By John V Sserwaniko
Minister Hillary Onek, who among other things is charged with refugees, has decried the dishonesty Western Powers have exhibited regarding Kampala’s generous approach to welcoming all manner of refugees. Speaking to reporters at government Media Center earlier today Thursday, Onek said the GoU had done alot to accommodate refugees but the international community doesn’t seem to appreciate. He also wondered why Western Powers trust NGOs more than the GoU. Specifically reflecting on the Refugee Solidarity Summit President Museveni hosted in Kampala two years ago, Onek said whereas the Ugandan government spent Shs4bn on the conference (that was meant to raise cash to improve refugee management), only $1.5m (roughly Shs3bn) had been realized so far out of the $540m pledges made at the conference. “I have been writing to them letters reminding them of the pledges they made and their response so far has been one of indifference,” Onek told reporters as the UNHCR Uganda Country Representative Joel Boutroue who sat next to him uneasily turned in his seat. “In most cases I haven’t got any response to my letters and at best those who have replied have merely sent in explanations that we are channelling the money through international NGOs,” Onek said clearly looking disappointed. During the Munyonyo conference, to which Museveni invited many powerful world leaders including the UN Secretary General to raise the badly needed funds, $540m was pledged. And Onek said it’s only Chinese & Indians partners who delivered their pledge leading to the mere $1.5m out of the $540m Museveni anticipated. Onek said the money should have been given to government because it’s the one charged with the responsibility to invest in roads, schools, security and health facilities which become overstretched whenever refugees arrive and stay in Uganda for an eternity. Uganda currently has close to 1.4m refugees and Onek says: “This is a problem created by the contradictions in the international system. The wars and other instability causing them to move isn’t caused by Uganda. We are only helping to host the refugees which primarily is the duty of the international system because we also have our own people to look after.” Onek was responding to a question a journalist had vaguely asked seeking to know the extent to which corruption and theft of funds was diminishing the international community/UN system’s trust in Uganda. “There is nothing to be stolen,” Onek said before proceeding to explain at lenght. He said the international community should reciprocate the Museveni government’s generosity by increasing their funding towards refugee management. Onek said the Ugandan roads in refugee hosting districts often breakdown as the heavy trucks carrying UNHCR relief food drive around, something for which the government of Uganda should be compensated. He said it’s unfair for the international UN system to leave Uganda, which even doesn’t have enough to look after its own people, to contribute 58 percent of the expenses required in refugee management when the entire UN system (wealthy as it is) contributes only 42 percent! Onek said the UN ought to realize that more refugees from as far as Syria are continuing to pour into Uganda because of its flexible refugee policy. He supported the President’s recent call on South Sudan refugees to begin returning home because peace is finally returning. He said the departure of such refugees will relieve the Ugandan government resources that continue to be constrained by increased refugee influx.
UNHCR Uganda Country Representative Joel Boutroue, who was at the same news conference, said the decision by the Super Powers to prefer international NGOs as opposed to the Ugandan government has nothing to do with earlier claims that the refugee figures had been inflated because after all the just ended refugee verification exercise had established there was no such a thing. Onek too emphasized there was no money lost as a result of the alleged inflation of refugee figures. Onek said the problem was that as government they can’t enforce accountability from the international NGOs whose access to colossal sums of money (at the expense of GoU) he said was responsible for the increased presence of brand new 4WD vehicles on the Kampala streets. He said ideally, the NGOs should consult government on the priority areas where to spend the money “because these big refugee numbers affect our economic planning as a country.” He vowed to use his office to crack the whip on international NGOs that receive money on behalf of refugees in Uganda and fail to give proper accountability at the end of the day. Boutroue said it’s wrong to blame the international UN system because even his own UNHCR operations aren’t adequately funded. He said the $108m available to him for a whole is far inadequate. He said because they realize the sacrifice the GoU makes, UNHCR has a comprehensive plan to more closely work with line ministries (like that of Education & Local govt) to invest in education & environmental restoration programs in a manner that promotes burden-sharing. He said as that is being worked on, they are already doing alot of education assistance especially regarding refugee children in Ugandan schools. Onek said having lied idle at the treasury for all these months, government had decided to put the paltry $1.5m to use by investing it in expansion and improvement of schooling facilities in refugee hosting districts including his own Lamwo district which has many Sudanese refugees. Even after being exonerated in the verification exercise, Onek said the interdicted OPM officials that were originally accused of creating ghost refugees will still not be reinstated on their jobs. Why? “They are still subject to many other investigations by the IGG and Police. We shall call you back to communicate the final decision once those investigations are concluded and we have a report either exonerating or implicating them in criminal activities,” Onek said. The Media Center boss Ofwono Opondo, who moderated the news conference, remarked that the manner in which Uganda government was duped at the Munyonyo refugee solidarity conference is indicative of how selfish and cunning Western Powers can be even on causes that are clearly humanitarian. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.