Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Misappropriation of Irish Aid Funds in Uganda: Discussion with Irish Aid
Today's meeting has been called regarding the misappropriation of Irish Aid funds in Uganda. We will discuss the matter with Mr. Brendan Rogers, director general of Irish Aid, and his officials. I welcome them. Mr. Rogers is accompanied by Mr. Michael Gaffey, deputy director general, Mr. Liam Mac Gabhann, director of programme countries, and Dr. Vincent O'Neill, director of policy, planning and effectiveness. I thank the director general for keeping me informed in recent weeks of the situation in Uganda. He made personal calls to keep me updated.
Members of the committee and the Irish people, who are the most important element, were disturbed to hear that €4 million in Irish Aid development funds had been misappropriated by the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda, that country's highest office. As the committee is aware, Irish Aid has a proud history of providing development assistance to the world's poorest people and our international reputation for the quality of our aid programme is second to none. Many members have witnessed this during their visits to a number of programme countries, particularly our recent visit to Sierra Leone. That we are able to continue to fund the delivery of high-quality aid programmes in the midst of the most difficult economic crisis ever experienced by Ireland is a testament to the Irish Aid success story. Most Irish people appreciate the significant work being done by Irish Aid and the non-governmental organisations, NGOs.
However, it has always been of the utmost importance that money provided by the Irish taxpayer for development assistance reaches the people for whom it is intended. Taxpayers need to be confident that, notwithstanding the difficult environment in which aid is delivered, money is being well spent.
The committee's job today is to explore with the officials in charge of Irish Aid what went wrong and how the Irish people can be sufficiently reassured so that we can continue to be confident about the way Irish Aid's budget is being spent. It is key that we reassure people that this is a one-off.
The Government and Irish Aid made a good start. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs moved immediately to suspend all Irish assistance channelled through the government of Uganda. A team of officials, from the Department's evaluation and audit unit, immediately travelled to Uganda to investigate the matters, as did the director general of Irish Aid and his officials. The Government of Uganda has already confirmed that all of the misappropriated money will be reimbursed. It is also worth recalling that it was Uganda's auditor general that discovered the misappropriation.
The Office of the Auditor General in Uganda has had significant support from Irish Aid to supply skills and capacity building. The independence and strength displayed by the office in this investigation is encouraging and demonstrates the value of the support and connection. That said, it is not the Ugandan auditor who is accountable to the Oireachtas for the way in which Irish Aid funds are managed, that is the job Irish officials and officeholders. Since the misappropriation was uncovered it was important that officials travelled to Uganda to report their preliminary findings as quickly as possible. Mr. Rogers and his team have come here at their earliest opportunity and are anxious to share with us their findings and to tell us what happened.
I wish to advise the witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of utterances at this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease making remarks on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their remarks. They are directed that only comments and evidence relating to the subject matter of this meeting are to be given, and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Mr. Rogers to make his presentation and afterwards the delegation will answer questions from Members.
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
I thank the Chairman and Members of the Oireachtas joint committee for meeting me today to discuss the recent events in Uganda. My organisation has appreciated their support for many years of the programme. Without that support we would not have the programme.
I shall start by expressing my deepest concern about the misappropriation of Irish Aid funds in Uganda. I have watched the development of Uganda, from the mid-1980s when it was regarded as a failed state after a generation of brutal dictatorial rule and civil strife, into a stable, relatively peaceful, modern but far from perfect democracy of recent years. Most of us will remember the depredations of Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
I am committed to the aid programme in Uganda having served there as head of mission for two years from 1998 to 2000. The recovery and transformation of Uganda has been made possible through the efforts of the Ugandan people, together with international donors, including a significant contribution made by Ireland. As Members will be aware, a special investigation was carried out by the Auditor General of Uganda which discovered the misappropriation of €4 million of Irish Aid funds that had been provided by Ireland specifically for northern Uganda. As the Chairman said, our response was immediate and decisive. The Tánaiste suspended all Irish assistance, totalling €16 million, that was due to be channelled through the Government of Uganda in 2012. He demanded the return of the €4 million misappropriated and announced an immediate investigation into the findings of the Auditor General. A team from the evaluation and audit unit of the Department travelled to Uganda within days and they will report to the Tánaiste shortly. He has indicated that he will release the report and he is committed to implementing any recommendations contained in the report.
The report of the auditor general into the handling of aid funds by the Office of the Prime Minister found that there was significant financial mismanagement of the Peace Recovery and Development Plan for northern Uganda. The PRDP had been established to rebuild infrastructure in the region after decades of conflict and the ravages of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. The Auditor General found that an elaborate and sophisticated fraud had been perpetrated involving a high level of collusion that would have been difficult for any normal audit systems to uncover. The Auditor General's special investigation found that over €12 million received from Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, of which the Irish Aid component is €4 million, had been diverted into unauthorised accounts controlled by the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda and a significant proportion of these funds were unaccounted for.
I travelled to Kampala and, together with our ambassador in Kampala, met the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Finance and Economic Development of Uganda. I made it clear to the Ugandan authorities that the Tánaiste and the Irish Government regarded it as absolutely intolerable that development assistance, given by the people of Ireland, should be misappropriated or diverted. I reiterated the Tánaiste's clear statement that Irish funding had to be repaid as a matter of urgency. I emphasised that all necessary actions should be taken to pursue those guilty of the crime and that the control weaknesses identified in the report of the Auditor General be corrected.
The Ugandan Government has since confirmed in writing that: all Irish Aid funds that have been misappropriated will be reimbursed; that the officials against whom financial impropriety has been established will be prosecuted; and that strong measures will be undertaken to tighten their internal controls. The Tánaiste has welcomed the commitment and our ambassador in Kampala will work closely with the Ugandan authorities to ensure that these actions are followed through. However, the suspension of €16 million of funding due to be channelled through the Government of Uganda remains in place as we closely examine our options for engagement with Uganda in the future.
Ireland's aid programme is strongly focused on the poorest people and communities in sub-Saharan Africa. The Government will not provide financial support under our development co-operation programme unless it is clear that Irish money is being spent for the purpose for which it was allocated. Funding programmes through Government systems is an important tool in achieving strong development outcomes and empowering national Governments to deliver and take ownership of the provision of services. This is essential if the improvements that we put in place are to be sustainable in the long term but it can only take place when such systems are accountable, transparent and effective.
In the case of Uganda, the independence and strength of the Auditor General are a clear sign of Ugandan Government accountability systems working well and the importance of assisting in this work. Ireland has provided technical and financial support to his office for a number of years in order to build the skills and capacity required for the conduct of complex investigations. The Auditor General also visited Ireland in 2001 to learn about our systems of accountability. Ireland's support of the Auditor General was strengthened after the previous Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs met the Auditor General during its visit to Uganda in 2008 and it endorsed his work.
