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

New Corruption Claims Investigated

Reconstruction efforts in northern Uganda rocked by further accusations of embezzlement.
By Patrick Okino
Just a week after ten suspects were charged with defrauding a development programme in northern Uganda, an investigation has been launched into further allegations of misappropriated funds in the region.

Lira district council is looking into claims that 13 million US dollars – which were given to the council by the government in 2004 and 2005, and slated for redevelopment – was instead spent on local officials’ election campaigns.

The council – which has executive powers to explore allegations of corruption and financial abuse – launched its inquiry following accusations that little in the way of redevelopment has been accomplished, despite the fact that the government funds were disbursed at least three years ago.

On August 13, district vice chairman Tony Ogwang Adwari was singled out and censured by councillors, who accused him of incompetence. Among other things, the council accuses Adwari of failure to disclose the mismanagement of the district funds.

The government money was earmarked to pay for outstanding teachers’ salaries, capacity building, and finance and administration for the northern region struggling to recover from 20 years of war.

The funds were made available at the height of the conflict when the regional economy was paralysed and the vast majority of the region’s residents were forced into congested camps for the displaced.

Although the money was released in 2004 and 2005, the Ugandan parliament’s Public Account Committee, PAC, two months ago cited irregularities with its disbursement.

District official Martin Alengo told IWPR that the money was not used for its designated purpose, but apparently for political campaigns conducted by a bevy of local officials seeking election or re-election in 2006.

Alengo claims the council has evidence of corruption which it intends to hand over to the Inspector General of Government, IGG, a government agency that fights corruption and abuse of office.

According to the official, the council is angry that the money was distributed without the council’s knowledge, thus undermining its authority.

In an interview with IWPR, Adwari said his censure was unlawful because it has no proof of its allegations.

“The petitioners have not discharged their evidential burden of proof on the cause of financial loss, making the petition [invalid],” he said.

The council’s actions have provoked the ire of at least one high-level official in Kampala.

Local government minister Major General Khinda Otafire, who advised the councillors against censuring Adwari, has ordered the Lira vice chairman to stay in office.

Otafire has also dispatched a team of inspectors from Kampala to investigate the incident and report back to him. He warned councillors that if Adwari was not allowed to remain in office and was eventually found to be innocent, they could be held personally liable.

The major general has made it clear he believes Adwari’s version of events.

According to media reports, Adwari has said that the censure is a result of a personal vendetta by some councillors, and alleges the authority did not follow the rules in handling the issue.

“My initial observation is that if what transpired is true, as alleged by Adwari, it constitutes gross abuse of office by the council,” Otafire told IWPR.

The latest accusations have again raised concerns over the efficacy of the government’s efforts to reconstruct the region.

On August 13, IWPR reported that the authorities had issued corruption charges against some 20 people involved in work administered by the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, NUSAF – an official agency set up to manage projects to rebuild the north of the country.

Meanwhile, some local leaders told IWPR that the Lira district authorities have failed to send tax revenue amounting to about 150,000 dollars to the local government for the past two years.

“Business in our subcounties [is] being paralysed because of the district’s failure to send this money,” said local government official Bernard Angol.

However, deputy chief administrative officer of the district Fredrick Kwihiira Rwabuhoro told IWPR that this money was diverted to clear debt.

“These local leaders know the problems the district [has gone] through,” he said. “So they should not complain.”

Joan Pacoto, a representative of President Museveni in the region, said the government is eager to ferret out corruption.

She urged citizens to report official misconduct.

“President Yoweri Museveni gives a lot of money to Lira district, but when it comes to election time, they [criticise] him and say he has done nothing. Yet, people in leadership positions have continued to [embezzle] the money,” said Pacoto.

“If you have any clue about corruption in NUSAF or NAADS [National Agricultural Advisory Services] inform us. Even if it’s about me, just go and tell the police.”

Patrick Okino is an IWPR-trained journalist in northern Uganda.

More IWPR's Global Voices