Government launches forensic investigation into alleged Shs 60 Billion scandal
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has suspended 14 of its staff members in connection with a scandal involving the issuance of fake gorilla permits. This move comes as part of a broader effort by the government to investigate a staggering shillings 60 billion fraud that has rocked the nation.
Tourism State Minister Martin Mugarra dropped this bombshell during a recent plenary session on October 5, 2023, shedding light on a scandal that has tainted Uganda’s tourism industry. The accused individuals, who reportedly operate within the booking department of UWA, are alleged to have been involved in issuing counterfeit gorilla permits to unsuspecting tourists for a period spanning three years.
Mugarra disclosed that preliminary findings suggest that approximately shillings 500 million may have been lost within just three months due to this fraudulent activity. While the names of the suspended UWA employees remain undisclosed, there are suspicions that some tour companies may also be implicated in this complex web of deceit. Investigations are ongoing to determine the extent of their involvement.
To unravel the full scope of this scandal, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities has requested the Office of the Auditor General to conduct a comprehensive forensic audit covering the period from July 2020 to September 2023. This audit will encompass gorilla bookings at Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks, as well as Kyambura Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
In the interim, the government has urged Auditor General John Muwanga and his team to expedite their investigation, with a one-month deadline set to establish the facts and implement a new booking and revenue collection system to prevent the recurrence of such a devastating scenario.
However, the matter has been shrouded in secrecy and debate on the issue has been prohibited under the pretext that it could compromise ongoing investigations. Mary Begumisa, a member of parliament, emphasized the need for the ministries of tourism and foreign affairs to work together to protect Uganda’s tourism image until investigations are concluded.
This unfolding scandal was brought to the attention of Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa, who expressed concerns about the potential misuse of public funds. He sought an update on the situation from Minister Mugarra, stressing the importance of transparency in handling this matter.
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A gorilla tracking permit is a crucial identification document that grants individuals access to sanctuaries hosting these majestic creatures. The permit costs vary depending on residency status. For foreign non-residents, it costs $700 (about shillings 2.6 million) per person, $600 (about shillings 2.2 million) per person for foreign residents, and shillings 250,000 per person for East African residents. Travelers seeking extended encounters with mountain gorillas must book a habituation permit, priced at $1,500 (about shillings 5.6 million) for foreign non-residents, $1,000 (about shillings 3.7 million) for foreign residents, and shillings 750,000 for East African citizens.
In the fiscal year 2018/2019, UWA reported revenue exceeding $25 million (about shillings 93.6 billion) from the issuance of permits, an impressive 40% increase compared to previous years.
This scandal has sent shockwaves through Uganda’s tourism industry and raised serious questions about the integrity of the gorilla permit system, threatening to tarnish the country’s reputation as a premier wildlife destination.