Serere district disburses Shs 90m to quack journalists.

SERERE – Serere district Members of Parliament have raised a red flag over the criteria the district officials used to disburse Shs 90m to quack journalists under the presidential initiative on wealth and job creation dubbed as Emyooga.

Statistics from the office of the District Commercial Officer, Simon Opolot, indicates that Serere district received Shs1,680,000,000 which was distributed to various SACCOs across the three counties of Kasilo, Serere and Pingire.

During the meeting between the Members of Parliament, district leaders and the Chairpersons of Emyooga SACCOs, to review and evaluate the progress of Emyooga program, it was found out that the district erroneously appropriated Shs 90m to quacks who disguised themselves as journalists.

Opolot said, of more than 180 registered SACCOs in the district, 3 were journalists’ SACCOs.

The SACCOs include; Pingire Journalists SACCO, Kasilo Journalists SACCO and Serere Journalists SACCO which received Shs 30m each and shared it amongst their respective associations established at parish level.

The revelation left the Members of Parliament wondering how Serere district was able to form journalists SACCO per county yet the number of practicing journalists in the district has been less than 10 journalists.

This report was presented to the Members of Parliament who included; the Minister of State for Fisheries, Hellen Adoa, who also doubles as Serere district Woman MP, Patrick Okabe (MP Serere County), Fred Opolot (Pingire County) and Kasilo Member of Parliament Elijah Okupa.

The Kasilo Member of Parliament, Elijah Okupa who was the team leader of the Members of Parliament cited a lot of irregularities in the report presented by the District Commercial Officer, Simon Opolot.

He said that the report didn’t reflect the amount of funds disbursed to the SACCOs and the date they received it.

In her submission, Hellen Adoa, the Minister of State for Fisheries said that she carried out an on-ground independent investigation prior to the meeting and found out that a number of members in the SACCOs and associations across the district are ghosts.

“During the visit, most associations were there but as it is, with many situations, there are bad apples. Some of the groups are not among the intended beneficiaries.

According to Adoa, Shs 30m which the district appropriated to Pingire County Journalists SACCO ended in the hands of masquerades totalling to Shs 90m.

Speaking in a tough tone, Adoa said, three of the SACCOs were composed of non-journalists disguising themselves as journalists while the purported performing artist’s SACCO was also made up of non-artists.

“I personally made calls to some of the members purported to be journalists in these respective SACCOs, unfortunately they denied being in any journalists SACCO,” she said.

The Member of Parliament for Serere County Patrick Okabe, blamed the district technocrats for disbursing funds to wrong beneficiaries without verifying.

“It’s sickening to learn that the district went ahead to disburse money to wrong members without verification. The Money has gone into the wrong hands. How can a small constituency of Pingire have 43 Journalists? It’s unbelievable but needs further probing,” Okabe questioned.

He suspected that some of the members in the journalists’ SACCOs disguising themselves as journalists are relatives of the sub-county or district technical staffs.

Okabe said that he has received a series of complaints from the public saying the fund intended to fight unemployment among the masses, is mismanaged to benefit a few who are not even in the targeted groups.

According to him, the saboteurs are doing so by forming and giving money to ghost groups and by asking for a 10% kickback, which he describes as not only being criminal but also undermining the president’s objective of introducing the initiative.

Meanwhile, the Pingire County Member of Parliament Fred Opolot attributed the mess to lack of proper sensitisation of the public about the program guidelines.

He said, had the Ministry of Finance drilled the beneficiaries on how they are supposed to benefit from the program, such shameful mistakes would not have happened.

Beneficiaries speak out

The Chairperson, Kasilo County Journalists SACCO, a correspondent of one of the radio stations in Soroti City based in Serere district, consented that many of his SACCO members are not journalists.

Out of seventeen registered members, only five are journalists while the rest are just citizen journalists, radio callers and agents.

The Chairperson, Serere County Journalists SACCO, Samson Adongu, faults the district technocrats and Minister of Finance for issuing contradictory guidelines about the program. Serere County Journalists SACCO, has three associations with less than 10 registered members.

“During the training conducted by the Ministry of Finance in February, 2020 at Soroti University, the Minister Haruna Kasolo described radio callers and agents as part of journalists, which every person who attended the training took as a gospel truth,” said Adongu.

Commercial Officer’s comments.

In his defense, the Serere District Commercial Officer, Simon Opolot said the blame should go to Microfinance Support Center for misleading the technocrats on who is a journalist and who is not.

He allayed fears that the district won’t recover that money from the masquerading journalists, saying that they will follow them to the dot till they repay back the money.

“The money is seed capital given in form of a revolving loan, so they must be informed that the money has to be paid within a period of four months as per the guidelines. Those who will not pay will be arrested,” warned Opolot.

The on-ground investigation taken by theCooperator reveals that Serere district alone has less than 20 professional journalists who mostly practice their journalism in Soroti City and other major towns in Uganda.

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