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USAID rolls out project to tackle corruption in refugee response

L-R, Monica Azimi, Victoria Rusoke, Minister of State for Local Government launch new project that seeks to fight corruption in refugee communities. URN photo

Arua, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has rolled out a five-year project that among others seeks to tackle corruption in refugee response. In West Nile, the project will be implemented in the refugee hosting districts such as Madi Okollo, Koboko, Obongi, Terego, and Adjumani among others.

Uganda is currently home to 1.5 million refugees. The majority of the refugees are settled in the West Nile sub-region. The project will equally be implemented in the Albertine and Acholi regions especially the refugee-hosting districts, and in Kampala and surrounding districts.

Dubbed “Strengthening Systems and Public Accountability Activity (SSPA)”, the project aims at improving Uganda’s responsiveness to its citizens, service delivery, and stewardship of financial and natural resources. Other targeted areas of the project include extractive industries such as mining, education funding, and wildlife crime among others.

Speaking during the launch in Arua city, Monica Azimi, the director of the USAID democracy, rights, and governance office said that the fight against corruption is one of the core priorities of the US mission. According to Azimi, corruption impedes economic growth and development, and negatively affects the quality of life of ordinary Ugandans and refugees.

The project will engage national and local level government institutions, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the media to ensure that public institutions adhere to a higher standard of integrity and performance.

Robert Lugolobi, accountability and an anti-corruption expert says their aim is to ensure resources allocated for refugee response are well managed.

Bernard Oyite, the Deputy regional head Inspectorate of Government in West Nile, says that most common forms of corruption in the refugee response have been under the Refugee and Host Population for Empowerment (ReHoPE) project and the various scholarship schemes in the refugee settlement.

Victoria Rusoke, the Minister of State for Local Government while giving her keynote address at the launch challenged Ugandans to act instead of pointing fingers in the fight against corruption.

Cases of mismanagement of refugee response funds have been common in West Nile over the past years. The most prominent corruption cases involved the arrest of two officials, Robert Baryamwesiga and Fred Kiwanuka who worked in the Bidi-bidi camp in Yumbe for allegedly receiving bribes worth Shillings 393 million in the tendering process between 2016 and 2017.

Similarly in 2018, an inquiry by the Office of the Prime Minister and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR found that the number of refugees had been inflated by about 300,000. This was meant to enable the officials implicated to get more money than what was due for personal use.

According to a recent study commissioned by IGG on the cost of corruption, Uganda loses Shillings 9.1 trillion to corruption, an equivalent to 44-percent of the total government revenue in 2019.

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