Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

International Justice/ICC: Aug ‘08

IWPR probe into alleged misappropriation of donor funds puts implicated official under pressure.
By IWPR staff
An investigation by IWPR journalists into suspected corruption relating to a long-running reconstruction project in war-torn northern Uganda sparked a recent demonstration in the town of Lira.

Over 200 demonstrators from the Lira, Dokolo and Oyam districts gathered on August 23 to protest the alleged misappropriation of money from the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, NUSAF – a government agency responsible for managing projects to rebuild the north – which has been the focus of a criminal investigation into fraud allegations and was the subject of the IWPR story.

The demonstrators – who included members of the ruling National Resistance Movement, NRM, and the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, FDC – called for the sacking of Franco Ojur, the Lira district chairman, who police suspect of being involved in one the cases under investigation.

Joe Erem Oyie, the Lira district information officer, said the demonstrators were tipped off by relatives who had read IWPR’s stories – including Northern Aid Programme Probed which was written by Bill Oketch and Patrick Okino.

"Demonstrators felt the reports published on IWPR website on rebuilding the war-ravaged region of northern Uganda were factual and accurate," said Oyie.

The Lira resident district commissioner Joan Pacoto recently congratulated Okino for the corruption series. "She told me that our stories helped them in their investigation," said Okino.

Twenty four suspected fraudsters have been arrested in Lira district – including Ojur, who was later released – and five others were netted in Gulu. Ojur denies the allegations leveled against him.

The latest official to be grilled is the Lira mayor Peter Owiny who is accused of misappropriating donor funds. Owiny rejects the charge.

The money was meant to rehabilitate over 200 abducted youngsters and street children who were orphaned in the course of the fighting between the army and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.

On September 18, a Lira municipal council meeting turned chaotic when Owiny defied a council order to explain what he knew about the alleged mismanagement of the funds. The council alleges that money earmarked for the children disappeared while in the custody of the mayor.

IWPR’s Uganda stories also garnered recent praise from members of the international press.

An AFP journalist who covers international justice issues said the stories are useful for finding out what is going on the ground in countries like Uganda where the International Criminal Court, ICC, has issued arrests warrants against LRA leaders.

“Your stories are useful in following the peace negotiations with the LRA since that could have consequences for the ICC but are difficult to follow and understand from The Hague,” said the reporter.