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EU to probe Uganda theft of refugee donor aid

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KAMPALA (THE OBSERVER) – EU orders probe into embezzlement of refugee funds: South Sudanese refugees in Uganda The European Union has opened investigations into allegations of corruption in refugee assistance programmes in Uganda. A statement from the head of European Union delegation in Uganda confirmed that it has formally submitted the case to the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF) for investigation.
OLAF investigates a wide range of wrongdoings from embezzlement, fraudulent claims and misconduct in public procurement procedures, to customs fraud.

OLAF helps the authorities responsible for managing EU funds inside and outside the EU to understand fraud types, trends, threats and risks, and to protect the EU’s financial interests by preventing fraud of all kinds.

There are allegations that officials at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have been swindling money meant for refugees operations in Uganda.

Complaints also indicate that OPM officials in connivance with aid workers have been inflating refugee figures in order to attract more aid which is then corruptly shared. The allegations were reportedly raised by South Sudan refugees to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, while on a visit to Uganda last week.

The EU statement says the allegations were brought immediately to the attention of the government of Uganda.

“We take a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to any allegations of misconduct occurring in European Union-funded projects and even more so when this has potential negative effects on an already very vulnerable population such as refugees and host communities,” reads the statement. The statement says the UNHCR and the World Food Programme have duly informed the EU about the allegations. It says the EU has been coordinating closely with the aid agencies and other donors with the OPM to get a clear understanding of what it calls “these troubling allegations”.

The EU further reveals that in meetings with the government and partners, the EU delegation called for urgent and thorough investigations as well as for changes in the registration system for refugees.

“With the government of Uganda successfully developing a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), it is indeed of outmost importance to address swiftly and thoroughly any allegations of malfeasance in order not to impair this important process and the public support from the European taxpayers,” said the EU.

The EU said it is monitoring the development of the investigations and will continue to coordinate closely with the Uganda government and with partners towards a swift and thorough review of refugee operations in Uganda. This, the statement says, is to ensure that critical services to refugees can be provided efficiently and transparently.

The allegations come just a week after the EU announced a Shs 450 million support towards the influx of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) refugees to Uganda. The funding was directed to operations of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

This is not be the first time the EU delegation in Uganda (DELUGA) is refereeing a case of alleged fraud and corruption in EU-funded projects to its anti-fraud agency (OLAF) for investigation.

OLAF successfully investigated the Global Fund Scam between 2002 and 2005 leading to a conviction of a number of culprits believed to have swindled part of the 230 million euros from the European Development Fund and 202 million euros from the EU budget.

In a related development, there is more pressure from more donors calling on the government to investigate malpractices in refugee assistance response.

UNDP country representative, Rosa Malango, confirmed that she last month wrote to the government calling for the investigations ranging from “corruption to fraud, trafficking of women and girls to intimidation and harassment of UN personnel.”

There are also reports that South Sudanese girls and women are being trafficked from the refugee camps in northern Uganda back to the war-torn country.

Uganda is home to at least 1.3 million refugees from South Sudan, DRC and Burundi.

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