The findings of the Auditor General in this case are deeply disturbing and affect the excellent reputation of the aid programme. However, the fact that the Auditor General is now in a position to make them is a demonstration of the increased capacity and the determination of progressive and forceful elements within the Ugandan Administration to enforce accountability in the use of Government and donor money. It is only by building national accountable systems that corruption can be fought and eliminated. If we are in a position to resume development assistance to Uganda further assistance to strengthen the Auditor General's office must be an essential component.
Our aid programme in Ugandan is regularly examined and evaluated in order to ensure that we achieve effectiveness and value for money. It is done in a number of complementary ways: through auditors based in our embassy in Kampala; through the evaluation and audit team at headquarters; through international accountancy firms which we commission to carry out audits; through the national audit offices of our partner governments; and through the Department's audit committee that provides an independent appraisal of Irish Aid's audit and evaluation, meets the Comptroller and Auditor General and publishes an annual report on its work. We have invested heavily in our financial tracking systems and there is real time access to all of our financial transactions that allows us to have rigorous control and oversight of what moneys are spent in the field. It is clear that, notwithstanding all of the checks and balances, funding programmes through government systems in more volatile regions of the world can be challenging, as we can see in this case. We are committed to ensuring that we learn from what has occurred in Uganda and strengthen our systems of risk identification and management, as well as monitoring and audit, in order to minimise the potential for the misuse of funds in the future. In this regard we will look closely at the conclusions and recommendations contained in the evaluation and audit team's report that will be presented to the Tánaiste shortly.
Ireland has had a bilateral aid programme with Uganda since 1994. The programme is focused on reducing poverty among some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the country. Our aid programme in Uganda is designed to reduce the incidence of HIV and AIDS; to build schools and provide education for poor children; to reduce the incidence of gender based violence; to improve government accountability; to promote protect human rights; to help develop the capacity of the private sector to provide jobs and economic opportunities for Ugandans; and, in particular, to provide support for Karamoja which is one of the poorest and most marginalised regions of the country.
Since commencing our work in Uganda, we have witnessed significant improvements in the quality of life for the Ugandan people.
Peace has returned to most of the country. Some 8.3 million boys and girls are in primary schools, compared to 2.5 million in 1997. The HIV prevalence rate has reduced dramatically from 18% in the 1990s to just over 6% today. Most importantly, poverty has more than halved over the past two decades. These are real achievements which have been made possible with the support of donors such as Ireland.
Today, Uganda stands at a crossroads, faced as it is with economic and political decisions that will significantly affect its future prospects. Substantial oil reserves have been found in the west of the country, which have the potential to double Uganda's total income within ten years. However, this oil wealth will also bring many challenges. Uganda has the potential to achieve sustainable development for all her people. In order to build on this, the Ugandan Government must strengthen its response to corruption. This can only come from strong political leadership and from the development of more transparent and accountable systems. Development partners are ready to support Uganda to achieve this but we want to see compliance with the systems and the full application of the rule of law for any wrongdoing by officials.
Ireland has a strong relationship with Uganda, much of which is due to the support provided by Irish taxpayers for our development co-operation programme. However, it is also built on a proud missionary past. At the turn of the last century, an Irish Franciscan nun from County Wicklow had a major impact on Uganda. Mother Kevina had built up 90 institutions, including schools, clinics and hospitals, when she died. Many more have followed in this proud tradition, which has had a major impact on the country. Ugandans proudly speak about the good education and high-quality health care they received from Irish missionary institutions. This has positioned Ireland well to hold the Ugandan Government to account over this case and to help rebuild our relationship in the future. In the past few weeks, we have used our position to take the lead on donors affected by this fraud to impress upon the Government of Uganda in no uncertain terms the importance of taking swift action to respond to the findings of the Ugandan auditor general.
I assure the committee that we are committed to ensuring our support is used for the purposes intended, is directed to the poorest and most vulnerable in the countries where we are working and represents the best value for money for the Irish taxpayer. We are working urgently to have Irish funds restored and are putting significant pressure on the Ugandan authorities. The impact of the funding crisis has brought us to a crossroads in our long-standing relationship with Uganda and we must now reflect on how we move forward to ensure the money given by the Irish people is fully protected while still offering hope and assistance to the poor in northern Uganda.
I thank Mr. Rogers for his contribution. I am sure members will not mind if I ask a question before handing over to Deputy Smith. Mr. Rogers referred to the fact that our aid programme in Uganda is regularly examined and evaluated to ensure we have achieved effectiveness and value for money. It is done in a number of ways: through auditors based in our embassy in Kampala, by the evaluation and audit team at headquarters, and through international accountancy firms. Where was the money going in northern Uganda? Four million euro is a lot of money on the ground. Could one see at first hand where the money was going? I refer in particular to the education and gender balance programmes, malnutrition projects, HIV projects and physical structures such as buildings. Did our local Ugandan consultants, who are important people, have any suspicion at any stage of corruption in terms of how the money was spent? The sum amounts to €4 million, which is a lot of money to go unnoticed in the Irish Aid programme. Much of the money is channelled through government programmes. Was there physical infrastructure? With all the checks and balances in respect of the team of local Ugandan consultants, who were part of the Irish Aid advisory group, why was this not spotted by Irish Aid people? Could this be happening elsewhere?
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
Uganda is a very risky place in which to work. The sum of €4 million represented phase 2; the first phase involved €3.2 million, which went where it was supposed to go. We are one of the only donors to have placed an office in Karamoja to examine the infrastructure that has been built on the ground. Our team in Kampala travels regularly to Karamoja, which is an inhospitable spot. Two or three years ago, one could travel in northern Uganda only with flak jackets and armoured personnel carriers. Now, one can walk around the area and life is coming back to the 55 districts. Northern Uganda is approximately the size of Ireland and was essentially a wasteland. Slowly but surely, we are seeing life, infrastructure and hope return to the area. Our funding and the funding of the Government has been making a difference. There is a lag between putting money in at the top and seeing what is happening on the ground. I assure members there has been an enormous change. When the members of the committee come to visit, they will see what is happening on the ground.
Should we have found out about this matter ourselves? We would have found it out eventually. When we looked back at where money was spent on the ground - when we looked at the government budget and our budget - we would have seen that the funds did not reach the area. There was a gap. However, at the top, the key organisation and institution of the Ugandan Government with responsibility for examining government systems is the auditor general, who has a team of 400 people working with him. They are highly trained and highly competent. Their capacity has been built up from the money provided by Ireland and other donors. The office of the auditor general has enormous capacity and special investigative powers. Its staff were able to go in at the top - into the office of the Prime Minister - to examine what was happening, and saw very quickly what was happening. They identified a sophisticated collusion among a number of people in different Ugandan Government departments. One could not have anticipated it.
