Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Controversy is surrounding the government’s grant to the Uganda North America Association (UNAA). UNAA is an umbrella of Ugandans living and working in the United States of America.
The government gives UNAA USD100, 000 (368m shillings) every year with half of this money meant to organize the annual UNAA convention.
However, rifts are brewing in the association after the revelation that part of the money was spent on hotel food instead of the intended purpose to support different chapters.
The rest of the money equivalent to 50,000 (184m shillings), referred to as the community development fund was to be sent to the 13 chapters of Ugandans across the United States.
However, according to a June 2020 letter by the Uganda ambassador to the USA Mull S. Katende, the money was not sent to these chapters. Instead, the embassy was asked by UNAA executive to send the money to a hotel, Hyatt Rengency Chicago to pay for food.
Katende was responding to a query from Lango Community of North America Inc, one of the chapters that were supposed to receive the money.
In the letter, Ambassador Katende said that “during the UNAA convention in Chicago in September, the UNAA management was faced with a crisis. The Hyatt Rengency Chicago, where the convention was taking place, demanded union fee of $29,000 (Shs106m shillings) if the UNAA dinner was to take place the following day.”
“The fee, which had not been known and budgeted for, was mandatory for any outsourced catering services. After all other avenues had failed, the then UNAA executive appealed to the embassy in writing to use part of the community development fund for the purpose,” he writes.
The money was then sent to the hotel. Only Miss Uganda North America leadership Program received the money meant to support the chapters. It received $4,500 in August 2019.
A member of the association told URN that the community development funds are supposed to be distributed to smaller organizations in North America that have UNAA members.
He said, however, “the problem is that there is no accountability for what those funds do in the community and most time UNAA leaders distribute these funds to their friends and supporters in the local community.”
He said there have been incidents when the community funds were distributed to the organization that doesn’t exist and has never accounted for what happens to that money.
“It’s frankly a big mess and waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. “Local communities often use this money to organize parties and the rest misappropriated.”
A look at UNAA financial statements posted on its website gives a glimpse of where the association spends most of its money.
For the year October 2017-September 2018, the most recent figures available, UNAA says it had a total income of $250,795 (924m shillings). The source of the funds includes members’ dues, registration fees for new members, and sponsorships from different organizations.
The statement shows that $6,701.40 (24.6m shillings) was spent on transport to Seattle by boat cruise and then spent 33,650 (Shs123m shillings) on the boat cruise dinner. Other eye-popping expenses include $62,714.94 (230m shillings) on entertainment.
At the end of the year, the association had spent $283,159.71 (1billion shillings). It indicates that it made a loss of $32,264 (118m shillings).
Fights over how money is spent at UNAA are not uncommon. A source says that some community organisations have refused to apply for the community development fund with some saying they don’t want to be a party to receivers of taxpayers’ money without accountability.
The ambassador asks the association that “embassy shall appreciate receiving the new UNAA approved criteria and modalities for future disbursement of Uganda government grant to UNAA.”