MPs question UWEC officials over UGX 1.2Bn. The Parliament’s Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry has questioned officials from the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre –UWEC over money fundraised from the public to meet animal needs, such as food.
UWEC officials led by James Musinguzi, the Executive Director today appeared before the Committee chaired by Mbarara City South MP, Mwine Mpaka. The committee is currently investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business community.
Last year, UWEC launched a fundraising drive to maintain the welfare of the animals after President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni announced a national lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19.
“UWEC was greatly affected as far as visitation and entrance fees are concerned. All bookings by foreign tourists were cancelled. UWEC closed its gates to the public on 27th March 2020 and a few core staff like animal keepers, veterinarians, maintenance team and security were retained to look after the animals and facilities,” reads part of the report to the committee.
Musinguzi said that when the government gradually opened the lockdown, UWEC was able to open to the public on 8th August 2020 but tourism remained very low until the second lockdown was announced on 18th June 2021. He said that even when tourism remained open, visitation dwindled drastically.
MPs learnt that UWEC has so far collected 1.2 billion Shillings from well-wishers towards meeting costs of animal care at a time when visitor entrance income declined. UWC houses reptiles, carnivores, hoof stocks, birds and primates and funds from gate collections and other innovations like restaurants, accommodation facilities and others help fund operations of the Centre.
UWEC’s annual budget is partially funded by the government through the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and the rest of the funds come from well-wishers through donations.
However, MPs learnt that the 1.2 billion is still held on the UWEC Collection Account which is supposed to be withdrawn by the Ministry of Finance before being forwarded to the Consolidated Fund for allocation to their activities.
This did not go well with MPs led by Elijah Mushemeza, the Sheema South MP who wondered why the money remains idle yet UWEC faces financial constraints
UWEC’s James Musinguzi said that the Public Finance and Management Act (PFMA) does not allow them to withdraw funds from the UWEC collection account or touch any fund collected at source pending transfer to the Consolidated Account.
He adds that since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism sector, UWEC has lost 6 billion Shillings and this has affected their activities. The Committee directed UWEC officials to present before them documents regarding their collection accounts on Tuesday.