By Remmy Bahati
The Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) is embroiled in a row over disbursement of $50,000 (Shs176m) community development funds to its members from government, which has since been returned to the Consolidated Fund at the end of last FY 2020/2021.
The cash handout has now become a campaign matter ahead of the UNAA elections early next month.
The election of the new association's leadership will coincide with the 33rd annual convention and trade expo in Cincinnati, in the Midwestern state of Ohio.
The UNAA vice president, Ms Lydia Natoolo, accuses the president, Ms Henrietta Wamala of frustrating her efforts to distribute Shs176m to eligible members.
"This action was purely political, and intended to make me look bad. Every time I inched close to distributing money, a wrench would be thrown into those plans. From abruptly cancelled meetings to outright refusal by some leaders to forward me lists of those who applied for a grant," Ms Natoolo, who is challenging the incumbent for the presidency, said in a campaign flyer last week.
Ms Wamala, the first female president, and the UNAA executive secretary, Mr Lambert Etibot, both running for re-election, were not readily available for comment as they did not respond to our inquires.
UNAA annually receives $100,000 (about Shs353m) from government; $50,000 as community development funds for disbursement to hard up members, and $50,000 as contribution to the organisation of the association's annual convention and trade expo.
The money is channelled through Uganda's embassy in Washington DC.
The grant came in effect at the request of UNNA members to President Museveni in 2004 during the 17th annual convention in Seattle, Washington.
The association told Mr Museveni that the money would help mobilise the diaspora group. Between 2007 and 2014 government through the embassy advanced $20,000 (Shs70m) as community development fund, and subsequently scaled up to $50,000 after the association appealed to the President.
In a statement last week, the Ugandan embassy in DC slammed the claims by some of UNAA's members as unfortunate and distorted.
The embassy said it announced availability of the money on October 30, 2020, which was acknowledged by UNAA on November 5, 2020. "However, disbursement of the community development funds awaited finalisation of revised guidelines by UNAA executives. According to the current UNAA guidelines, the funds were to be remitted when the embassy received the list of the eligible UNAA chapters or local organisations from the executive, indicating their addresses, bank account details, and amounts to be received by the recipients," the statement read in part.
The decision on who receives the money and how much was to be made by the UNAA executive.
Earlier on October 8, 2020, the embassy said, it wrote to the UNAA president requesting for details of eligible recipients of the community development funds but got no response.
"Even within an additional discretionary two weeks of July 2021, exceptionally granted at the request of UNAA vice president, the list and required information was not received. In compliance with section 17 of the Public Finance Management Act, the embassy returned the unutilised funds to the Consolidated Fund," the embassy noted.
For long spells the association has been dogged by infighting sometimes with strands to the political leadership in Kampala, and claims of gross financial impropriety.
Once, there were attempts by one group to form a breakaway faction of the association accusing the main body of having lost direction.
In the run-up to next month's elections, contestants for the executing positions have been accusing and hurling insults at each other on various forums.
This, the UNAA's electoral commission chair, Ms Florence Bazanye, said is not something entirely new.
"We take these elections seriously. We are not going to jeopardize our integrity. We will have a free and fair election," Ms Bazanye noted.
However, several stakeholders have routinely ridiculed both the association and its elections.
Maj Frank Musisi, a former UNAA president, described the association's electoral commission as "corrupt and not independent."
"They manipulate the data base. For UNAA to have a credible election, you must have an outside organization to organise and conduct the election. We will never get anything serious from it," he said.