We will have to examine our risk profiles. In the past, we looked at risk in districts, further down the line, with procurement and capacity issues. Risk was determined in respect of whether the money would reach the ground. Many of the donors working together had looked at the systems and said that, in general, they were fit for purpose. A joint assistance framework is a very sophisticated system, with donors and the government looking at the overall public financial management system. In general, they said the systems were reasonably fit for purpose. The risk for us was at the bottom.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
Our money for the peace, recovery and development plan, PRDP, was going to two districts in Karamoja. The embassy put the money into the Bank of Uganda. It goes in at that end but we were also monitoring at the other end. Other donors were not necessarily doing so. We have an office in Karamoja with an employee of ours working there all the time. There were regular visits from the embassy. It is a remote and difficult environment. When I went there in April, we looked at the effect of the programme on the ground and examined schools and infrastructure. We went to the local offices where we wanted to see additionality. The Government is putting money into Karamoja but this programme adds additional money. We wanted to see, in the books of the local authorities, that the additional money was arriving, that it was being used properly and that it was having an effect. One can see the effect on the ground. If that was the case, how did we not see that €4 million had not arrived in Karamoja? The point made by Mr. Rogers is correct. Our first contribution of €3.2 million was put into the PRDP in October 2010. We put in the sum of €4 million in July 2011. There is a timeframe for public expenditure and procurement in any country, as there is in Uganda. We were seeing progress on the ground but in April 2012 we did not see the full effect. We would not expect to see the full effect of the €4 million, which would come later.
The positive aspect of this very difficult situation is that the discrepancy was found by the Auditor General. I am convinced that it would have become evident through slower activity and delivery on the ground in karamoja and we would have been able to raise our concerns and point it out.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
I do not know exactly but it would not have been too long. I imagine it would be this year. That is not to be exact on the exact timeline.
When I was there in April, the second phase of the Participatory Rural Development Project programme, PRDP 2, was underway. There were some concerns among our staff on Ireland continuing its funding of the PRDP 2 . There were concerns that there would not be sufficient engagement between the donors and the Office of the Prime Minister, which is managing it. We held off on committing to that programme. The second phase of the programme was announced on 20 June, the press release from the Office of the Prime Minister mentions Sweden, Denmark and Norway. We needed more time to work with them on the level of engagement there would be with donors. We were not ready to do that until later in July. However when it came to September, the time to make our first contribution to the PRDP 2, there were concerns about the investigation, the audit. The decision not to make the contribution and commit the money for 2012 was taken before there was any knowledge of fraud and before the report of the Auditor General. That was not because of a suspicion about the Irish funding in 2011 but about how things were going in regard to the second phase of the programme.
I welcome Mr. Rogers and his colleagues. It is welcome that we are getting an early report on what is intolerable behaviour at official level in Uganda.
Every Minister reports the expenditure profile of his or her Department to Government on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Why did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade not have an ongoing expenditure profile system in place when it has dealings with authorities in countries in which governance is not at the level we would wish? Mr. Rogers stated that outside firms were brought in to carry out auditing in the embassy as well as the auditing conducted by head office. There needs to be an ongoing expenditure profile system when substantial sums are involved.
Mr. Rogers outlined the progress that has been made and the return on Irish taxpayer's money. In the current circumstances this story would get substantial coverage. We face many challenges and we want to ensure the effectiveness of Irish aid. Mr. Rogers mentioned that the report will be given to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade shortly. When does he expect that to happen? Have Irish embassy staff in Uganda ongoing contact with the other donor countries on their auditing systems? Has he concern in respect of the oversight of funding provided to NGOs and how the money is spent on different programmes in Uganda and elsewhere?
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
The complex report will be ready within a few days. A team is working on the report independently. It will be presented to the Tánaiste and I presume it will be available publicly within six days.
The team will carry out a forensic examination of our systems, which are obviously are not perfect. We must put our hands up. Money has disappeared so there is room for improvement. We must embrace the recommendations. We will do that.
On the question of expenditure profiles, we carry out very detailed expenditure profiles on the money that leaves the system to go to the NGOs, government or other international organisations. Northern Uganda is remote, and Karamoja is one of the 55 districts which are inhospitable remote places. They are only coming back to life. There are very detailed district plans which have been budgeted for and the additional funds from the PRDP programme are measured. The money was coming down and was being measured. Clearly, Ugandan Government money was coming down into the system. The gap in the donor funds had not been reached yet. I examined some of these profiles in the past couple of months and what was quite clear was that the amounts of money going into the districts had dipped. It was way below what it should have been, which now would be a red flag matter. We would then work back into the system again.
The Ugandan financial system has been evaluated as being reasonably robust by the World Bank, the IMF and FID. The British carried out a fiduciary risk assessment and we use these assessments all the time because they are highly technical and have been done by experts. Our view is that on balance the risk is reasonable. What happened with these funds is that they did not go into the system. They went into a holding account, because we wanted to mingle them with the other donor funds and collusion at a very high level was required to go into the system and extract those funds before they went into the Treasury. To see collusion at that level is a matter of grave concern. That is the reason we had to take the serious decision we did.
We have been working very hard and Mr. Michael Gaffey has taken the lead on this in the past couple of years to work with NGOs to improve their results focus and accountability. They have made real improvements. We work in very difficult and risky environments. All of us, NGOs, international organisations and Department officials must try to mitigate that risk to the extent possible. Clearly we did not put enough focus on the risk at the very highest level. Neither did the other donors, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
We work very closely with other donors. There are a number of donor groups in Kampala, meeting all of the time and exchanging information. I can say hand on heart that this took those other donors completely by surprise.
I acknowledge that Mr. Rogers has acknowledged that mistakes have been made. We go forward, having learned the lessons from those mistakes. What facilitated this misappropriation of moneys at the highest level? It is ironic that northern Uganda is the place that is in greatest need of aid, and yet that is the area from which they chose to misappropriate the money. Mr. Rogers mentioned in his report about building national accountable systems by empowering national governments. How does one empower national parliaments? It does not appear that the African parliaments have the role of holding the government to account, as is the case in Ireland. Is there a need for more training and capacity building in that area? What was the reaction in Uganda to the uncovering of the misappropriation of funds?
