Uganda Listeners Debate Aid Fund Scandal

Radio programme explains why development funding for the war-torn north stalled, and gives audience a chance to air forthright views.

Uganda Listeners Debate Aid Fund Scandal

Radio programme explains why development funding for the war-torn north stalled, and gives audience a chance to air forthright views.

Listeners in northern Uganda have used a radio show produced by IWPR to discuss the fallout from a corruption scandal that has halted much-needed development work in their region.

Through phone-ins to the Facing Justice programme, which IWPR produces in partnership with the Northern Uganda Media Club, they have been able to make their concerns known to government officials in the north.

Last October, Uganda’s auditor general reported that money intended for development projects in the north had ended up in the private bank accounts of individuals in the prime minister’s office, which coordinates activities under the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme, known as PRDP. The funds came originally from Norway, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark, which pool money for projects carried out under PRDP, an initiative to rebuild and develop northern Uganda, which suffered two decades of conflict involving the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

Several international donors responded by suspending funding for PRDP.

The Ugandan government has pledged to make up the missing money. It is investigating the case and says it will come down hard on those who embezzle public money.

“The government is serious about the fight against corruption, and I believe that the international community will look at how serious the government is in apprehending the culprits or the corrupt officials, and indeed prosecuting these officials,” government spokesman Fred Opolot told the Facing Justice programme.

Staff at radio stations which aired the IWPR programme said it generated a lively and robust conversation with people who called in.

“Listeners even became very rude when discussing the thefts of PRDP funds,” Charles Odongkara, who presents Facing Justice on Radio Palwak in Pader district, said. “Generally, the callers blamed the government for failing to deal with corruption, especially when it comes to top government officials.”

At Mega FM in Gulu, presenter Sarah Adongo said the station was inundated with callers, many of whom had strong opinions about how to development funds should be managed.

“This very active participation by the audience was an indication that [the issue] was of public interest and community concern,” she said.

Opwata Akol called into the Teso Broadcasting Service in Soroti to urge donors not to withdraw their support, but to channel it direct to local communities.

“Northern Uganda is still recovering from the trauma of rebel activity that requires a lot of development, so losing such colossal sums of money meant for the locals is a big loss to the people of the north,” Akol said.

Patrick Okello Oryema, the chairman of Nwoya district, said the Facing Justice radio programme helped clear up some basic misunderstandings about the case.

“The community did not know why projects under PRDP stalled, and it was necessary for them to know what happened and who stole the funds meant for implementing PRDP activities,” Oryema said. “They were thinking the funds were stolen at the district level by district officials.”

Local government officials interviewed by Facing Justice said they had been aware that not all the money set out in the budgets assigned to them was actually reaching them.

The chairman of Gulu district, Martin Ojara Mapinduzi, said that his administration received only four billion of the six billion shillings (about 2.3 million US dollars) of approved PRDP funding for the 2009-10 financial year. The following year, it received 3.5 billion of the 5.8 billion shillings it was supposed to get. He said his office never received a satisfactory explanation for the shortfall.

“There were projects that had been approved [but] because we did not receive part of the money we failed to implement those projects,” he said.

Oryema said his district, Nwoya district, suffered a 20 per cent shortfall on budgeted funding in 2011-2, while in Kitgum, the district chairman Luka Nyeko described the practical consequences of getting less than expected for PRPD projects.

“We ordered 210 school desks. The contractors finished making the desks and they now want their money, but there is no money,” Nyeko said, adding that funding was also lacking for other work already completed, such as new houses for teachers and heath workers.

The prime minister’s office say PRPD development projects will continue as scheduled.

Wairagala Wakabi is IWPR’s field coordinator in Uganda.

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