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REFUGEES: Uganda donor funds theft, UNHCR boss replaced, thorough audit needed

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Refugee scandal: UNHCR replaces its country boss.

The United Nations High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) has recalled Mr Bornwell Kantande, its country representative to Uganda and replaced him with a French national, Uganda’s Refugee minister Hilary Onek said yesterday.

“It’s true,” the minister said by telephone to our inquiries about the development. He added: “What you have heard is true and correct. He is going to be replaced by another officer.”

Mr Onek, however, would not say when the new UNHRC head, Mr Joel Boutrue, will arrive. There was also no immediate update on when Mr Bornwell would depart, with government bureaucrats and UNHCR officials saying the three days off work had kept them out of the information highway.

A UN refugee agency’s head in a country is a high-level diplomat, meaning the exit of an incumbent and or the arrival of a replacement goes through an elaborate approval process handled through the Foreign Affairs ministry.

Minister Onek has already notified the Foreign Affairs ministry to expedite the planned changes. Mr Sam Kutesa, the Foreign Affairs minister, said yesterday that he had been upcountry and is yet to be briefed about the developments.

He referred further inquiries from this newspaper to his ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Amb Patrick Mugoya, who was unavailable.

This newspaper reported a week ago that Mr Bornwell faced a possible recall due to alleged gross mismanagement of resources for refugees under his watch. Uganda currently hosts up to 1.4 million mainly South Sudanese refugees, but a whistleblower alleges that the count is inflated, prompting fresh ongoing screening and verification exercise.

The Ugandan government, working with UN agencies and international funders, has commenced investigation into the allegations that includes reported trafficking of children and women for sex and forceful marriages. There is also inter-agency fight over the sharing of millions of dollars raised during the refugee solidarity summit in Kampala jointly hosted by President Museveni and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Minister Onek told a news conference last week that the investigators have three weeks to complete the one-month probe.
Audit entire refugee operations


Following a series of media reports about the refugee scandal that has rocked OPM, UNHCR and WFP in managing provision of services to refugees, I have been compelled to comment as a private citizen. This is based on the global applauds Uganda has been getting for having the most generous refugee regime as compared to other countries.

What perhaps should be known is that it was only a matter of time and some of the concerns would be blown. In December 2017, my class and I visited Adjumani District to interact with refugees and officials from OPM, UNHCR and other non- governmental organisations implementing various refugees programmes. In each of the meetings, the officials decried the lack of funding from the international community to support refugee operations in Uganda yet asylum seekers continue to pour in on a daily basis from South Sudan and DRC.

The questions was, “how is the registration of refugees done and how were the funds raised from the Solidarity Summit in June last year supposed to support the operations? The response was that OPM registration systems for refugees under the Refugee Information Management System is used alongside UNHCR’s ProGRES to improve the collection, sharing and use of information on refugees and other persons of concern. Besides, we were also informed that refugee children born in refugee hosting districts in Uganda had their birth registered through technical support from National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA),

With the district local government and hospitals in place, one wonders where the big numbers came from if the figures were harmonised for planning. Secondly, the officials informed us that not every country that pledged during the summit have fulfilled their commitment. That the funds were coming in at a slow pace and also that funds from the Compreheinsive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) is not being channelled through government, but through international humanitarian agencies.

They said this was leaving a huge gap in funding provision of services to refugees to an extent that WFP had to reduce food rations to refugees. Much as I appreciate the fact that asylum seekers from South Sudan and DRC continue to flock to Uganda, the institutions charged with this enormous responsibility ought to plan jointly so as to know how what is required. Unless this “gap” is closed, unexplained leakages of funds will continue.
So what can OPM, UNHCR and WFP do to redeem the situation? Suspending suspected errant officials or cleaning up the refugee registration system, or UN and government creating an independent account for all funds for refugee operations and manage it jointly rather than leave it to the OPM is the way to go.
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