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
Some of my colleagues will complement my answers. There was collusion between a senior official in the Office of the Prime Minister, senior officials in the Bank of Uganda and a senior official in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. The Ugandan system is quite complex. One cannot take money out of the system unless there are signatures, endorsements of those signatures, the use of passwords. It is quite a sophisticated process and the Auditor General has pointed that out in his report. Our investigative team will be looking at what exactly happened. This was not an easy thing to do. It was unprecedented to have people in those three systems. Some 17 people have been interdicted, more are to be interdicted and two have been already charged, including the principal accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister. This is at a higher level than any other donor had ever anticipated before.
It took our breath away, which is the reason we had to respond quickly. There could be no "ifs" or "buts". In our joint financing arrangement with the Ugandans, we have a system in place whereby we have dialogue if something goes wrong. In this case, we decided not to avail of this dialogue because the matter was too serious and we had to halt operations immediately. That is what happened.
I met the Ugandan Minister for Finance and he was horrified by what occurred because it goes to the heart of the system when one has collusion of this type. As we speak, a new system featuring voice and fingerprint recognition is being introduced. I hope this issue will not arise again.
As part of our governments programme, we are focused totally on parliaments. When we say we are assisting through government systems, we mean everything related to governments. For instance, the assistance we provide to parliaments, auditors general and human rights commissions is considered government assistance, which is an all-inclusive term. We have been working with Parliament in Uganda for a number of years and I hope this programme, which has stopped, will continue.
On the reaction in Uganda, I was amazed to find on my return to the country after some time that Ireland and the other donor countries are dominating newspaper headlines. Our ambassador has been leading the charge with meetings with the Ugandan Prime Minister and other Ministers. Members of Parliament from northern Uganda, including Karamoja, travelled en masseto Kampala where they demanded and received a meeting with the President and met our ambassador at the Irish embassy. The issue has been addressed in Ugandan newspapers almost daily and has energised civil society. I understand people are wearing black and removing their shoes to indicate its importance.
In the 20 years I have known Uganda, I have never experienced such a cataclysm through the country's system, from top to bottom. While the Ministers to whom I spoke were in shock, they allowed this type of corruption to grow unchecked and recent developments are the result of that. This is the first time donors have been so united. Ireland has taken a lead in this matter.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
I thank Deputy Durkan for his question on parliament. As he will be aware from previous discussions with officials, Irish Aid is fully aware of the importance of providing absolute support for parliaments. Given that those who are best qualified to hold governments accountable are elected representatives, parliaments must be a vital part of our programme. We work with and support the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA, and other groups working in this area.
The role of the Ugandan Parliament is crucial. As Mr. Rogers noted, this can be seen in the reaction in Uganda where this issue has caused uproar among parliamentarians, especially those who represent northern Uganda, the intended destination of the relevant funding.
As part of the aid programme, for some years a group of donor countries has been providing support for what is known as the financial management and accountability programme, otherwise known by the acronym FINMAP. Under the programme, the donors work with institutions of government to build up accountability. Donors are providing $60 million in the current three year phase of the programme. The €1.3 million per annum Irish Aid has budgeted approximately for FINMAP is part of the money that has been suspended as it is aid that goes through government systems. Within the overall programme there is strong support for the Ugandan Auditor General's office, for which funding of some $15 million over the three-year period has been provided by the donors. In addition, well in excess of €1 million has been provided for building oversight and scrutiny in Parliament. This integral part of our programme, which works through the various systems, has been suspended. As a result, our assistance to the Office of the Auditor General, the Ugandan Parliament and some other aspects of the programme have also been suspended because we must await the outcome of the report.
Looking ahead to how Ireland engages with Uganda, the joint committee may wish to consider the nature of Irish Aid support to the country, what we support and how we support it and whether we should drop support to the Ugandan Parliament and Auditor General or find a way to support them while scrutinising the other ways in which we work.
A question was asked about funding to non-governmental organisations. Outside our programme budget of €32 million, we will provide approximately €5.5 million directly through NGOs, most of which is through our programme funding for the major Irish non-governmental organisations. For instance, we will provide €1.8 million to GOAL and €730,000 to Trócaire in Uganda. The scrutiny of this funding has been significantly strengthened as a result of the new results-based management system in place for funding NGOs. Under this system, the non-governmental organisations must set out in advance their programmes and the results they wish to achieve using Irish Aid funding and against which they can be measured annually. We have significantly strengthened management of NGO funding.
In recent weeks, representatives of the non-governmental organisations have made clear to Irish Aid and Ministers that they do not seek to become the main channel for funding for Irish aid through Uganda. They recognise that if one wishes to achieve sustainable change for poor people in Uganda, one must find a way to work through government systems, while also ensuring the funding in question is entirely safe.
I have over many years repeatedly raised questions about this issue and on each occasion I was given reassurances. To what extent is consideration given to achieving greater accountability by bypassing local administration and providing direct assistance? It would appear relatively simple to have non-governmental organisations or the donor country in question identify projects to ensure the money goes directly to the people for whom it is intended and no one is able to get his or her hands on it beforehand. By the same token, it should be possible to achieve the same outcome with a combination of worldwide NGOs.
How much influence is exerted by the parliaments of the countries to which we donate money? If a parliament is ineffective, it does not make sense to expect it to defend the integrity of the programme or project.
When Mr. Gaffey visited the region in April and July 2012, was he suspicious that something was amiss? I suspect that someone, somewhere along the line, would have become suspicious if something of this nature was taking place. I refer specifically to the operatives on the ground in northern Uganda who should have known that the tap had been turned off. Was Mr. Gaffey aware of the problem? Was he tipped off about it?
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
On parliaments in Africa, I recall that in 1990 I worked out that of the 50 African countries, three were democratic. Since then, there has been a revolution on the continent, both a democratic one and in terms of conflict. While conflict in Africa continues to receive much publicity, it has declined significantly. In 1990, there were wars in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola and apartheid was still in place in South Africa. Part of the revolution in Africa over the past 20 years has been the growth of multi-party democracy, imperfect as it is in the African context. In the past ten years in particular, parliamentarians have become emboldened and empowered across the continent. This process has been stronger in some countries than others. For example, I note from my visits to Uganda that the country's media is freer than in Europe as it does not appear to be subject to any libel or slander laws.
A revolution is taking place and its trajectory is the correct one. We want to ensure that in ten or 15 years development co-operation will have been eliminated and replaced solely by trade. To achieve this we must work with governments and parliaments and establish sustainable institutions.
However, there will be setbacks. I worked in Zambia for many years, both with the Department and outside the Department, when we did much direct implementation. When I first worked at the embassy in Zambia in 1991, we did not really work through government systems; rather, we used direct implementation. Some of it worked well and some did not. I told the committee that on a number of occasions when I spoke to missionaries, having visited them all over northern and southern Zambia, they said that what we were doing was helping them but that they were working in schools without teachers, curriculums or books and asked that we work with the system to change the situation. That was what shaped my thinking. I decided there was a requirement to work with the missionaries and to continue with direct implementation, but we had to create a system so that eventually there would be no more need for development assistance. There must be a balance and there must be systems of accountability. We need to take the risks and we must have some appetite for risks, but we also have risk mitigation. Sometimes we have to make judgment calls and say "Let us not go in that direction."
