By Frank Kamuntu
Two senior Ugandan government officials are facing charges of money laundering, corruption and abuse of office after allegedly awarding of contracts at refugee camps dubiously.
Robert Baryamwesigwa and Fred Kiwanuka, who committed the crimes while working as commandants at Bidi-Bidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district, northern Uganda, were this week charged with demanding and receiving bribes of over Shs393m (about £82,000) from companies before awarding them contracts at the Camp.
The alleged bribes were solicited between 1 June 2016 and 30 December 2017, prior to the award of contracts to two companies – Jinako Engineering Works Ltd and Atlas Engineering Works Ltd – for work at Bidi-Bidi, according to the Government Inspectorate, a regulatory agency responsible for fighting graft.
Uganda is currently home to almost 1.4 million refugees, majority from neighbouring South Sudan and DR Congo.
However, one of the accused Kiwanuka, pleaded not guilty to the charges of corruption and abuse of office. He did not enter plea on money laundering. But Baryamwesigwa is yet to be apprehended because he is on the run.
Ali Munira, the spokesperson for the Inspector General of Government, told Spy Uganda that; “We are still conducting investigations into other allegations … We expect more prosecutions.”
Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru, said the charges show government’s will to end corruption.
“The war on corruption is on and real. It’s not hearsay. The prosecution is to ensure people are accountable,” said Ecweru.
Thijs Van Laer, programme director at the International Refugee Rights Initiative, said: “While I can’t comment on the charges against these individuals, I do consider it a good sign that senior government officials have been arrested for allegations of corruption. Corruption scandals have negatively affected the refugee response for some time now and, despite many promises, there has so far been limited accountability.
“Such efforts could send a clear signal that corruption is no longer tolerated. And it could also help in restoring trust among key donors, which is urgently needed to reverse the lack of funding for the refugee response.” He added.
So far the UK and Germany have withdrawn relief aid to refugee operations in Uganda as a result of malpractice unearthed by an internal Unite Nations audit.
Apollo Kazungu, Commissioner for Refugees, and three of his senior staff – Walter Omondi, John Baptist Sentamu and Francis Nkwasibwe – were suspended in February 2018 pending investigations into alleged collusion with staff at the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the World Food Programme to exaggerate refugee figures.
However, Kazungu and Sentamu are suing the government for failure to reinstate them after more than a year since they were forcefully indicted. According to government standing orders, if no charges have been brought after six months officials should be allowed to resume work.
The four officials are yet to be arraigned and charged in court, while the UNHCR has not announced any action it plans to take against its employees.