Court Issues Arrest Warrant For UNBS Director Ebiru

The Anti-Corruption court has issued an arrest warrant for David Livingstone Ebiru, the embattled executive director of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) after he failed to appear in response to charges related to offering a Shs 100 million bribe.

Chief magistrate Joan Aciro issued the warrant upon prosecutors; Rogers Kinobe and Diana Nantabazi’s request. The prosecution alleges that between October 2022 and December 2022, Ebiru corruptly offered a gratification of Shs 100 million to Charles Masekuura, the chairperson of the UNBS board, in an attempt to secure his position as the executive director of UNBS.

Ebiru was summoned to appear in court and face formal charges approximately two weeks ago, but he did not present himself. Instead, he sent his lawyers; Silas Kahima Mugabi and Paul Wanyoto, who informed the court that they were representing him.

Wanyoto explained to court that he received the court summons last week on August 4 which fell on a Friday, making it challenging to promptly deliver the summons to his client over the weekend.

Additionally, the summon was dated August 26, 2023 yet it required Ebiru’s appearance on August 8 causing confusion regarding communication.

In response, prosecutor Kinobe requested an arrest warrant, asserting that in criminal cases, the accused must appear in person as no one else can enter a plea on their behalf. Kinobe noted that while Ebiru’s lawyers did not have sufficient time to inform him of the summons, they had prepared a bail application and secured sureties, indicating awareness of the court session.

Kinobe added that despite being granted bond and instructed by the Inspectorate of Government to return the previous Friday, Ebiru opted to send his lawyers instead. In her ruling, chief magistrate Aciro concurred with the Inspectorate of Government and issued a warrant for Ebiru’s arrest.

Aciro pointed out that Ebiru was well aware of the court session’s date due to the clearly indicated reporting date in the criminal summons, despite the future-dated reference.

Aciro emphasized that Ebiru’s proactive bail preparation suggested his awareness of the criminal summons and stated that in today’s modern era, his lawyers could have communicated through email, messages, or seen the information in the news.

As a result, Aciro found it challenging to accept the claims made by Ebiru’s lawyers and ordered an immediate arrest by the police upon sighting Ebiru.

He is required to attend court on August 31, 2023. In a related development, Francis Mwebesa, the minister of Trade, Industries, and Cooperatives recently placed Ebiru on a six-month forced leave amid allegations of fraud and misconduct.

Ebiru’s suspension was conveyed in a letter dated July 20, wherein the minister instructed him to step aside immediately to facilitate investigations into alleged fund misappropriation, misconduct, and abuse of office.

Ebiru is additionally accused of orchestrating an unauthorized expenditure of Shs 12.5 billion as highlighted in the auditor general report for FY 2021/2022 on UNBS’s financial statements. This issue came to light during an inquiry initiated by parliament’s public accounts committee on commissions, statutory authorities, and state enterprises (PAC-Cosase), chaired by Joel Ssenyonyi. 

The investigation revealed that Ebiru directed the transfer of the funds in question from the Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) suppliers’ account to a Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) account, a program under UNBS designated to receive donor funds.

During the inquiry, Charles Musekuura, the chairperson of the UNBS board, disclosed that out of the Shs 17.964 billion in the GAIN account, Ebiru only authorized Shs 5.499 billion to be remitted to the consolidated fund. The remaining Shs 12.464 billion was repurposed in line with Ebiru’s directives to support the bureau’s operations.

Ebiru acknowledged that his actions contradicted the Public Finance Management Act of 2014 but justified them by citing the bureau’s essential obligations following a budget reduction of Shs 20 billion during the revised fiscal year.  

Both the Inspectorate of Government and the UNBS board issued letters suspending Ebiru from office on June 26th and 27 respectively, to allow for investigations into the malpractice. Ebiru admitted to bribing the UNBS board with Shs 100 million to evade suspension, a sum he allegedly borrowed.

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