Uganda prosecutors charge two govt. officials over refugee camp deals


Prosecutors in Uganda have charged two senior government officials of money laundering, corruption and abuse of office over the awarding of contracts at refugee camps.

The prosecutors charged Robert Baryamwesigwa and Fred Kiwanuka this week, with demanding and receiving bribes of more than 393m Ugandan shillings (US$106,646). They were formerly both commandants at the Bidi-Bidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district in the north of the country.

Kiwanuka has pleaded not guilty to the charges of corruption and abuse of office. He has not entered a plea on money laundering. Baryamwesigwa has yet to be apprehended.

The alleged bribes were made between June  01, 2016 and December 30, 2017, prior to the award of contracts to two companies – Jinako Engineering Works Ltd and Atlast Engineering Works Ltd – for work at Bidi-Bidi, according to the government inspectorate, a regulatory agency responsible for fighting graft.

Uganda is currently home to almost 1.4 million refugees, the majority from neighbouring South Sudan.

Ali Munira, a spokeswoman for the inspectorate, told the Guardian: “We are still conducting investigations into other allegations … We expect more prosecutions.”

Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru, said the charges show the government’s will to end corruption.

“The war on corruption is on and real. It’s not hearsay. The prosecution is to ensure people are accountable,” said Ecweru.

Thijs Van Laer, programme director at the International Refugee Rights Initiative, said: “While I can’t comment on the charges against these individuals, I do consider it a good sign that senior government officials have been arrested for allegations of corruption.”

Corruption scandals have negatively affected the refugee response for some time now and, despite many promises, there has so far been limited accountability.

“Such efforts could send a clear signal that corruption is no longer tolerated. And it could also help in restoring trust among key donors, which is urgently needed to reverse the lack of funding for the refugee response.”

The UK and Germany have withdrawn aid to refugee operations in Uganda as a result of malpractice unearthed by an internal UN audit. (Source: The Guardian)