ISSUED RELEASE: URA Corporate Affairs Manager Sarah Birungi Banage

The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has issued a release, indicating that the payment of billions of shillings to government officials involved in a commercial dispute involving two oil campanies and the government of Uganda followed standard procedure, including among others, presidential approval.

In August last year, the URA paid out Shs6 billion to 37 senior government officials from different Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) including URA, and the ministries of Finance, Energy and the Attorney General’s chambers.

According to Ms Sarah Birungi Banage, the URA Corporate Affairs Manager, the team brought in a combined total of US$700m into government coffers after a series of Court battles in Uganda’s Tax Appeal Tribunal, High Court of Appeal and High Court of London, Court of Appeal of UK and two international tribunals.

URA says the money, dubbed a ‘presidential handshake’ was disbursed to the officials following their successful ‘saving’ government from losing US$434 million, as Capital Gains Tax (CGT), accruing from the sale of concessions between Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil companies.

‘It is standard international best practice for employees to receive bonus payments/or honoraria for exemplary performance in both the public and the private sector. Equally under the Ugandan Constitution, the President has a prerogative as a fountain of honor to reward exemplary performance and this has been exhibited in the fields of health, academia and sports to mention a few’, Ms Banage wrote.

She added: ‘For the record the payments went through the necessary approval as required by the public finance management act as amended. The Commission General was duly appointed as an accounting officer to disburse respective payments to designated beneficiaries after deduction of applicable taxes and other statutory deductions. The Auditor General duly issued an audit warrant to authorize spending. In accordance with the accounting officer’s mandate, designated beneficiary received their payment.’

According to Ms Banage, prior to payments being done, all payment underwent the necessary approval processes as provided for under the Public Finance Management Act as amended for close a year.

‘The presidential handshake granted to the multi-disciplinary and multi sectorial team of officials was not illegal and followed all due government processes. It was meant to appreciate the professionalism and patriotism exhibited by the team members, especially their ability to resist all pressure and compromise given the magnitude of the figures involved,’ Ms Banage concluded.

However, despite URA’s efforts to clear the air surrounding the saga, a big number of Ugandans have castigated the move, saying the officials led by current URA Commissioner General Doris Akol, acted in ‘bad faith’ by asking Mr Museveni to give the team ‘monetary rewards’.

“There is nothing patriotic about a few people pocketing billions while pupils, while pupils, even in their home districts, still study under trees,” one senior government official told the EagleOnline, on condition of anonymity.

He added: “They should have built about four schools and named them after the lead performers.”