German says it is withholding refugee aid to Uganda, questions anti-graft commitment

The Germany Embassy in Kampala
The German Embassy in Kampala

The German government will withhold $106 million (Shs400bn) in aid to Uganda pledged for refugee settlement over concerns that Kampala is not committed to punishing officials implicated in defrauding millions of dollars of refugee aid.

Germany’s ambassador to Uganda, Albrecht Conze, told Deutsche Welle, the German public international broadcaster, that his government is not “dispensing [funds] until we see that those who had been identified at the time are brought to justice.”

The ambassador said that Germany was “shocked by the results of the investigation” and that it has taken more than 15 months to punish those implicated in the fraud. “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,” Mr Conze said.

A United Nations inquiry last year found that officials in the prime minister’s office colluded with those from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to inflate the number of refugees in the country by about 300,000 people. The officials were also accused of stealing aid money meant for refugee support programs.

Implicated officials include Apollo Kazungu, who was the commissioner for refugees in the prime minister’s office, and three of his senior staff – Walter Omondi, John Baptist Sentamu and Francis Nkwasibwe. The four were suspended after the allegations became public.

The scheme was revealed by a whistle-blower in the Ugandan government who told donors of large suspicious withdrawals from the refugee support account.

Germany becomes the second European country to withdraw funding for refugee support because of the scandal. In February, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development said it was withholding funding from UNHCR Uganda. A report by the New Humanitarian said UNHCR was silent about what action, if any, it had taken against its officials implicated in the fraud.

Germany and the United Kingdom are among the biggest contributors to interventions taken by Uganda’s government and other stakeholders to deal with the recent surge in refugee from neighbouring countries. Uganda is Africa’s largest host of refugees, with the majority coming from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Some donors have reacted to the scandal differently, however. Last month, the World Bank approved a $150 million to the Uganda government to support a project working to improve access to basic social services and economic opportunities for refugees and their host communities.

The project is implemented by the office of the prime minister, whose officials were implicated in the United Nations probe. But rather than withhold funding, the World Bank added a component that strengthens the Inspectorate of Government’s oversight over the project in an attempt to improve “transparency and accountability”.

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1 Comment

  1. With holding refuge funds to a country that is already pursuing measures to deal with the scourge is counter-productive in that it will hurt refuges most not the host communities as it will interfere with service delivery to refugees.
    German should pursue other measures like providing legal assistance to the Ugandan Judiciary to hasten up the investigation.

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