Friday 31 October 2014

Gilmore's officials scrambling to trace the €4m we gave to Uganda

Michael Brennan, Clar Ni Chonghaile and Amy Farrell in Uganda

Published 27/10/2012 | 05:00

IT was all going so well for Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore during his recent visit to Uganda.

He was lavished with praise for supplying €32m in aid by the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

He got a reassurance during an hour-long meeting that "thieves" in the Ugandan government who looked for bribes from international investors would be dealt with severely.

And there was even time for a brief chat about Irish history with President Museveni expressing his admiration for Michael Collins and his dislike for Eamon de Valera.

Mr Gilmore told him that Mr de Valera had fought in the 1916 Rising and that Neil Jordan's 1996 film 'Michael Collins' had been a bit unfair towards him.

But just three months after those diplomatic pleasantries, Mr Gilmore and his officials are scrambling to find out what happened to €4m of Irish aid money that ended up in the bank account operated by officials from the office of the Ugandan Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi.

The Ugandan police are investigating the fraud -- and one minister said that a senior official in the prime minister's office had been detained.

But the key question is whether Prime Minister Mbabazi (63) had any knowledge of the missing money. It is not the first time that he has faced questions over the use of state funds. He denied earlier this year that he had spent €178,000 meant for reconstruction on a Mercedes Benz -- although he confirmed he had got the car. And he has also been quizzed in the Ugandan parliament about whether he benefited from controversial oil company takeover deals.

The alarm bells went off in Irish Aid last weekend when they received a draft audit report from the country's spending watchdog into €4m provided by Ireland, as well as a further €8m from Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

It was all intended to fund infrastructure and services in rural northern Uganda, which was terrorised by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. He is now believed to be on the run in the Central African Republic and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Around 80pc of people live below the poverty line, compared to 30pc in Uganda generally.

Showdown

Three auditors from the Department of Foreign Affairs flew out from Dublin on Thursday morning and are now at work in Uganda. And there will be a diplomatic showdown in the Ugandan capital Kampala next week when the Irish ambassador Anne Webster meets Prime Minister Mbabazi.

Uganda has been a poster child in Africa for Western governments, due to its efforts to fight AIDS/HIV and improve the level of education. Its funding from the Government has increased from €1m back in 1994 to €32m now.

Half of that goes directly to the Ugandan government and another €16m to aid agencies working in Uganda. And there have been real results. The HIV rate has reduced from 18pc in the 1990s to 6pc today. Primary school attendance has soared, with over eight million pupils in the classroom compared to 2.5 million in 1997.

Although seven million of its 34 million people still live in poverty, this is half what it was 20 years ago.

But as a result of the missing money scandal, the release of millions of euro of Irish Aid funding to Uganda has been suspended.

It is all deeply embarrassing for Irish Aid, which is fighting to prevent its €639m budget from being cut again in the Budget. Its director general Brendan Rogers is a hard-headed official with years of experience working in African countries.

But even he has admitted that this has been an "unprecedented situation" for Irish Aid.

Irish Aid said that its aid spending was monitored by auditors based in its offices at home and abroad, as well as international accountancy firms.

There has been a slow response to the scandal in Uganda, which is currently celebrating a public holiday.

Minister of Information Mary Karooro Okuru said she was not aware that the Irish Government had suspended its aid programme to Uganda.

"I think if nothing was being done, they (Irish authorities) would have been right to suspend the aid," she said.

Another Ugandan politician said the case was "unfortunate".

"The gentleman who has been accused is on remand. It is being investigated. It's our own systems that uncovered it. It is not like someone can steal money and get away scot free," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Independent TD Denis Naughten, who is the Uganda representative for a group of European MEPs, said it was completely and totally unacceptable.

He said it was some consolation that the missing money had been uncovered by Uganda's own state spending watchdog -- rather than an international organisation.

The Office of Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi could not be contacted for comment.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News