Direct implementation, particularly in emergency situations, is still on the table and we do a little of it. However, our system is that we work with NGOs, with missionaries on the ground, who are getting all the intelligence, and with government systems. We now have a powerful auditor general with a staff of 400 in Uganda, a country which in 1986 was affected by conflict and was basically a failed state. Ireland has played a role. There is bad news here today with regard to the €4 million that was misappropriated, but there is a lot of good news in terms of the money invested over 20 years.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
Deputy Durkan asked about my visit and those of other officials, and whether we were suspicious. We are always extremely watchful and concerned when administering Irish taxpayers' money in a difficult environment. If one is working on development co-operation with the poorest communities and the poorest of countries, there is always the risk of corruption. Poverty and corruption, unfortunately, go hand in hand. Therefore, one has to take measures to mitigate the risk. One must be constantly watchful. There was an old phrase that Ronald Reagan used about disarmament: "Trust, but verify." One cannot just trust; one must also look to see where the money goes. When I was in Karamoja with our team in April, we travelled around with the member of our staff who is permanently based there and who knows the region. We met local officials. We saw progress and the building of infrastructure. We saw in the books where additional funding was coming in. We are not remotely naive, but in regard to the particular €4 million that was put into the Bank of Uganda as our contribution to the PRDP in July 2011, we were not suspicious at that stage-----
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
-----because the money was leading towards work on infrastructure. There was delivery on the ground. In the coming months, as the books are examined, it should become clear that there was less money coming through. The tap was not turned off at that stage, but it would have been gradually turned off. We have to understand the nature of the fraud before we can come to definitive conclusions, because we have to understand how it was that money was diverted and yet it was still being delivered. Time lag is one explanation. It is not good enough. We have to see the results of our investigation. In addition, the auditor general is carrying out a series of other investigations across government in the coming months and we will have to examine those reports closely. I would not foresee ministers deciding to end the suspension of funding through government systems before we have fully understood these. As officials who are held accountable, we cannot accept that we do not fully know the story yet.
A terrible crime was perpetrated against the Irish people, who have a strong affinity with the people of northern Uganda who have suffered. As has been mentioned, the area was devastated by the Lord's Resistance Army. We know the history of the region. The conducting of fraudulent activities by a government to divert Irish taxpayers' money is a crime that I hope will reach the proper authorities in Uganda and lead to the jailing of those involved. The Prime Minister's office and officials have been mentioned. Is it premature to suggest that the Prime Minister may have been a perpetrator of the crime, or is it a case of corruption at lower levels? If that is the case, can the officials reassure me that the office of the attorney general is safe from political repercussions? Irish Aid, our officials and this committee should take a bow, because we have aided and empowered the Ugandan accountants in the office of the auditor general to effectively expose a crime committed against Irish taxpayers. That is laudable and may be important down the line. Having returned from Sierra Leone, we know the government structures are weak and need strengthening. This will be an issue for Irish Aid in the future.
Do the officials think the Auditor General's office is secure from repercussions? Can they confirm that we have supported the empowerment of the Auditor General, who effectively prevented the commission of fraud?
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
We talk about the office of the Prime Minister as though it were a small office or just a government department. That is actually not the case. The office of the Prime Minister has a number of ministers. It has grown incredibly in recent years as it is taking management control of various projects and programmes. It is a vast office which has grown far too quickly, and that is one of the reasons the auditor general wanted to have a look at it. There is no evidence to the effect that it goes beyond the chief accountant. That is the information we have.
In fairness to the Government of Uganda, it has given the auditor general incredible investigative powers and has set him up independently. When the committee visited Uganda in 2008, one of the issues he raised was that, as he had been placed in the ministry of finance, he was too near the government. He has since moved out of government and into new buildings; his staffing has been increased and he has received money to pay for good staff. The President, apparently, has given him these special powers. To date there has been no attempt to stymie his work.
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
The Auditor General has special investigative powers separate from government - independent and forceful powers. For example, when he was carrying out a value-for-money study in the office of the Prime Minister and felt he was not getting enough information, he immediately called on his investigative powers and was able to go straight in within six or seven weeks. Normally, a comptroller and auditor general takes a year to do this, and looks back on that year in his work. The Ugandan year ends in July, and the auditor general's report was produced on 19 October, which was very fast. That is an indication of his powers. He has personal bodyguards with him but he is very secure. He has a large programme, and he has the support of the public in Uganda. What is happening is amazing; I have never seen that type of debate in Uganda before. This is not a positive story, and I am not trying to put a positive gloss on it, but the positive part is that for the first time a country which was a failed state under Idi Amin and Milton Obote has a strong auditor general holding the government to account. This is new in Africa in many respects. That is the positive side.
I welcome the delegation and thank the Chairman and the Minister for the swift action taken.
It is clear this fraud came to light because of the vigilance of the Auditor General in Uganda. What confidence can we have that fraud is not taking place in other countries in which we provide substantial aid? We would like assurance in that regard. Are there any plans to strengthen oversight procedures to ensure this type of issue does not arise again?
Mr. Rodgers referred to the fact that the €4 million misappropriated is to be repaid. What is the timescale for that repayment? With regard to the suspension of €16 million in aid, what is the likely outcome of the situation? Deputy O'Sullivan referred to the reaction in Uganda, but the reaction here has been quite negative, particularly on radio shows over the past weeks. What is being done to ensure we maintain public support for Irish Aid and to ensure Irish people continue to support worthy causes abroad and help fund the underprivileged throughout the world? There is a job of work to be done to repair the damage that has been done as a result of this. While the situation has been handled well, people still feel that if it can happen in one country, it could be a widespread activity.
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
There is a job of work to be. There was palpable anger in the division and the Department and with the Tánaiste and Minister of State over this, because of the damage it has done to the reputation of the aid programme, particularly in view of the current circumstances here and the incredible generosity of people over generations and their continuing generosity despite the downturn.
We must examine all our systems in all of our programme countries now. I have already sent a message out to all of our ambassadors and all of our heads of development informing them that in view of this I want them to interrogate their systems, check they are fit for purpose and examine what auditing and valuation are being done. This message has gone out in the past few days. Also, over the past 18 months, we have been working with all of our programme countries on carrying out a public financial management assessment. As I mentioned earlier, we looked at what the World Bank, the IMF and DFID have done. Now we want to look at ourselves and had been looking at our programme countries over the past 18 months. About four weeks ago we had just got to Uganda to have a look at its systems. We will now have to interrogate all of our systems. We must put our hands up and look at them all again. We are going to do that.
