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OPM PS GUWATUDDE CRIPPLES UNHCR

By Mulengera Reporters

Christine Guwatudde Kintu, the powerful PS for the office of the OPM, has left no stone unturned in her efforts to neutralize the UN system when it comes to refugee management in this country. And her relentlessness has demonstrated beyond doubt that the OPM is one institution from which the relevant UN agencies and their implementing partners can’t run away from.

Bad blood between OPM and the UN agencies began a few years when the UN raised a red flag claiming improper conduct by the OPM staff working under Guwatudde’s control, direction and supervision as the PS and therefore the CEO of the entire OPM which is home to many government Ministries. The UN agencies specifically claimed that the OPM employees managing the refugee office in Old Kampala had connived to create ghost refugees in order to misappropriate money in their name.

An inquiry was instituted and at the end of the day, much of blame lay with the UN agencies and the OPM emerged cleaner than previously perceived regarding refugee management. Matters became even more complicated when Guwatudde-supervised technocrats started feeling uneasy towards Ministers Hillary Onek and Musa Ecweru who they perceived as working with the whites to distort the findings of the inquiry.

Lately there have been efforts by the two sides to engage in and try to win the media war and subsequently the public opinion. Whereas the OPM has identified Robert Kabushenga’a New Vision as an ally with whom they can do business to promote their narrative, some actors in the UN circles have zeroed in on Daily Monitor whose major influencer Daniel Kalinaki has been engaged by their emissaries several times. The idea is to make him see and appreciate their point of view in the hope the Daily Monitor can stick to its narrative that the OPM bosses indeed stole money meant for refugees. The OPM recently countered those moves by the UN agencies by securing an interview with Kanushenga’s New Vision which their senior man Charles Etukuri conducted.

The latest reaching us is that much as they can attempt putting up a fight, the confrontation with OPM has left UN agencies weakened and dented like never before testifying to Guwatudde’s potency when it comes to fighting such clandestine battles. Using her powerful position as OPM PS and therefore the government technocrat with the last words on matters of refugees, Guwatudde has lately acted in ways that have UNHCR weakened and with ever shrinking operational space.

The world refugee agency has lately been registering diminished donations on which it relies to deliver services to the refugee settlements. The struggling has had to restructure its staff resulting into many upcountry regional offices being closed resulting into many losing jobs. For example, the Hoima regional coordination office which has been supervising and overseeing work in nearby refugee settlements has since been closed to logistical constraints facing the organization. The Hoima office has been overseeing refugee operations in Kyangwali, Kiryadongo, Kyegegwa and other nearby places.

Its closure has resulted into UNHCR operations being scaled down and many losing their jobs. Job losers have of course been mostly Ugandans as the top UNHCR management has ensured none of the expatriates is rendered redundant. UNHCR has also been prompted to scale down on its engagements with IPs because their resource envelope, raised from donations, has been narrowing every other day as the OPM big lady continues to assert her powerfulness.

As UNHCR continues to shrink due to limited logistical capabilities, Guwatudde has equally reacted ruthlessly towards any of the IPs (Implementing Agencies) that attempt to bad mouth and demonize OPM and by the extension the entire GoU.

For instance, she recently, as PS, endorsed the cracking of the whip on equally struggling Christian NGO World Vision after its officials made unsubstantiated claims that her OPM subordinates working in the refugee office had created ghost refugees in the Kiryadongo settlement of up to 1,000.

The WV whistle blowing to WFP was that these ghost refugees had been on the system for years and that it a deliberate fraudulent creation by the OPM employees to make money off the refugee operations. The WV claimed this was in relation to the Kyangwali refugee settlement alone where they have for years been the implementing partners for WFP (basically distributing refugee relief items on behalf of the UNHCR).

A furious OPM bureaucracy impatiently reacted to this claim by WV and reacted by indicating to WFP that they are no longer comfortable having WV participate in any refugee operations in the Kyangwali settlement. Consequently, WV has been given up to 31st December to vacate Kyangwali and hand over the operation to Oxfam international which WFP has since recruited in their space.

The WV were told their things of claiming to be more transparent than everybody else won’t be accepted and were given matching orders out of Kyangwali. Losing Kyangwali is a very big blow and loss to WV because it was currently the biggest WV assignment or contract, they have been having. The expulsion leaves them with Kyaka II, Rwamwanja and Kiryandongo which are smaller operations compared to Kyangwali which receives huge numbers of Congolese arrivals every day.

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