A corruption scandal has emerged within the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) concerning the issuance of gorilla permits. The scandal has allegedly involved top officials siphoning off billions of shillings.
According to inside sources, the issue came to light when staff at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest raised concerns about suspicious transactions that lacked proper documentation.
The key players in this scandal are reported to be officials from UWA’s Information Technology and Finance departments. At least four individuals have been arrested, while numerous others have been suspended. It’s estimated that as many as 16 senior officers, including an accountant, IT staff, and reservation clerks, may be involved in this alleged embezzlement, potentially exceeding 60 billion shillings.
The fraudulent activities revolved around the creation and sale of gorilla permits without proper remittance to the Authority’s accounts. Employees from the IT department, Reservation, and Finance reportedly colluded to print permits and divert the funds into their personal accounts.
The scheme extended beyond UWA’s headquarters, involving accomplices at Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks, where the gorillas are located. Typically, tourists would pay for gorilla permits at a bank, provide a payment slip to the accounts department, and then receive their permit. However, the corrupt network manipulated this process, bypassing system checks and allowing tourists with fraudulent permits to track the gorillas.
Records indicate that in March 2022 alone, 154 visitors accessed the parks using dubious permits with unremitted payments. Additionally, between March and April of the same year, 59 permits were printed without proper identification, raising further suspicions.
Whistleblowers within the organization attempted to raise concerns with management, but their efforts reportedly went unanswered. The scandal calls into question the effectiveness of UWA’s internal controls and auditing procedures.
UWA introduced an online booking system in 2014 to combat fraud and security issues. Despite initial resistance, the system was adopted. However, it seems that the system was compromised by the very individuals responsible for its development.
As the investigation unfolds, UWA continues to assess the extent of the financial losses. While the official figure reported is $143,000 (approximately 535 million shillings), insiders suggest that the actual amount embezzled may be as high as 60 billion shillings.
The scandal has also raised concerns about overbooking at the national parks, compromising the quality of tourism experiences and potentially contributing to further revenue loss. Additionally, allegations of the fraudulent sale of complimentary gorilla permits have surfaced, implicating senior officials.
The Internal Security Organisation has been informed of the corruption case, and UWA is conducting an internal investigation to identify those responsible for the fraudulent activities. The organization has emphasized its commitment to rooting out corruption and holding wrongdoers accountable.