UN spent Shs40bn on ‘ghost’ refugees in Uganda

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A section of the sprawling complex of mud-brick houses and tents that makes up the Bidi Bidi South Sudanese refugee settlement in northern Uganda is seen last year.

By Sky News

A UN internal report finds inflated bills, fraud and non-compliance with rules connected to its refugee programme in Uganda.

A $320,000 car park at the prime minister’s office in Uganda was built using money meant for refugees, a UN internal inquiry has found.

The money may have been diverted from its proper purpose because people who have fled South Sudan for neighbouring Uganda could have been over-counted.

Such a practice could have been used to secure extra funding, but it is feared that officials simply pocketed the difference.

A report from the UN’s internal watchdog said about £8.6m [Shs40bn] was being spent on a recount of South Sudanese people who have entered Uganda, in a search for potentially hundreds of thousands of “ghost refugees”.

An October 2018 probe found 300,000 ghost refugees that Uganda claimed to had been taking care of.

The UN also found inflated bills, fraud and non-compliance with rules.

Uganda’s office of the prime minister paid £222,000 in allowances annually to dozens of its staff but “was unable to provide… documentation to substantiate that these civil servants were working on UNHCR projects”, the report said.

In another finding, it emerged that the UN’s refugee agency gave £6.2m to a partner to build more than 745 miles (1,200km) of roads. But the company “did not have experience in road construction”.

“We have acknowledged serious shortcomings and have already started taking action,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch.

“(The) majority of the actions resulting from these reviews have been implemented even before the final audit report was released.”

More than a million South Sudanese fled to Uganda after fighting broke out in July 2016.

That in turn led to the UN and other agencies scrambling to provide food and shelter.

The new report by the U.N.’s internal watchdog says about $11 million alone is now being spent on a recount of the South Sudanese who poured into Uganda, to weed out potentially hundreds of thousands of “ghost refugees.”

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