Uganda probes accusations of refugee aid fraud

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Congolese people who crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo are registered as refugees at the Nyakabande transit centre in the village of Nyakabande in western Uganda on January 24, 2018. Since Last December, Congolese people, about 300 people per day, have been fleeing from the Mai Mai militias’ attacks in the Kivu region of the eastern part of DRC to this border area. / AFP PHOTO / SUMY SADURNI / “The erroneous mention appearing in the metadata of this photo by SUMY SADURNI has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: NYAKABANDE instead of Nteko. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention from all your online services and delete it from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require.”

KAMPALA: Uganda is investigating allegations that its officials defrauded donors by inflating refugee numbers and diverting food aid, the prime minister’s office said on Tuesday.

The East African country hosts more than 1 million people who fled war in neighbouring South Sudan and some 400,000 more from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, a massive aid operation that whistleblowers said had become subject to fraud.

“The government took them (allegations from UN agencies) seriously and immediately instituted an investigation,” Julius Mucunguzi, spokesman for the prime minister’s office, which overseas refugee affairs, told Reuters.

The UN agencies have demanded from Uganda “a proper audit on the (refugee) numbers because the process for verification … has not been robust enough.”

“And related to that is food, so if the numbers are not right, how much food is going to who?” Mucunguzi said. “They want a value for money audit.”

As refugee numbers surged since mid-2016, donors responded to urgent appeals for extra aid.

The European Union, a major donor, said the allegations had been forwarded to its own anti-fraud office for investigation.

“It is indeed of utmost importance to address swiftly and thoroughly any allegations of malfeasance in order not to impair … public support from the European taxpayers,” the EU delegation in Uganda said in a statement.

Corruption is widespread in Uganda and successful prosecutions are rare, with courts usually targeting low ranking officials.

Mucunguzi said although it was too early to say whether the allegations were true: “It’s likely that there may be malice, and people wanting to tarnish a good program.”