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US suspends $10m COVID-19 direct cash transfer to Uganda

FILE PHOTO: Government provided food relief to many parts of central Uganda during the lockdown. Attempts by the US to offer cash assistance to other parts of the country through international non-profit, GiveDirectly have been halted

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  The US government has been forced to halt a $10 million (sh36 billion) programme to give cash assistance to Ugandans most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, after the the country’s NGO Bureau announced the suspension of programs by the implementing agency GiveDirectly.

Despite the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initially getting approval for the programme run in partnership with the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Kampala in August, the NGO Bureau recently ordered an additional review of the international non-profit, GiveDirectly’s activities in Uganda, resulting in the program’s suspension.

Reports indicate government was questioning the activities of the NGO in light of the ongoing national elections and funding from abroad.

In a statement, USAID stated that “GiveDirectly addressed the NGO Bureau’s questions, and no irregularities in the cash transfer program or GiveDirectly’s operations were identified. The program has still not been authorized to resume, and no assurances have been provided that authorization by the government is forthcoming.”

Founded in 2009, international charity organization GiveDirectly has delivered over $260 million in cash directly into the hands of over 270,000 households living in poverty across the world.

A total of 120,000 families in Uganda whose livelihoods have been negatively affected by Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic were to benefit from the approximately sh36 billion direct cash transfers.

At the roll out in Lira in August, Michael Kayemba, the GiveDirectly Country Director had revealed that the innovative direct cash giveaway project was to target vulnerable Ugandans across the six newly created cities of Mbale, Moroto, Lira, Gulu, Kabale and Mbarara over three to five months, with a possibility of rolling out the programme to other cities later.

“Before COVID-19, many families were already facing difficult conditions. The pandemic is exposing these existing vulnerabilities and making them worse,” said Kayemba.

He promised that the direct cash transfers supported by MTN and Airtel telecommunication companies will have a rapid and profound impact, help families make ends meet and avoid them falling further into poverty.

Ugandans had started getting cash to help them in post Covid economy

The initial roll-out direct cash transfers took place last in Lira City on August 6, where about 10,000 beneficiaries from three parishes including Kakoge received sh100,000 each, injecting then $750, 000 (about 2.7 billion) into the local economy. By September, 47,128 Ugandans were enrolled in the program.

“In light of this indefinite suspension, it is now unlikely that the program will meet its original objective, which was to prevent COVID related economic backsliding of the most vulnerable Ugandans. Therefore, we are obligated contractually to terminate the program permanently,” USAID said in their statement.

The statement added that, “The United States is a strong and longstanding partner of Uganda and the country’s single largest donor of development and humanitarian assistance.  While deeply disappointed by the reluctance of some elements within the government to support this highly effective cash transfer program, the United States remains committed to supporting the Ugandan people through this challenging time.”

Since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has provided technical assistance and more than $47 million to help Uganda meet urgent needs in its COVID-19 response.

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FULL STATEMENT FROM THE US EMBASSY

Since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has provided technical assistance and more than $47 million to help Uganda meet urgent needs in its COVID-19 response.

The United States’ COVID-related assistance includes approximately $10 million for a direct cash transfer program launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in August in partnership with the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Kampala through the international non-profit, GiveDirectly.  The goal of this program was to follow international precedent for economic stimulus by providing cash directly to individuals and families who need it most. Specifically, the program intended to support Ugandans who lost livelihoods as a result of COVID-19, who were at risk of food insecurity and faced serious reductions in household nutrition. The cash transfers were designed to support local markets by providing 120,000 Ugandans across six cities 100,000 UGX each month for three months.  By September, 47,128 Ugandans were enrolled in the program.

USAID and GiveDirectly worked closely with government counterparts to successfully vet the program through the Cabinet and ultimately to launch the program publicly as part of the Lira City celebration in August. Despite the thorough assessment and approval by Cabinet, in September the NGO Bureau announced an additional review of GiveDirectly’s activities in Uganda, resulting in the program’s suspension.

GiveDirectly addressed the NGO Bureau’s questions, and no irregularities in the cash transfer program or GiveDirectly’s operations were identified. The program has still not been authorized to resume, and no assurances have been provided that authorization by the government is forthcoming. In light of this indefinite suspension, it is now unlikely that the program will meet its original objective, which was to prevent COVID related economic backsliding of the most vulnerable Ugandans. Therefore, we are obligated contractually to terminate the program permanently.

We are mindful that ordinary Ugandans continue to suffer from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and that they could greatly benefit from this emergency cash assistance, which has been proven both internationally and within Uganda as a powerful development tool to transfer stabilizing economic relief to recipient communities.  We deeply regret that the 120,000 Ugandans identified to participate in this program, along with their surrounding communities, will now not have the opportunity to benefit from it.

The United States is a strong and longstanding partner of Uganda and the country’s single largest donor of development and humanitarian assistance.  While deeply disappointed by the reluctance of some elements within the government to support this highly effective cash transfer program, the United States remains committed to supporting the Ugandan people through this challenging time.

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