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EU donors freeze aid to Uganda over corruption


Bloomberg News

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — More Western donors are freezing aid to Uganda after a scam in which up to $13 million in donor money was embezzled in the office of Uganda’s prime minister. The aid freeze is the kind of action long demanded by transparency campaigners who charge that the money oils a corrupt system.

Uganda has a reputation as a corrupt country, but the latest scandal — brought to light by the country’s auditor general in October — is remarkable for its details: More than $220,000 was spent on gas in four days, millions of dollars were diverted to buy luxury vehicles for top officials, and millions were deposited into individuals’ private accounts.

Because the money was for the rehabilitation of parts of northern Uganda devastated by decades of warlord Joseph Kony‘s brutal insurgency, the scandal has provoked a lasting rage around the country and inspired aid cuts that foreign donors had been reluctant to inflict on this East African country.

Roberto Ridolfi, the head of the European Union delegation to Uganda, said in a statement late Tuesday that the scandal and those before it amounted to “a breach of trust” on the part of Ugandan authorities. Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Britain and Denmark have already cut or cancelled all aid to Uganda over the scam, saying they have lost faith in the government’s capacity to spend money responsibly.

Western donors fund up to 25 percent of Uganda’s budget.

Ridolfi said the EU and its development partners in Uganda “will withhold pending budget support disbursements and any further commitments for an initial period of up to (six) months.”

The donors are giving Uganda until April to pay back all the lost money, investigate the scandal, and take action against all the suspects. But investigations of this nature, when they happen, rarely produce the intended results in Uganda, where corruption charges are often politicized and then dismissed. This year three ministers with close ties to President Yoweri Museveni who faced corruption charges were set free by a judge who said they were scapegoats. The three politicians swiftly returned to their jobs […]

Some campaigners who had long urged donors to act tougher against official waste and graft say the audacity of the latest scandal vindicates their calls for the dismantling of an often-comfortable relationship between the state and its donors. They want foreign aid to be channeled through non-state actors engaged in service delivery and for donors to work directly with contractors in cases where the authorities cannot be trusted with cash.

“For the first time the donors are coming out and putting clear benchmarks and I think it’s a good move,” said Cissy Kagaba of the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda, a watchdog group. “But there are other alternatives they can use to ensure that the money reaches the intended beneficiaries.” Read the full article here.

Band aid:Why has Africa had such a small role in the famine relief effort?


Michael Hofman

August 24th, 2011 – Prospect Issue 186 FREE.

Dadaab in northeast Kenya is one of the largest refugee camps in the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our hearts demand a generous response to the Horn of Africa famine. Our heads should now ask some tough questions. The UN general assembly, convening on 20th September, should be the venue for frank answers.

For all the calls from international aid donors for African “ownership” of policies involving the continent, for all their pledges to ensure a role for “stakeholders,” for all their advocacy of “community participation,” one thing stands out. Aid agencies have assumed leadership of the famine relief effort in east Africa, and have taken decisions that will impact the region for years to come. Far from providing a hand on the policy tiller, and a voice at the planning table, Africa has sat back, watching from the sidelines the biggest relief operation on the continent since the Ethiopian famine of 1984.

Of course, operating in such a tough neighbourhood is a huge challenge. The drought embraces some of Africa’s most troubled states: Eritrea and Ethiopia are bitter enemies; Sudan is a pariah; the newly-independent South Sudan is a fledgling in world affairs; Somalia, the worst afflicted by famine, has no government; Kenya, where up to 3m are at risk, is a byword for corruption.

But this does not justify Africa’s absence from the operations room. Nor does it explain why a president or senior minister from one of the afflicted states, or a former leader, or at least a top official from the African Union, has not been chosen by peers to take responsibility for coordinating donor assistance and recipient needs.

Instead, Africa has twiddled its thumbs, postponing by a fortnight an African Union “emergency” summit, scheduled to be held on 9th August. Meanwhile, there has been no one to field some awkward questions.

Many lives have been saved by international intervention, but many have been lost by a late response to an obvious crisis; and many more will be affected by decisions made by aid donors after inadequate consultation. Why was the official announcement of the famine, and the appeal for help, made so late in the day? Children were dying of hunger in northeast Kenya weeks earlier: a fact underplayed at the time by elements of the Kenyan media. Who decided when to declare that the famine was leading to a catastrophe? Were African governments involved in the announcement? If not, why not?

It is unclear who is in charge of relief strategy in the Horn; who takes responsibility for decisions such as endorsing the role of Dadaab, the settlement in north east Kenya, as a centre for relief operations and home to hundreds of thousands of Somalis, fleeing the drought. With a population of over 400,000, Dadaab is one of Kenya’s largest “cities.” But catching up fast will be a second such camp: the result of pressure on a reluctant Kenyan government, despite the fact that the country’s weak coalition doesn’t have the governance and security capacity to absorb a huge flow of refugees to another site.

