The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities has confirmed reports of illegal sales of gorilla and chimpanzee tracking permits and urged Ugandans to remain calm as a thorough investigation is conducted. In the past week, media reports have exposed a syndicated defrauding of gorilla and chimpanzee tracking permits within the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), resulting in a potential loss of up to Shillings 11.2 billion shillings over a period of time.
Addressing the media Thursday, the Minister of Tourism, Tom Butime, expressed deep concern about the fraud and its potential impact on the country’s tourism sector. He revealed that the alleged fraud was initially detected internally by UWA, leading to the commissioning of an internal audit by the Executive Director.
“This audit, conducted between June and August 2023, raised serious concerns, and preliminary findings point to possible fraudulent activities carried out by some UWA staff from the Departments of Reservations, Finance, and Information Technology at the Head Office, with potential involvement of field staff. While the exact amount lost remains uncertain, preliminary audit findings suggest a possible loss of approximately UGX 500 million,” he said.
To delve deeper into the matter, Butiime explained that UWA initiated a detailed investigation involving members of the Investigations Unit and the Uganda Police Force. These investigations are ongoing, and their findings will determine the subsequent actions. In light of these developments, 14 suspected UWA staff members have been suspended to facilitate the investigations.
Additionally, there are suspicions that certain tour companies may have been involved in the reported fraud, leading to ongoing investigations to ascertain their roles. Minister Butime emphasized that those implicated would face legal prosecution. Furthermore, it was revealed that the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities has reached out to the Office of the Auditor General (AG) to conduct a comprehensive Forensic Audit covering the period from July 2020 to September 2023.
This audit will encompass gorilla and chimpanzee bookings at Bwindi, Mgahinga, and Kibale National Parks, as well as Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The AG’s findings will be submitted to the Ministry, and collaboration with other relevant government bodies will be sought to ensure a thorough investigation and audit process.
The Ministry encourages members of the public to provide any relevant information that could aid in the investigation to the Ministry, the Police, or the Auditor General. All information will be treated with the utmost confidentiality as part of the effort to uncover fraud within UWA and the broader tourism industry.
Minister Butime acknowledged that this issue has persisted for some time, but previous attempts by UWA to uncover it had failed until it was disclosed by a whistleblower.
This unfolding scandal has raised concerns about the integrity of wildlife permit systems in Uganda and highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in managing the country’s rich biodiversity and tourism resources. The results of the ongoing investigations and audit are eagerly awaited to shed light on the extent of the alleged fraud and its impact on Uganda’s vital tourism sector.