I am hopeful and reasonably confident that we will not see anything like this elsewhere. Nothing like this has happened to donors previously. However, we must check. We must be clear and transparent on this rather than be defensive on it. We will do that. With regard to the timescale for repayment. I went out to Uganda as soon as we suspended our aid and spoke to the Ministers. We have a written commitment - I do not think other donors have this yet - from the Government of Uganda that it will restore the money. That is a sovereign agreement between two nations. Of course Uganda has budgetary systems and parliamentary oversight. It has yearly budgeting. We will work with them to get that money back as soon as possible. In the meantime, nothing moves. Therefore, the timescale is as soon as possible. However, we are reasonable on that. We want to get the money back and want to use it for the purpose for which it was intended. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State will have to take the decisions on that. We have the €16 million. We kept to our word and took that back and the Tánaiste and Minister of State will decide what to do with it.
The negative publicity is very dispiriting. The people of Ireland have been incredibly generous. They are incredibly generous during emergencies and were incredibly generous during the tsunami, when we had one of the highest rates of personal contributions in the world. They were incredibly generous towards Haiti. When we have polled people, they have been very supportive of the programme. However, in the current environment, when they see €4 million going missing and are aware of what the situation here at home, the reaction is of course negative. We need to assure them of what is happening to their money. Over the past few years there has been much more openness and transparency about the good work being done. When Irish people are asked whether we should support that work, they say "Yes". Of course they say misappropriation such as this is appalling, wrong and criminal and this affects their attitude negatively. Therefore, we must all work together on this over the coming years. That is why we are so angry.
The biggest negative would be if Irish people lost confidence in Irish Aid and the work it is doing. A positive outcome from today's meeting will be the message relating to the good that has been achieved in Uganda. In the 1990s, 18% of the population had HIV-Aids, but that this is now down to 6%. Some 8.3 million children are now in schools there and poverty has been halved. These are the positive stories that emerge, on the back of this negative criminal act. It will be good if the positive message goes out from here today.
I believe people want us to do things differently in the future. Mr. Rodgers spoke about investing heavily in financial tracking systems and real time access to all financial transactions, allowing vigorous control and oversight of where moneys are spent in the field. Will he expand on that? If he cannot do so today, will he get back to us with regard to the systems in place for this? The fact the misappropriation was discovered by the Office of the Auditor General in Uganda and the fact this committee and the Department had a role in training and upskilling that Department is positive. However, it also highlights the fact that many people working with Irish Aid and familiar with that area were not aware of what was happening. It is important to broadcast the fact that these systems that work and support countries are being put in place.
I do not understand what happened with regard to Denmark, Norway and Sweden. What did they do differently? What we did seems to have worked, but they have not received a written commitment with regard to their moneys. I presume their reaction was similar to ours and that they are annoyed with what happened. However, they seem to have taken a different approach. Did Ireland discuss the issue with them before the misappropriation was made public? What was the timescale with regard to this being discovered and it being made public? Was there agreement between the countries involved with regard to taking a similar approach or did Ireland go and do its own thing?
Yesterday, it was announced that Ugandan Government officials are planning to create stronger anti-homosexual laws and that they hope to pass a Bill before the end of 2012. I presume the Department is aware of this. Have concerns been raised with the Ugandan Government on this? Will this impact negatively on Irish Aid's good governance work? What will Irish Aid do differently in the future? What does it need to do differently and what does it need to watch out for?
Deputy Byrne spoke about being in Sierra Leone recently and visiting some of the projects in which Irish Aid is involved. What do delegations from this committee need to watch out for in the future? People put the responsibility on those who visit projects in these areas. Perhaps we should not just look at the success stories, but also at financial transactions and how they operate with regard to these projects. I do not know if this has happened in the past but it would be a positive result from this meeting.
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
We do not put money through government systems in Sierra Leone. We take the risk and make a decision where a country is not ready for that. I agree that when delegations from this committee travel to projects, they should not only see the good work but should look into some of the technical aspects of the audit and evaluation. A day should be set aside for that and Irish Aid should make a presentation on the issues before the delegation leaves Ireland and when it arrives in the country in question. We would welcome that as something new and important.
We keep in very close contact with the other donors and work closely with them. They work with their own headquarters, at their own pace and they have their own political systems to go through.
In terms of the timeframe, the Auditor General's report became available to the Government of Uganda on the evening of Thursday,18 October. The Auditor General called in the criminal intelligence directorate, CID, the head of police and a number of heads of departments and gave them the report. We received the report the next day, Friday, and were the only ones to receive it that day. We circulated it to the other donors over the weekend. We had the report over the weekend. I saw it on Tuesday, 23 October and we suspended our activities on Thursday, 25 October. We reacted almost immediately. We were in touch with our donor colleagues and we told them what we were going to do. We felt we had to tell them that. They were obviously having their own discussions. The other three are part of the Nordic group and wanted to issue a general statement with which they could all agree. We wanted to move quickly. We were lock-step, more or less, but we were certainly out front.
On the ground, our ambassador was co-ordinating with them and arranging a meeting with the Prime Minister. I went out with a very clear agenda, I am afraid. We worked with the other donors but we had an agenda which we wanted to get across very clearly, through the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, regarding the seriousness with which we regarded this issue. We are a good partner in Uganda. They regard us as a country that has stood by them, that has no colonial history in Africa and that is a good friend. To lose us as a friend is a major issue in Uganda. We have influence there. The Nordic donors are also considered to be very good friends of Uganda. I am not sure if they got a letter but we received a letter quite quickly. The Prime Minister announced a number of days ago that moneys would be restituted to all four donor countries. It is a lot of money for the Ugandan system to come up with.
The question was asked as to what we would do differently in the future. For a start, we must examine our risk profiling. Some of this is about political intelligence, judgment calls and analysing media. There were rumours in the media in July and August that there were problems in the Office of the Prime Minister, OPM. We do not fund the OPM, but other donors do. We fund through the Treasury, which is a system that is supposed to be ring-fenced. It was the fact that officials in the OPM extracted money that was not for the OPM which blind-sided us. There is always a lot of talk in the media but the question was whether the Auditor General could find any evidence of wrongdoing. He went in there in a very forensic fashion and extracted the evidence quickly and that is why we responded so quickly.
Mr. MacGabhannn will say a few words on the systems but we will also write to the Chairman and outline the systems, in writing, in the next few days.
