Fr. Safari wrote to the Police CID officers investigating the matter to drop the inquiry, a request that Police denied.
Now, Kitandwe has announced that a fresh investigation will be instituted to get to the root of UCA members’ complaints and called upon Asiimwe and Tweyambe to hand over their offices to their immediate deputies to allow unhindered investigations.
“An Independent and Competent investigations team will be appointed to conduct the exercise(investigation), which should be completed within 60days,” his letter copied to all UCA board members, senior management, and the Ministers of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives reads in part.