Germany withholds aid money from Uganda over ‘lost’ funds

Sunday May 26 2019

REFUGEES Uganda

South Sudanese refugees look on as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees visits the Nyumanzi transit centre in Adjumani, north of Kampala in 2016. By 2017, Uganda was hosting one of the largest numbers of refugees in the world. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI | AFP 

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In 2018, the United Nations found that millions of dollars of aid money had been stolen in Uganda. Now Germany has partially stopped its funding in a bid to force Uganda to speed up investigations.

The German government announced Friday that it was withholding Ush400 billion ($106 million) of the funds it had promised Kampala for refugee resettlement annually.

The decision follows the United Kingdom’s 2018 decision to suspend its funding of Kampala after a UN investigation of Uganda's refugee programme found evidence of corruption involving millions of dollar.

The scandal came to light when a whistleblower within the Ugandan government notified donors that large sums of money had been withdrawn from the account where it was deposited.

A joint investigation conducted by the United Nations, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and Uganda's government then discovered that the number of refugees in Uganda was inflated and resources intended to provide for refugees had been stolen.

The Ugandan government has yet to bring the suspects to book, leading donors to question the country's commitment to investigating the matter, and hence the decision by Germany and the UK to withhold funds.

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Germany is 'shocked'

The German ambassador to Uganda, Albrecht Conze, said Germany was shocked by the results of the investigation.

"I must admit that what happened in February last year, now 15 months ago, came as a shock to Germany. Especially since a lot of the money also comes from private sources, from people who donate. When you donate and then hear that your donation has not been spent well or embezzled, you become very cross," Mr Conze said on Friday.

Uganda officially hosts 1.3 million refugees and received $350 million from various donors in 2017.

For now, Germany has decided to withhold the funds given directly to the Ugandan government until it launches proceedings against the suspects, but it will release some funds to international organisations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for aid projects.

International donors

Uganda is heavily dependent on the aid money coming from international donors to deal with the financial situation caused by the refugees in the country.

Mr Conze demanded that action taken to restore trust.

"We are not dispensing [funds] until we see that those who had been identified at the time are brought to justice, and they need to respond to the allegations that came up at the time," he said.

"I am a bit surprised that this takes 15 months. I would not like to think that someone wishes to sweep that under the carpet. You can do that with your own money but when you get money from friends, I think your accountability is increased, so I would expect some action here by the authorities concerned."

Uganda’s Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Echweru, said the investigation would be thorough and the culprits would be punished.

He however described the decision of the German government as a staggering blow.

"The truth is that it will hurt our operations. There is a lot to be done, I only wish that they have not conclusively taken that position and that's my prayer."

He said Uganda would work hard to get Germany and other donors to understand that the investigation processes may be slow but they were in motion.
"There is evidence of those who committed wrong. Some two, three people should be punished, so it is going to be implemented," he said.

UK also halts funding

Four donors – Britain, Germany, the European Union and the United States — contributed almost 80 per cent of 2017 funding.

All of them threatened to withdraw their funding after the corruption claims were voiced. In December 2017, 16 donor countries issued a statement calling for the prosecution of those responsible.

Germany is Uganda's second biggest donor after the United Kingdom, which provides more than $19 million. The UK halted its funding in February.

The news website New Humanitarian wrote that the UK's Department for International Development confirmed that funding to UNHCR Uganda had been frozen.

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