In March 2017, the non-profit humanitarian organization Refugees International, or RI, which says it does not take money either from governments or the U.N., issued a lengthy field report on Uganda, with a section devoted to such warning signs.
The report noted that the Ugandan Prime Minister’s office (OPM) was exercising “tight control” over where non-government organizations could conduct relief work, and making them seek permission to work in refugee settlements.
Refugee International field workers were told by aid workers that even though the government was not supposed to have any say in choosing contractors who would work with humanitarian NGOs on aid distribution, “aid organizations were allegedly denied access to settlements after rejecting a contractor that OPM suggested”—a warning sign of possible collusion.
They also heard that “OPM allegedly delayed approving projects for months because of disagreements over the choice of a contractor.” The field report also says that U.N. officials “did not deny the government’s involvement in these decisions.”
Aid donors also knew of the untoward pressures, Refugees International reported, but their response was tepid at best, at least until RI brought the matter to their attention.
In fact, the uncovering of the Uganda scandal may actually point in a novel direction—of the U.N. beginning to move against its longstanding habitual passivity in the face of similar aid scandals, which was outlined in a scathing report by the U.N.’s own watchdog Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) in mid-2016.
The 133-page report summarized a nine-month investigation that covered “fraud detection, prevention and response” across 28 U.N. organizations and discovered that the world body was only marginally engaged on all three topics.
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