Detailed account in the BOU currency saga

BY: Eyalama In Business On

As Ugandans continue to digest what could have happened with the Bank of Uganda currency printing recently, a few details are trickling in. An official at the central bank says what alarmed the central bank is the extra cargo aboard the chartered plane that was only meant to carry currency.

The plane had 25 pallets containing Ugandan currency but only 20 belonged to BoU. The pallets, according to the official were intact when they received them at BOU in Kampala but there was one problem – the non-authorized cargo on the plane.

This cargo was cleared by customs officials after BOU had left. “Our contract is with the printer [of the money]. They are responsible for chartering the cargo plane. So BOU dealt with Oberthur Fiduciare (printer), [a French company] and not Kuehne and Nagel, [the plane company],” the official said.

Kuehne and Nagel is headquartered in Switzerland. The BOU contract requires the printer to charter a plane to bring money to Uganda, according to the source. The plane is supposed to carry only BOU cargo. “Our officers [BOU] are on site prior to departure but don’t travel on the cargo plane. They fly back commercial.”

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Suspicion was raised when the plane landed at Entebbe International Airport on April 27, 2019 with extra stuff, which prompted the Central Bank Governor, Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile to contact the State House Anti-Corruption Unit Commander, Lt Col. Edith Nakalema for help.

A BOU official told URN that those interrogated include Dr. Charles Malinga, the Director currency and his deputy, Dr. Nambatamba Bazinzi. Others were a junior operations staff in the procurement department and four from the currency department.

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Civil Aviation Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority and some security officials were also interrogated. On Saturday, URA distanced itself from the Bank of Uganda saga, saying its members did what they were expected to do when the currency arrived in the country in April.

Dickson Kateshumbwa, the URA acting Commissioner General, said in a statement to journalists on Saturday morning that “When a privately chartered plane arrived in April and as normal practice for sensitive cargo customs facilitated clearance of the currency at the tarmac in presence of BOU officials, BOU security, aviation security, police and other security agencies”.

He said the consignment was then loaded on BOU vehicles and taken to Kampala with heavy security escort.  He said the extra cargo, which belonged to other individuals, companies and organisations and these were cleared after paying taxes.

URA doesn’t mention what cargo was with these officials – this is the little detail that the public must know to keep confidence in the country’s currency. “It is not the responsibility of customs to concern itself in logistical arrangements of importers or exporters,” he said.

Government spokesperson tweeted that the cargo belonged to businessman Charles Mbire, United Nations, USAID and Omar Mandela, the proprietor of Café Javas. URN couldn’t independently verify the claim.

Protecting a country’s currency integrity is one of the key pillars to regain trust in the general economy.  If it happens that one can create extra currency without being sanctioned of pegged on the value of goods in the country, it can crash the entire economy.

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