An internal inquiry says the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) misused millions of dollars intended for Uganda’s refugee programs, Associated Press reported Thursday.
Millions of dollars were wasted through mismanagement, overpriced goods, and contracts, as well as an overestimation of refugees amid the continent’s largest refugee crisis which has lead South Sudanese and migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the East African country.
An internal UN watchdog reported the agency has spent US$320,000 on a parking lot at the prime minister’s office while another US$11 million was used to recount the incoming South Sudanese migrants amid reports of hundreds of thousands of “ghost refugees.”
An inexperienced logistics partner was awarded a US$7.9 million contract for the 1,200-km road construction project.
The audit showed excessive fuel use by UNHCR vehicles assigned to officials from Uganda’s office of the prime minister (OPM), which manages refugees and provides contract services to UNHCR.
These include refugee registration, though UNHCR has taken over the role since allegations by whistleblowers of inflated numbers.
The audit said OPM paid $283,000 in allowances annually to dozens of its staff but “was unable to provide to OIOS documentation to substantiate that these civil servants were working on UNHCR projects.”
The report itemized numerous incidents of inflated bills, fraud, and non-compliance, and echo previous reports indicated in separate investigations of a serious oversight within the department, U.N. spokesman Babar Baloch told AP.
Baloch said, “We have acknowledged serious shortcomings and have already started taking action.
"(The) majority of the actions resulting from these reviews have been implemented even before the final audit report was released," the agency spokesman said.
Since 2016, Uganda has accepted refugees fleeing violence from South Sudan triggering an international response from humanitarian agencies like the United Nations.
Uganda is praised for its open-entry refugee policy that grants aliens free movement within the country, access to public health services and small plots of land for settlement and cultivation.
However, over the last years, allegations of corruption have tainted the country’s philanthropic efforts.