UNHCR audit reveals corruption in management of refugee program

An eight month audit of the operations of the refugee program in Uganda has identified “gaps and weaknesses” in the management of the refugee response programs in Uganda.

According to a press statement released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Uganda office, the audit was conducted by the UN Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS), and it focused on UNHCR’s Uganda operation during the period between July 2016 and December 2017.

“The audit followed the massive influx of refugees from South Sudan in 2016 – mid 2017, when UNHCR’s staffing capacity in key functions and in remote locations was very low, followed by a rapidly expanded operation in the second half of 2017 with many new staff and partners,” the statement reads in part.

The audit was commissioned in March this year following corruption allegations that pinned officials at both the UNHCR Uganda office and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) that resulted in the sacking of four officials at OPM who were involved in the alleged falsification of refugee numbers, misuse of funds meant for the refugees.

At the height of the scandal, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, flew into the country and following his engagements with government officials, it was agreed that a biometric verification exercise of the refugees be undertaken. The results of the biometric verification which were released in October showed that there were more than 300,000 ghost refugees.

An aid worker with children inside Bidi Bidi refugee camp. PHOTO: World Vision

According to the statement, UNHCR worked closely with the OIOS auditors, who came to Uganda in February 2018, identifying issues and providing information that was used in the audit.

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is in the business of saving lives and protecting people. Maintaining the trust and confidence of our donors and of the general public is of utmost importance to us. A number of internal reviews and technical oversight missions had identified risky areas in the operation during 2017,” the statement from UNHCR further reads.

While the statement is silent on the key findings, reports in the international media last week indicated that the audit report points the finger at the OPM which insisted on controlling relief efforts as up to 8,000 refugees a day poured over borders from conflicts in neighbouring countries.

The statement said that the UN Refugee agency has taken some measures such as  revising or redesigning and rolling out new Standard Operating Procedures for the reception of refugees, their registration, protection, assistance (food, non-food items – core relief supplies) and case management in addition to strengthening of complaints and feedback mechanisms for refugees with a new inter-agency call centre.