Africa’s economic recovery has gathered pace in recent years, changing many countries dramatically. But decades of decline have left a grim legacy. In far too many places, the state is weak; its capacity to initiate change has shrunk. The reluctance or inability of African governments to play a part in the response to the famine marks yet another step in their surrender of authority and abnegation of responsibility—and the beneficiaries are the very organisations that play such a big role in disaster relief: non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The power and influence of NGOs has grown dramatically since African independence 50 years ago. From a few thousand in the 1960s, controlling funds measured in the millions, there are now over 50,000 NGOs operating in South Africa alone.

Although the NGO record on development is mixed at best, the number of NGOs granted consultative status by the Economic and Social Council—the central UN forum for formulating policy on social and economic issues—has risen from 41 in 1948 to over 1,350 in 2008.

As their numbers have grown, they have helped to undermine what the character named Oldest Member, a crusty retired district officer who lives in Kenya and features in my latest novel, Dizzy Worms, identifies as the social contract. In the novel, he asks himself: “What if the government doesn’t deliver? What if the chaps in the north east come to realise that although there is a ‘food deficit’ every year, they won’t starve?… Why? Cos WorldFeed and Oxfam and their UN chums will chip in. All managed by foreigners. Tens of thousands of the buggers come out each year, catching the gravy train that chuffs its way around Africa… If you are starving, the UN will feed you; if the mozzies are killing your kids, Bill Gates will provide a mosquito net; if your road needs rebuilding, DanAid will help… So if the state can’t deliver, why be loyal? Why pay your taxes? Instead you look to big-man politics—to your relative, to your clan, to the ethnic leaders, or the regional boss.”

In other words, a vicious cycle has been created. As the state surrenders many of its core responsibilities to aid agencies, its capacity to manage deteriorates. In the process, it loses some of the country’s brightest and best to the NGOs and UN agencies, who offer salaries that local employers cannot match.

Soon the aid caravan will move on, leaving the two biggest questions unanswered: where has Africa been during the crisis? And why have international aid donors not raised this question themselves? Generosity without accountability is no way to respond to Africa’s gravest famine for 25 years.

Contractors are Accused in Large-Scale Theft of Food Aid in Somalia


United Nations C-130 Hercules transports deliv...
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Global Policy Forum

August 16, 2011

By Jeffrey Gettleman

New York Times

August 16, 2011

The UN World Food Program (WFP) is investigating allegations that corrupt contractors have stolen thousands of sacks of grain and other supplies intended for Somalian famine victims.  Food theft has occurred in Somalia since the early 90s, causing aid workers to coin the term “traditional distribution” to describe when food aid is stolen to be sold on the black market.  Though this New York Times article largely criticizes al-Shabab and the new Somalian transitional government for active participation (and failed prevention) in this large scale food theft, this is only a part of the picture. The root causes of the famine are largely geopolitical, as the Somali people have been made vulnerable to exhausted food resources due to continuous military and political interventions in the region (particularly by Ethiopia, the AU, and the US).

Beyond freelance gunmen, Islamist militants, cholera, malaria, measles and the staggering needs of hundreds of thousands of starving children, aid agencies scrambling to address Somalia’s famine now may have another problem to reckon with: the wholesale theft of food aid.

As it scales up its operations in Somalia, the United Nations World Food Program is investigating allegations that thousands of sacks of grain and other supplies intended for famine victims have been stolen by unscrupulous businessmen and then sold on the open market for a profit.

“We’re looking into this,” Greg Barrow, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said Tuesday.

He said the World Food Program was first alerted several months ago to the possibility of stolen food aid in the capital, Mogadishu, but added that he did not want to provide specifics, in the event that the allegations were baseless.

Few experienced aid workers believe that all, or even close to all, of the emergency food in Somalia reaches the people it was intended for. Because much of Somalia has been mired in chaos and violence for the past 20 years, large aid organizations tend not to base their own staff members there and instead appoint local groups to monitor aid deliveries, worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year…Read more.

The Global Fund proposes joint action to prevent theft of medicines


The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis an...
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GENEVA – The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will invite major international funders of drug supplies to developing countries, technical and law enforcement agencies and implementers of health programs to intensify joint efforts to prevent theft of medical drugs.

The Global Fund will invite the agencies to take concerted action to stem drug thefts, ranging from information-sharing and joint strengthening of procurement and distribution capacity in developing countries to applying stringent security measures around drug storage and transport. A preliminary meeting will be held in January to draw up a joint action plan.

Theft of drugs is an old and persistent problem in developed and developing countries alike, especially for drugs that may be cheap or free in the public sector but fetch high prices on the open market or in neighboring countries with different pricing policies. Problems are exacerbated by limited resources and imperfect distribution systems in many of the world’s poorest countries. Read more

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