The ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs are again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
At least 12 Ugandan students in China claim they have not received their monthly stipend for the last five months. The students accuse the two ministries of mishandling the issue and are seeking parliamentary intervention. Each of the students is entitled to a monthly stipend of $100, making it an accumulated amount of $500 for each of the affected students.
The money is offered in addition to the scholarship. The affected students are all under the Central Scholarships committee of the ministry of education and the China Scholarships council. The money is supposed to be given by the ministry of education and sports of Uganda.
The ministry and the students are now in a blame game with the ministry maintaining that it met its side of the obligation until late last year when it changed the system of disbursing the money to students.
One of the affected students told The Observer by email that they used to get the money quarterly through the Ugandan embassy in Beijing. Later, Kampala started sending the money directly to the students' bank accounts in China.
"We were requested to send our bank details. We responded but when the money was sent, a number of students missed the September, October and November quota," reads an email by one of the affected students to MPs Kassiano Wadri and Ken Lukyamuzi, which The Observer has seen.
"Some of our colleagues received the money in November. For us we have gone for five months without our money. Honourable, I am seeking your kind intervention," the student signs off.
The student adds that the Chinese embassy hasn't helped matters by using a fellow student to respond to their concerns; "Nobody wants to take the responsibility to respond to our problem. They only use a fellow student in the name of Paula Nansambu yet they are paid by the government of Uganda to handle our affairs."
The Observer is in possession of email correspondences between the said Nansambu and Simon P.A Ajiku, a Consul at the Ugandan embassy in Beijing. In an email, which Ajiku forwarded to Nansambu, the embassy advised affected students to confirm or establish their contacts with Sande Awava, an official in the ministry of education.
In turn, Nansambu forwarded this mail to all the students benefitting from MOE (Ministry of Education) allowance saying,
"Kindly read the forwarded email content below that came in from authorities at the embassy in charge, (nothing is edited so you get the communication as it has been passed on). Hope it makes things clear. We individually can forward our complaints, queries and/or inquiries directly to MOE, Uganda."
However, when Gerald Werikhe, one of the affected students, sent his complaint to Awava, he was referred back to Beijing. "The embassy on the other hand is using a student to respond to our case. I think we deserve to be responded to by the people paid by the government of Uganda," the now angry student says. "What I know is that the ministry planned for that money and it was released because some students were paid in November."
Contacted for a comment, Education Minister Jessica Alupo said: "Occasionally such challenges come up not only in China but in other countries," before asking for time to cross-check with the ministry.
Later, Joseph Ngobi, the Ministry of Education Spokesperson told The Observer that the problem could be with students who haven't opened personal accounts, or who are yet to forward their details to the Beijing embassy.
"We have paid student allowances for all our sponsored students up to December 2012 except those who have problems with personal accounts," he said adding,
"They could have them but haven't declared them to the embassy in China."
But Werikhe told The Observer in an email that as students, they had done their best and it was now up to the ministry and the embassy in Beijing.
"We were interviewed by the ministry and each of us filled forms with our photos but the guy in Uganda can't verify from there...If I am not on the list, I need to hear from the ministry because it's the ministry that interviewed me."
Ngobi also talks of a unique case of Ugandan students in Algeria who have failed to open bank accounts.
"Only 166 students there opened up their accounts, but 70 students haven't because they haven't spent six months there yet."
Controversy over student stipends is not new. Last year, The Observer reported that a scrutiny by Parliament's Public Accounts committee (PAC) had revealed that some officials in Uganda's missions abroad were creaming off allowances meant for Ugandans studying abroad. (See: Student stipend saga rocks Foreign Affairs, Education)
Parliament drew this from the Education ministry's response to queries raised by the Auditor General for the 2009/10 financial year. The Auditor General noted that Shs 574m remitted by the Education ministry to students studying abroad was not properly accounted for.