Sad for Africa – Irish aid of €4m to Uganda missing

The Irish TimesMinister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has
suspended all financial assistance channelled through the office of
Ugandan prime minister.

Four million euro of Irish Aid funding to Uganda has gone missing in a
suspected fraud, the Government has disclosed.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has suspended all financial assistance
channelled through the office of Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi
after the money was transferred to unauthorised accounts.

Auditors from the Department of Foreign Affairs flew to the capital
Kampala this morning to investigate the alleged misappropriation of
funds, which was earmarked for education, policing and tackling HIV
and Aids in the poorest regions.

Mr Gilmore said he is deeply concerned over the alleged fraud, which
was identified by Uganda’s own auditor general and reported to Irish
officials yesterday.

“I regard it as intolerable that any development assistance should be
misappropriated or diverted,” said Mr Gilmore.

“The Government will not provide financial support under our
development cooperation programme unless it is clear that Irish money
is being spent for the purpose for which is was allocated.

“I have also asked the Irish ambassador (Anne Webster) in Kampala to
convey to the Ugandan government how serious we take this issue and
make absolutely clear that while we are very proud of our aid
programme, while we see it as very important, we will not tolerate any
disapprobation or any misuse of Irish taxpayers’ money,” he added.

The alleged fraud involves €12 million in aid last year from four
countries – Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark – for the peace
recovery and development programme for northern Uganda. It was
established to rebuild the region after decades of conflict and
devastation.

A team of officials, led by the evaluation and audit unit of the
Department of Foreign Affairs, will try to establish exactly where the
money is and if it can be recovered.

Mr Gilmore said the Government, through Irish Aid, was due to pledge
€17 million to the east African state but will withhold the €16
million still due pending the inquiry..

The payment of another €15 million of taxpayers money to NGOs in the
country, such as Goal, Trócaire, World Vision Ireland and Self Help
Africa, will continue.

The Tánaiste said Ireland has a strong programme in the region, which
suffered dreadfully from internal conflict and ravages of Joseph Kony
and his co-called Lord’s Resistance Army.

“It’s money that’s provided to provide schools, to address the huge
problem that country has with HIV and Aids, to work in supporting
police and Government institutions in Uganda to rebuild them after the
history we have seen in Uganda,” he said.

“These are very important programmes and I don’t take the decision
likely to stop all payments.”

He also hit back at critics who have raised concerns over financial
aid going directly to African governments, adding that Irish Aid also
supports programmes like the independent auditor general who uncovered
the alleged fraud.

“I take some comfort in the fact this was identified by the auditor
general in Uganda, but having being identified I felt I had to take
immediate action,” he added.

Irish aid agency Goal said it fully supports the decision by Mr
Gilmore to suspend this year’s payment of direct aid to the Ugandan
government until the results of the investigation are known.

Jonathan Edgar, acting chief operations officer, said Goal has been
advocating for many years the strict policing of aid, to ensure that
it gets to those people most in need.

“We believe that total transparency and accountability in the handling
and distribution of overseas aid to be of vital importance in the
fight against abject poverty and deprivation in the developing world,”
he added.

Elsewhere, Fine Gael TD Pat Breen, chair of the Dáil’s committee on
foreign affairs and trade, said the allegations are serious and
disturbing.

“The committee is deeply concerned that Irish aid money may have been
misappropriated and not used for the purpose it was intended,” he
said. “Misappropriation of aid funding cannot be tolerated.

“Not only does it divert aid from those who really need help and
assistance, it also undermines public confidence in our aid programmes
which are held in high regard internationally.”

Fianna Fáil repeated its call for an overhaul of the overseas
development aid auditing system.

Spokesman on foreign affairs Brendan Smith said it was worrying the
issue had only come to light due to an investigation by authorities in
Uganda.

“We have a proud record of helping developing countries and we need a
strong system to ensure value for money and effectiveness in our ODA
[overseas development aid] budget,” he said.