Mr. Liam MacGabhann:
When we are working through government systems, a key component of the controls we have in place is connected with the work undertaken by auditor generals and parliaments in terms of their oversight capacities. The level of oversight by the Auditor General, the Ugandan Parliament and the administrative system is an important element of our control system. Mr. Gaffey mentioned earlier the support we provide to the Office of the Auditor General and the parliamentary oversight structures through the FINMAP programme. That is critical to overseeing the support that we provide through government systems in Uganda.
In terms of our own controls, when we initially look at a programme for a country like Uganda, we go through a complex and elaborate process to determine what type of programme is appropriate to that country and what types of oversight measures should be introduced. That process takes almost a year. We must work out the types of audit and evaluation system to put in place. If we are working through government systems, we must determine what supports we should provide to make sure they have the capacity to oversee these programmes. We have audit and evaluation systems in place. We have our own independent audit committee in the Department, to which we report. We have improved the capacity of our embassies with internal auditors and accountants who are charged with evaluating, auditing and overseeing the programmes on the ground. We work with other donors too. We have joint arrangements with donors through basket funds and we work with them to make sure the programmes are being managed properly on the ground. We also work with the governments of the programme countries. In Uganda we have joint arrangements whereby we sit down with the Government and other donors to examine the way in which the programmes are being managed on the ground. We continuously assess whether the correct structures are in place to manage the programmes properly.
Members should note that it is no accident that we have not had much fraud of this nature in the past. Our systems have worked well and have been robust and effective in avoiding this level of fraud. We will learn from this incident and must do so. I wish to reiterate that we have not had serious fraud of this nature in the past because of the success of the systems that we have in place.
I welcome the witnesses. The swiftness and efficacy of their response has probably mitigated against any potential damage that could have been done to Irish Aid and that must be acknowledged. We are all very supportive of the work of Irish Aid.
We are talking here, in general terms, about officials from the OPM. Can the witnesses say with any certainty, at this stage of the investigation, that elected representatives had no hand, act or part in the fraud, either by way of encouragement or direct involvement? It may be too early to determine that but I would like to hear the witnesses' views on that question.
Are the witnesses satisfied that the civil service of Uganda is sufficiently independent to ensure that there was no political involvement in this particular collusion, as the witnesses described it? If it is the case that there was high-ranking political involvement, that would have serious implications for Irish Aid's ongoing engagement with Uganda. That would be a shame, given that Irish taxpayers have contributed enormously to the development of that country and are very proud of that fact. Is it known whether the officials in question were political appointees or members of an independent civil service? In the context of the legal and judicial system, Mr. Rogers made reference to the fact that two individuals have been prosecuted to date. By any measurement, that is a swift prosecution, given that the authorities apparently only became aware of this in October. Would the witnesses fear that in the rush to find a head and someone to blame for this regrettable series of incidents, the independence of the judiciary and the legal system might be called into question? I know from my own contacts in Uganda that the focus in the media on this issue has been intense and the political system might rush to a response. Are the witnesses convinced that the political and legal systems will hold up, will identify those responsible and prosecute them in a fair and just way?
We are discussing Uganda today and I hope that we will not be back here another day discussing a similar incident in some other programme country. In that context, there would be some merit in working with other donor countries, many of whom are EU members, to send out a message that there are rigorous and robust systems in place to ensure the effectiveness of the substantial aid programme.
Those mentioned are predominantly European Union members as well. We could work with them to send out a message calling for a rigorous and robust system to ensure the effectiveness of the substantial aid programme whether from individual member states of the European Union or the European Union. The message should go out everywhere that the misuse or abuse of funding will not be tolerated under any circumstances. If that message came from the European Union and other countries and it was a united and strong message from all donor countries it would be a good thing. None of us wishes to see money provided by the British or Danish taxpayer put to misuse in those countries or for the people for whom it is intended not being the beneficiaries of such investment.
Mr. Rogers remarked that we have a letter in writing to the effect that our funding would be returned. However, he did say that this is a difficult sum of money for a government to roll back. Is Mr. Rogers suggesting that the money has been effectively completely stolen or is it still in some of these accounts? Surely the process could be easily reversed.
I wish to add to Deputy Nash's question. How long will the investigation go on? Are there any plans on the part of the Ugandan Government? You remarked on the high profile nature of this case in Uganda on television, radio and in the media. Are there any plans by any senior Government official there, whether the Prime Minister or the Ministers with responsibility for finance or foreign affairs, to come to Ireland and more or less apologise for what has happened?
Mr. Brendan Rodgers:
I wish to answer Deputy Crowe's question on the anti-gay issue as well.
The matter is being investigated by the criminal investigation department, CID. It has asked to be given time, as has the auditor general, in order that it can assemble all the evidence. For example, people have asked what the term "interdicted" means. Interdicted means one loses ones job and one is on suspension with no pay. The investigation team sought to do that when people were in their offices. They believed that if the word got out, people would go off into the bush and they could not be contacted on their mobile telephones. They are doing this in a clear and focused way, incrementally in order that they get all the evidence. This is what we have been told. Two people have been put in jail.
While we wish to see prosecutions brought and people brought to justice, we are keen for it to be done in line with good judicial practice and with free and fair trials. We have no wish to see a rush to judgment. They have put it to us that they wish to do it carefully, clearly and ensure they have the evidence. A total of 17 people have been named in the Auditor General's report. The point about this fraud is that it occurred at a high level. There were passwords and forged signatures involving three Government Departments. It was difficult to detect but once it was detected, it was clear that all the tracks were apparent and all the signatures were there. They have the 17 names and they know who did this. I cannot understand how they thought they could get away with it. They also stole Government of Uganda money as well. Approximately €5 million is gone from the Government of Uganda. They were stealing their Government's money from the Office of the Prime Minister as well, as far as I know. Several audits are under way. As Mr. Gaffey said, the auditor general is carrying out comprehensive work across every Government Ministry, the Peace Recovery and Development Plan and the treasury. This will take six months. There will be a forensic investigation and perhaps things will come out in the wash about other donors as well. There is no evidence at the moment with regard to the politicians. If there was real evidence linking them and there was no follow up subsequently, it would have grave repercussions for our relations. Anyway, there is no evidence and we do not know about any evidence at the moment. Other partner countries-----
Mr. Brendan Rodgers:
The government service is independent. It is based on the British system, although I say that with quotation marks. People know each other; one thing about Africa is that everyone knows everyone. Anyway, they are independent. When this was discovered I was surprised there was no reference to whistleblowers. When there are 17 people involved there will be whistleblowers everywhere and apparently this has begun to emerge in recent months. It amazes me how they thought they would be protected. Anyway, we do not know that yet. I believe more people will be interdicted and that piece by piece it will progress. We simply do not know at the moment. CID is carrying out its work.
