South Sudan refugees in Uganda (fie photo)
By Stephen Kafeero
Speculation is mounting within different circles that the top UN refugee boss in Uganda will be or has been recalled back to Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the ongoing probe into the refugee operations in the country.
However, the concerned official, Mr Bornwell Kantande, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Uganda, has denied the allegations.
“It is not true. I am now going to Hoima to oversee the (refugee) response there. I am not aware of any such recall but if you can provide me with the source of your information, then I can crosscheck,” Mr Kantande said yesterday.
However, sources within government, the donor community and the UN system in Uganda say they have heard of rumours of Mr Kantande being recalled.
One source said if the actual recalling has not yet happened, it is to be expected in the coming days.
The UN and the government have come under pressure to act on allegations of abuse of funds for refugees, with the government and UN agencies and the European Union saying they have instituted investigations.
One line of investigation, according to documents Sunday Monitor has seen, relates to possible collusion between officials of the Refugee department in the Office of the Prime Minister and the UN agencies charged with the refugee operations, especially UNHCR and the World Food Programme.
Asked whether UNHCR had communicated to the government on the recall of Mr Kantande, Mr Patrick Mugoya, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he is yet to receive any communication of that effect. He instead referred Sunday Monitor to Ms Rosa Malango, the UN resident coordinator, who was unavailable for a comment.
Ms Margaret Awino Kafeero, the head of the Public Diplomacy Unit at the Foreign Affairs ministry, explained that her ministry is not involved in internal staff movements of diplomatic entities in the country.
“If UNHCR posts or recalls its officers, the notification would be sent directly to them. It would be internal to UNHCR. They would then come and inform us when seeking an appointment to bid farewell. We don’t control their staff movements,” she said.
This means if a letter recalling Mr Kantande arrived on Friday, as some sources told Sunday Monitor, it would perhaps be too early for the ministry of Foreign Affairs to be informed of the development.
The sources say Mr Kantande is due for a recall since the organisation he heads is to undergo an investigation.
On the government side, Mr Hillary Onek, the minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, on January 30 directed Ms Christine Guwatudde Kintu, the OPM permanent secretary, to interdict with “immediate effect” the commissioner for refugees, Mr Apollo Kazungu, and three other officials working with the Refugee department to enable the commencement of investigations.
The other officials are Mr Walter Omondi, the refugee desk officer in Mbarara, Mr John Baptist Sentamu, formerly the camp commandant in Mbarara, who was recently transferred to Hoima, and Mr Francis Nkwasibwe, a registration officer/assistant commandant in Mbarara, who too had been recently transferred. By press time, the four remained in office.
Mr Kazungu was still in office by the end of last week, nearly two weeks later, but sources in OPM say the process of his interdiction has commenced.
Sunday Monitor understands that Mr Onek took the decision on the interdiction of Mr Kazungu after OPM came under pressure from donors and the UN system in Uganda to take action over the abuse of resources for refugees.
Following the precedent, the sources say, it is difficult for the UN system to maintain the heads of its agencies that are directly responsible for the refugee operation as investigations proceed.
“We cannot stress enough the fierce urgency of swift and definitive action,” US Ambassador Deborah Malac said on Thursday during a meeting of donors and government officials.
“For many of the partners before you, what happens in the coming months will be critical and politically justifying to our parliaments, our national assemblies and congresses that Uganda remains a trusted partner worthy of continued support to its refugee hosting communities,” she added.
This newspaper on February 5 broke the story with allegations ranging from fraud regarding food assistance and refugee numbers, refugees being required to pay bribes in order to get registered and scholarships meant for refugees going to Ugandans.
There are also allegations of trafficking of girls and women to marry men who are not of their choice after bribing officials at the border points, and claims that officials interfere in the election of leaders in refugee communities to prevent individuals deemed too vocal from getting elected.
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