The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities has officially acknowledged reports of illegal sales of gorilla and chimpanzee tracking permits. They are urging the public to remain calm while they conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.
Media reports in the past week have revealed a suspected fraudulent scheme involving gorilla and chimpanzee tracking permits within the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). This scandal potentially threatens a loss of up to 11.2 billion shillings.
During a press conference held on Thursday, Minister of Tourism, Tom Butime, expressed deep concern regarding the fraud and its potential impact on Uganda’s tourism sector. He disclosed that the alleged fraud came to light through an internal discovery by UWA. Consequently, an internal audit was initiated by the Executive Director between June and August 2023, raising serious concerns. Preliminary findings suggest 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.
To further investigate this matter, Butime explained that UWA has launched an in-depth investigation, involving members of the Investigations Unit and the Uganda Police Force. These investigations are ongoing, and the findings will determine the subsequent course of action. In light of these developments, 14 suspected UWA staff members have been suspended to facilitate the investigations.
Furthermore, 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. Additionally, 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.
Minister Butime encouraged the public to provide any relevant information that could aid the investigation to the Ministry, the Police, or the Auditor General. He assured that all information would 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, with previous attempts by UWA to uncover it proving unsuccessful 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.