Reference was made to other programme countries. The British permanent secretary with responsibility for development is visiting Ireland tomorrow as part of our normal contacts and this issue is on the agenda. The British are carrying out their own forensic audit. Ireland has been moving away somewhat from direct Government systems in recent years because Uganda is getting up on its feet and we have changed the nature of our work. We have moved somewhat away but other donors are heavily invested and this is dangerous for them because they are really a good deal more heavily invested that us. We will be discussing this. We will be discussing the matter with other donors in each of our programme countries and we will make our views clear. We will be carrying out a risk analysis and re-examining the risk levels and making a judgment. We will be doing that in every country. Certainly, I hope we will not be back here for something as large in another country. However, we must investigate and interrogate each of our programmes. The people and the Oireachtas deserve no less than that.
The draft anti-gay Bill has been on the agenda in Uganda for three years but the Government has no appetite for it, really. However, several people in the Parliament were promoting it. We have been absolutely clear on it for the past three years at ambassador level. We have made the case at every opportunity that this is against our values and principles and that Uganda is in contravention of conventions to which it has signed up in respect of civil and political rights. We have been clear about it. As recently as last July when the Tánaiste was in Uganda he raised this at length. Some developments have taken place which are not overly positive and I will call on Mr. Gaffey to outline them.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
Deputy Crowe referred to these developments. In July, the Tánaiste raised our concerns at length with President Museveni over the anti-homosexuality Private Members' Bill that was waiting and that kept cropping up. Our ambassador raises the matter regularly. Our ambassador and staff keep in close contact with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Uganda. During the past week there has been renewed controversy in part because of a dispute between a visiting Canadian minister and the speaker of the Parliament. It appears this Bill is being brought forward again. There is a suggestion that it might come before the Parliament in the coming weeks or before Christmas. All I can say is that we are following it closely at embassy and ambassador level. We are co-ordinating with other donors and other interested parties. We will leave the Ugandan authorities in no doubt about our continuing view that this would be most detrimental.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
Some people have said different things and things have been said at different levels and with different degrees of intensity. It is a remarkably sensitive issue in Africa in general. We must understand that. However, our African partners must also understand that there are certain values that we hold to be absolutely crucial. We have made clear that it would be a remarkably serious and detrimental development. We hope the Bill will not come forward or, if it does, that it will be defeated.
Mr. Michael Gaffey:
It was sponsored by a member of the Government party earlier. We will see how it comes forward this time. This has been developing in the past week. We will follow it closely. I realise the committee has been concerned in the past about this development in Uganda and in some other places. I imagine the committee will be keen to follow it as well. We can provide the committee with up-to-date information as developments unfold.
Mr. Brendan Rodgers:
We do have a real influence. We have influenced the developments in the past three years with regard to that Bill not being brought forward. It is a Private Members' Bill but it does not have the support of the whole Government. There is a lady speaker of Parliament and she has been pushing it in recent weeks.
There was a question about how long the investigation will proceed. The CID investigation will go on as long as it takes to bring to book all those responsible. The work of the auditor general is continuing but he has indicated that he hopes to have it finished by April.
He has a big team but a lot of work to do, so it might take a little longer than that.
When I met the Minister for Finance and Economic Development she said she would look forward to visiting Ireland and speaking to the Irish media, Members of the Oireachtas and the Government about all of this. She is very good and very forceful.
Mr. Rodgers mentioned that a considerable amount of money was involved and referred to the bureaucratic processes of reinstating our €4 million. Is it assumed that this money is gone and spent, or is it accessible in some account?
Mr. Brendan Rogers:
We took the tough position that the money was supposed to go into the consolidated account but went somewhere else. Therefore, we want the money back.
The Auditor General has been looking into where the money went. It was transferred to an account called the crisis management account for Karamoja. He is examining a long series of vouchers and receipts relating to that. The Minister said she thinks they will get most of the money back. That remains to be seen. Twelve million euro is a lot of money. It cannot be spent overnight by a number of individuals so I assume they will get some of it back. She also asked us about our own Criminal Assets Bureau in terms of going after the assets of people who are involved in malfeasance at this level. We, obviously, said we had experience in that area and could share that experience. The area is complex and requires legislation but we would be open to doing that if our relations get back on track. They will not be back on track, however, until all of this is resolved and the money is back. That is going to take a little time.
On a related matter, the audit committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade made some recommendations which the committee should follow up. In June 2012, with regard to a recommendation to appoint a risk assessment officer, the chairman of the audit committee said:
It is disappointing that the Department has not yet found itself in a position to implement two appointments recommended in the previous audit committee reports: designation of a chief risk officer with direct access to you and; the appointment of a professionally qualified head of finance. The committee believes that both appointments would enhance the managerial capability of the Department. I understand from my contacts with you that while this view is shared by the Department it has thus far been unable to progress them because of staffing limitations.
I know what that is all about. In light of recent developments, we should look at that recommendation and have a discussion with the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the earliest possible opportunity.
Thank you, Mr. Rodgers, for being open, frank and honest with the committee and I commend you for coming here as quickly as possible. I also commend you on your quick response on this serious incident. All politicians have heard concerns from our constituents about how Irish Aid money is being spent. Whether we like it or not, some damage has been done to our aid programme, but I believe we can recover. Irish Aid moved quickly with regard to the incident and a visit by a senior Ugandan politician to Ireland to apologise for what happened would be important.
The committee will keep in touch with the Department with regard to what is happening. We look forward to the publication of your initial investigation in the coming days. We may see you again after Christmas. This has been a constructive engagement and the committee will continue to monitor and progress the investigation. It is important for us, in our oversight, that we keep in touch with the situation to ensure that this never happens again. One can never say it will never happen again, but improved checks and balances must be put in place so that our aid programme can continue. We have seen its positive effect in programme countries and we know the hard work being done on the ground. This incident was unfortunate and has caused some damage. I hope that damage will be repaired in the near future.
I join with committee members in welcoming the appointment of our former colleague, Mr. Barry Andrews, as chief executive officer of Goal. I propose that we write to him, congratulate him on his appointment and suggest that the committee meet him at some stage in the near future. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I congratulate the Tánaiste and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the successful campaign to secure a seat for Ireland on the UN Human Rights Council. A significant political and diplomatic effort went into getting this result. I know the Tánaiste and his officials will use this opportunity to promote a progressive vision for human rights. I congratulate our ambassador in Geneva, His Excellency, Mr. Gerard Corr, and our ambassador at the United Nations, Her Excellency Ms Anne Anderson, who had an important role to play in ensuring that Ireland has a seat on the Human Rights Council. The committee will write to the Tánaiste and the Secretary General in this regard also. Is that agreed? Agreed.
As there is no other business, the meeting will adjourn.