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International Justice/ICC: Jul ‘08

IWPR special report prompts further investigation into fraud allegations linked to redevelopment projects in northern Uganda.
By IWPR
A story by IWPR-trained reporters Bill Oketch and Patrick Okino into suspected corruption relating to a long-running reconstruction project in war-torn northern Uganda has prompted a new inquiry.



Within days of being published by IWPR, the article Northern Aid Programme Probed, caught the attention of World Bank officials in northern Uganda, IWPR has been told.



The World Bank is the primary funder of 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 World Bank sent the story immediately to investigators of the Inspector General of Government, IGG – a government agency tasked with eliminating corruption and abuse of office.



IWPR understands that IGG officials immediately launched an inquiry based on the article, which reported that 20 suspects faced fraud charges following a police investigation ordered by President Yoweri Museveni.

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In their special report, Oketch and Okino reported on the arrest of around twenty people linked to work administered by NUSAF.



The suspects – who were all involved in running projects – face charges including theft, abuse of office, forgery, false accounting, making false statements, embezzlement and causing financial losses, say court documents.



Northern Uganda is slowly recovering from a 20-year civil war between the government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, which claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people and displaced nearly two million.



The five-year development programme, mostly funded by the World Bank and costing 131.30 million US dollars, ended last year.



It consisted of hundreds of projects aimed at helping the poor in a number of urban and semi-urban areas, particularly vulnerable, disadvantaged and displaced persons in the West Nile, Acholi, Lango, Teso and Karamoja regions of northern and eastern Uganda.



The IWPR report on the arrests is part of an ongoing series of reports by IWPR-trained reporters in northern Uganda, which focus on the reconstruction of the north.



This particular story was a result of an investigative reporting training workshop for Ugandan reporters conducted by IWPR Africa Editor Peter Eichstaedt last June in Lira and Gulu.



Eichstaedt’s training session, which was part of continuing work by IWPR editors and reports with local reporters, taught Ugandan reporters to produce original, investigative reporting.



In their story on the arrests, the IWPR-trained reporters detailed the accusation of corruption, described how the project was initiated, outlined persons involved – who did what, where and how – and explained in detail how the fund was allegedly embezzled.



Three days after the story appeared on the website, World Bank officials emailed the article to the Ugandan government, according to the bank’s Lira district information officer Joe Erem Oyie.



As a result of the article, IGG investigators are now questioning those accused of embezzling the funds meant for rebuilding northern Uganda.



The IGG team entered the Lira district offices of NUSAF, seeking those implicated in the NUSAF scandal.



“I can’t comment any further because it will jeopardise the investigation,” said Oyie.



“They came last night and right now they are going to various offices implicated into the NUSAF saga.”



Tom Okao, director of Lira-based Fountainhead Institute of Management and Technology, said the story came at a time when many people were becoming aware of problems with the fund.



“Other media houses in Uganda should also learn from IWPR to bring us detailed stories, not only breaking news. We want to know who does what, where, how, when and why, when reading a story. I am happy that IWPR is committed to doing that.”



In other developments, the BBC World Service Trust commended Bill Oketch in their communicating transitional justice in Africa award for two stories he wrote for IWPR this year.



The stories were Corruption Blights Rebuilding Efforts, published on May 29, and Food Crisis Hits North from June 4.