Hon. Martin Mugarra, the Minister of State for Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, has revealed that the Ugandan government is initiating a new booking and revenue collection system by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to tackle fraud related to gorilla permits.
These permits, allowing for gorilla and chimpanzee tracking, are issued by UWA to both local and foreign individuals. The aim of this new system is to replace the existing permit booking system, which has faced misuse.
This information was disclosed during a plenary sitting chaired by Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa on October 5, 2023, in response to recent allegations of fraud involving gorilla and chimpanzee permits. Hon. Moses Kamuntu, a Member of Parliament from Rubanda County, had called for an investigation into these allegations on October 4, 2023.
The Ministry is actively investigating these allegations, which were initially detected internally by UWA. The Executive Director commissioned an internal audit covering the period from June to August 2023, indicating potential fraud involving certain staff from reservations, finance, and information technology departments at both the head office and in the field.
To address this, a comprehensive investigation has been initiated, involving staff from the investigations unit and the Uganda Police Force. Fourteen suspected staff members have been suspended to facilitate these investigations.
Additionally, some tour companies might be implicated in this alleged fraud, and further investigations are being conducted to ascertain their involvement. If staff or tour companies are found guilty, they will face legal action.
In response to this situation, the Trade Ministry has requested the Auditor General to undertake a comprehensive forensic audit covering the period from July 2020 to September 2023, focusing on gorilla and chimpanzee bookings at Bwindi, Mgahinga, Kibale national parks, and Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth national park.
The Minister has pledged to present detailed investigation findings within a month’s time. Hon. Mary Begumisa, representing Sembabule District, has urged the Minister to engage with tour operators to ensure a thorough investigative report. However, Deputy Speaker Tayebwa has guided that debate on the statement be paused to allow the investigations to proceed.