- Interview. Uganda has for long been lauded as a safe haven for refugees. However, this reputation has been tainted by reports of sexual exploitation of refuges and abuse of money and relief items meant for refugees.
- Major donor agencies have called for investigations into abuse of money for refugees by officials in the Office of the Prime Minister. Solomon Arinaitwe talked to Obongi County MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo, who wants Parliament to investigate the stealing of refugee money.
Paint for us a picture of the refugee situation in West Nile
The situation of the refugees is very pathetic. There is a lot suffering because delivery of services is poor. The transport and communication infrastructure has broken down. The roads are very terrible. We have bridges and culverts which have broken down. The government has absconded from its work.
UNHCR is also doing nothing about the infrastructural systems. And therefore we people of West Nile are glad that celebrations for this year’s refugee day [June 20] will be in West Nile. This will give an opportunity to the donors and other stakeholders to come on the ground and see the situation.
People who are coming should not come by air. Even President Museveni should come by road so that he feels what we go through. Donors should also take interest in monitoring and evaluation of the activities of organisations to ascertain whether the funds which they advance are doing what they are supposed to do on the ground because we see big budgets with no impact. This year’s celebration should be a fact finding mission for the donors and other stakeholders.
There was the scandal of abuse of refugee money. As a senior politician from West Nile, what do you think went wrong?
The problem we have is that there are a lot of things which have been going wrong for long. We started talking about these issues from when the refugee crisis begun in 2013, but we were not taken serious.
Good enough, the bad things continued going on that the international community had to come in and the corruption at the Office of the Prime Minister has now reached a level where the UN has had to come in to also investigate its own staff.
As Parliament, we moved a motion to investigate and a select committee was supposed to be established, but until this time, the process has not been completed. We are waiting for the Speaker to finish the Budget process so that Parliament begins the investigations. Some people look at the situation of refugees not as a service to people in need but as something to rejoice about.
There are lots of money for contracts and some people form companies. So the spirit of humanitarianism is actually getting lost. Instead people look at refugees as an opportunity for getting business and making money. Connected people have helped their people to get jobs there and there is now a problem of marginalisation in the host communities.
You were among the main sponsors of the motion that was passed calling for an investigation of the situation of refugees in the country. What has stalled the process?
The committee must be set up because what we have seen on the ground is very scary. When we try to raise these matters as MPs who come from these areas, some people think we are advancing our own interests.
We wanted the committee to unearth all the rot in the system but we know that it is not going to be an easy task and any investigation is likely to meet resistance from certain powers because such an investigation may interfere with the interests of certain people who are benefitting in terms of contracts and business interests for their children.
Would you like to shed more light on the powers that you suspect to be frustrating the investigation?
From the beginning, when we moved the motion, Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru tried to interfere with the motion. He approached Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah and the Deputy Speaker told him that the motion is already on the Order Paper and it can’t be put off without the consent of the movers.
He was told to see us the movers so that we could come up with one position. Me and my colleague Elijah Okupa listened to Honourable Ecweru and he said that he had agreed with the Deputy Speaker that this motion be shelved.
We asked him that if he had agreed with the Deputy Speaker, why was he then sent to us? And then, how can you agree with the Deputy Speaker when the motion is not yours? What we see is that Ecweru tried to influence the Deputy Speaker to put the motion off but he tactfully refused by sending him to us. From that, we deduced that there are attempts by the government to block the investigation.
Uganda was previously lauded as a safe haven for refugees. Have these reports of sexual exploitation and exhortation for sex in camps now tainted Uganda’s?
Seriously, it tainted Uganda’s image. But what we should understand is who is responsible for damaging this good reputation. Is it the Uganda government or local communities? There were refugees here in the 50s and 70s.
The governments then were not as corrupt as the government of today.
For example, you can accuse Idi Amin’s government of other things but not corruption. The level of corruption in Uganda is the highest ever that anybody can talk about. And then the local communities should be empowered to guard against corruption, otherwise the refugees are bound to suffer.
We need to improve on the system of accountability. The beneficiaries of aid must also be accounted to. This is a principle of humanitarian assistance used globally but it is rarely used. There is no accountability at local level and yet these are the people who have their eyes wide open day and night to detect corruption.
Fungaroo’s Take on Key issues
On refugees asking for accountability
The refugees at the local level should be empowered to fight corruption. Food is taken and the offloading is not monitored and the trucks come back with part of the food .There is no value for money when contracts are given out. One other is that the legal and policy framework does not support the input of local communities.
In Uganda, the Refugee Act does not provide for the role of the local governments at sub-county level and yet there are certain instances where those lower local governments are the ones that stay with the refugees for a long time.
A refugee settlement is in a locality far away from the district headquarters. If it is law enforcement, conflict resolution or health services, they are all done at the sub-county level and yet these leaders are not involved in the conceptualisation process.
On World Refugee Day celebrations
We people of West Nile are glad that celebrations for this year’s refugee day [June 20] will be in West Nile. This will give an opportunity to the donors and other stakeholders to come on the ground and see the situation.
People who are coming should not come by air. Even President Museveni should come by road so that he feels what we go through. Donors should also take interest in monitoring and evaluation of the activities of organisations to ascertain whether the funds which they advance are doing what they are supposed to do.