A partner with Pathways Advocates, Patrick Kiconco Katabaazi, has been handed over to Parliament’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) over failure to provide accountability of Shs39 billion meant for tea nursery operators in the Kigezi region.
Kiconco who was summoned by the Committee of Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) appeared on Tuesday, 15 August 2023.
He had been cited in the Auditor General’s report on financial statements of NAADS for the financial year 2021/2022 over alleged failure to clear the farmers.
The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) secretariat and some of the tea nursery operators also appeared before the committee.
According to the Auditor General, NAADS advanced Shs39 billion to Pathways Advocates to compensate tea nursery bed operators who had sued the government for failure to procure their seedlings.
The committee had requested for proof of payment to beneficiaries, among other documents but Kiconco produced only the representative order, saying that the rest of the documents fall under the advocate-client privileged information.
“This would require such disclosure to be unequivocally authorized by our clients. Our position is that, if there is a plaintiff who has a complaint or any of the beneficiaries represented by the plaintiffs, the same should be forwarded to us for redress,” said Kiconco.
Hon. Yusuf Nsibambi (FDC, Mawokoto County South) however, said that under Rule 208 of the Rules of Procedure, a witness before a committee cannot deny the committee access to documents pertaining to the issue under investigation.
“You are forcing this committee to flex muscles with you. You are just a witness and not a culprit. If you are not comfortable giving evidence here, you can give it in camera because the rules are very clear,” Nsibambi said.
Hon. Richard Gaffabusa (NRM, Bwamba County) accused Kiconco of deliberately refusing to provide the required information.
“We requested evidence of payment of money to beneficiaries which he says his clients have not authorised him. We want a bank statement from the law firm not from his clients. We know you do not have access to statements from clients. Does he need authorization from clients to provide his own bank statement?” Gaffabusa asked.
Kiconco said that he provided a summary of payment made to the plaintiffs representing the farmers to NAADS.
The NAADS Executive Director (ED), Samuel Mugasi however, revealed that Kiconco submitted a full list of the 701 farmers detailing payments made to each.
“Ours has all beneficiaries; the one we have in our file is different and he counter-signed each page,” Mugasi said.
But Kiconco denied the document from NAADS ED saying that he needed more time to verify if the signature was his.
“The signature on the first and second page looks like mine but the initials are not mine,” he said.
This prompted the Committee Deputy Chairperson, Hon. Lucy Akello to put all the witnesses on oath.
Hon. Gaffabusa then tasked Kiconco to explain the irregularities in the payment of some farmers, sampling Siraje Matsiko whose bank statement indicated that he was paid Shs150 million in his Centenary Bank account but on the same day, Shs105 million was transferred from the same account to that of Pathways Advocates.
Another farmer, Ruth Tukahirwa from Kisoro told the committee that, together with her husband, they were forced to open an account with Centenary Bank in which they were paid Shs34 million but Shs22 million was automatically deducted.
Lawmakers were also shocked to learn that whilst the NAADS records showed that Hon Alex Niyonsaba (NRM, Bufumbira County South) was paid Shs50 million, he did not receive any funds.
“I have never seen this lawyer and I have never been paid any money,” he said.
Kiconco’s attempt to explain that deductions from the farmers’ accounts were legal and administrative fees of 30 to 35 per cent as agreed with the beneficiaries was rejected by MPs because he failed to show any agreement with the farmers.
“Do you have any memorandum of understanding with the farmers? When you take off Shs22 million, what percentage is that?” Gaffabusa asked.
Hon. Akello said that the committee will make field visits to the beneficiaries, adding that a report from the beneficiaries and from the CID will inform the committee’s report.