29 November 2012

Uganda: Civil Society Bosses to Strip Over Corruption

Photo: Emily Dugan/Merlin
Merlin community workers with sex workers on the Ugandan border, South Sudan.

Civil Society Organisation leaders have threatened to publicly strip naked if officers accused of stealing pension funds and money meant for the recovery of northern Uganda are not prosecuted and the money refunded.

The CSOs accuse government of permitting impunity by not bringing the accused to book.

"We don't pay taxes for thieves, that money should be recovered from thieves," said Richard Ssewakiryanga, executive Director of Uganda National NGO Forum.

Sewakiryanga is particularly concerned that some of the stolen money could have saved lives in the health sector.

"For us who serve people every day, we know the pain of mothers who lose babies because there is no medicine in hospitals. So many people are going to die," he told a press conference in Kampala.

"Ugandans are dying because of lack of access to essential health services. Mr President ... it is your duty to lead the finding of the money that was looted so that we can get treatment for mothers with HIV, pregnant women and children," Leonard Okello, the Policy Advisor of the International HIV/Aids Alliance said.

HIV/Aids, human rights, maternal and child health advocacy organisations want corrective action against those implicated in the theft of public funds, particularly from the ministry of Public Service, Office of the Prime Minister and the education sector, which is suspected to be in the region of Shs 1.5 trillion.

Of this money, an estimated Shs 500bn was stolen from the ministry of Public Service in 12 years as part of the ghost pension scheme, with Shs 63bn stolen between February and October 2012 alone. A further Shs 50bn was reportedly stolen from the Office of the Prime Minister's Peace, Recovery and Development Programme for northern Uganda and Karamoja regions. New revelations indicate that another Shs 950bn World Bank loan for education projects was also targeted.

The CSOs want government to fulfil a commitment to recruit an additional 6,172 health workers and enhance the remuneration of workers at health centre IVs across the country. Joshua Wamboga, of The Aids Support Organisation (TASO), says the Shs 63bn stolen from Public Service between February and October 2012 would be enough to provide anti-retroviral treatment (ARVs) to 17,204 HIV-positive people now waiting in line.

Following the Auditor General's revelations and the subsequent police-led investigation, Uganda's development partners such as UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, among others, have frozen aid to Uganda. In a show of solidarity, the CSOs have launched a campaign called 'Black Monday'.

They will wear black every Monday to mourn the continued death of women during child birth, lack of ARVs for the HIV-positive who need them and hundreds of children in northern Uganda wasting away due to nodding disease. Dr Lydia Mungherera, the executive director of Mama's Club, appealed to Ms Janet Museveni, the First Lady and minister for Karamoja Affairs, to intervene.

"Mama Janet, as a champion of PMTCT (prevention of mother-to- child HIV transmission) you told us you are going to take the leading role of saving mothers. Do you see that your mothers and their children are dying? As a mother of this nation, help us. You can talk to the president and tell him we are carrying the bleeding heart of a nation."

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