Corruption Exacerbates Food Crisis

Graft plaguing development programmes may be contributing to food shortage and malnutrition in north.

Corruption Exacerbates Food Crisis

Graft plaguing development programmes may be contributing to food shortage and malnutrition in north.

Monday, 29 June, 2009

My children are malnourished because we have been doing without breakfast and lunch for the last six months,” said Lira resident Susan Acio, whose husband was killed by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in 2004.

Rebel leader Joseph Kony and other senior figures from the LRA are wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the conflict in northern Uganda.

“I don’t understand why God created us,” said Acio’s eldest son, Jack, aged eight. “When I grow up, I will not forget the problems we have passed through.”

Jack’s sister, Stella Ajok, aged six, says she misses her father more than anything in the world.

“I do miss my paternal love and care,” said Ajok. “We are suffering more than double. First of all we have lost our father, and secondly we don’t have food to sustain us.”

Tarsis Kabwegyere, the Ugandan disaster preparedness minister, recently toured northern regions and said early indications are that “an acute food shortage” is looming. The government is preparing new food distribution, he said, in the wake of World Food Programme cutbacks.

Among the areas that he described as being in “bad shape” were broad swaths of northern Uganda stretching to the border with Sudan, as well as the northwest West Nile and Teso regions of eastern Uganda.

While most local authorities blame food shortages on a recent drought, coupled with the sale of local produce at high prices in southern Sudan, some war survivors cite corruption in government and non-governmental organisations

“The government and charitable organisations try their best to help us come out of the problem, but corrupt people sabotage those efforts,” said Acio.

The most recent case of corruption surfaced in early June when seven people were arrested on charges of misuse of funds within a development programme run by the government agency the National Agricultural Advisory Services, NAADS, in Apac, a town southwest of Lira in north central Uganda

The arrests, along with the flight of about a dozen others, apparently to escape prosecution, resulted from an investigation by the authorities.

The suspects included NAADS officials from Apac. The accused are charged with the misuse of 9,000 US dollars (20 million shillings).

Apac district criminal investigation department chief Mathew Ottu said the government probe had been ordered by President Yoweri Museveni.

The charges may include embezzlement of government funds, abuse of office and corruption – and if convicted the accused could face up to 14 years in prison, Ottu said.

An additional investigation has begun into alleged mismanagement of a Lira area micro-loan programme, the Savings and Credits Cooperative Society, SACCO, established to help war widows organise agricultural and business projects.

This private programme is similar to others in the region, with neighbours forming small groups that apply for loans to start collective projects, said government official Ruth Nankabirwa, who oversees micro-loan programmes in Uganda.

A group account is opened and selected members are allowed to withdraw funds that are transferred from the government.

However, when an estimated 34,285 dollars went missing from the programme, accusations of corruption were directed at the group’s governing board.

But SACCO chairperson Dolly Omolo – who acknowledged that money had gone missing, but denied that she was at fault – defended her organisation’s record.

“Our SACCO has been very successful and we have already given loans to the tune of three million shillings to our registered members,” she said.

Nankabirwa said the authorities are determined to crackdown on the misuse of government funds.

“We shall dish out huge and severe punishments to any ‘government thieves’ reported by the public,” she said. “We don’t want corrupt guys to damage the reputation of the … government.”

Joan Pacoto, the Lira area resident district commissioner, also vowed to fight corruption and shared residents’ anger over sabotaged programmes to rebuild the war-torn north.

“I will make sure that women recover their money that has fallen into the hands of corrupt and incompetent fellows,” Pacoto said.

Dan Okello, of the opposition Uganda People’s Congress, UPC, in the Lira area, said that unless corruption is eradicated, the north will not redevelop.

“There is a wider corruption cancer that has continued to eat government departments and local governments throughout the country,” said Okello.

He said the government lacks the will to fight corruption, however, “The level keeps increasing every year. [It] has completely eroded service delivery in Uganda.”

Okello suggested that an independent tribunal made up of World Bank officials, European Union, and other donor communities should investigate corruption.

Tom Odur Anang, a leader with the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, FDC, party said the police and judges used to fight graft have all performed poorly.

“President Museveni himself has admitted that the police and ministry of justice are the most corrupt institutions in the country, but [they] have fallen short of giving apology to Ugandans,” said Odur.

Last year, dozens of people were arrested and jailed in Lira for alleged misuse of funds in the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, NUSAF, among other rebuilding programmes.

Despite the arrests and vows to clean up the system, people such as Sarah Adoch of Lira remain angry.

“If we are to rebuild northern Uganda, another war should be launched against corruption, and then we can now try to battle with HIV/AIDS, one of the lingering effects of the Joseph Kony rebellion,” she said.

Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained reporter.

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