By Sadab Kitatta Kaaya
The persistent reports of the mismanagement of refugee funds in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is forcing MPs to rethink OPM's role in the management of the refugee affairs.
On Wednesday, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga asked Obongi County MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo to prepare a motion that may lead to the transfer of the refugee care program from OPM to a "less corrupt" government ministry.
This was after Fungaroo spoke on a "matter of national importance," calling for an investigation into cases of corruption at OPM.
"The corruption in the Office of the Prime Minister is too severe. As Parliament, we should transfer the refugee program to another ministry and put in place a committee of inquiry to investigate OPM," Fungaroo said during Wednesday's plenary sitting.
Uganda is home to more than one million refugees mainly from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to the conflicts there, in addition to those from Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Early this month, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR and the European Union (EU) called for an investigation into alleged falsification of refugee numbers, misuse of funds meant for the refugees by officials at OPM and suspected trafficking of some female refugees.
While government responded by interdicting four officials namely, Apollo Kazungu (commissioner refugees), Walter Omondi (refugee desk officer based in Mbarara), John Baptist Sentamu, and Francis Nkwasibwe, Fungaroo said more needs to be done.
"Instead of sacking certain officials, the best thing to do is to transfer the entire program of refugee care from OPM since it appears that OPM is laden with too many scandals. It is wise to get it from the scandalous OPM to a ministry with less corruption," Fungaroo told The Observer.
He is now working on a motion for the amendment of the Refugee Act (2006) which placed refugee care under OPM.
Fungaroo spoke after Kasilo MP Elijah Okupa demanded for an explanation from the government on the persistent media reports pointing to the refugee scam which he said had tainted the good image that Uganda had built by providing sanctuary to refugees.
"I was disheartened to read and learn that the resources for the refugee interventions have been mismanaged, there are also allegations that some refugees have been kidnapped and taken abroad. Uganda had built a name as a home for refugees; we need to clean our house. As Parliament, we deserve an explanation from government," Okupa said.
Kadaga raised issues related to reported deportation of Eritreans and Ethiopians from Israel to Uganda (and Rwanda) which she said is a serious issue that must be explained by government.
Meanwhile, Buyaga West MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire told journalists outside the Parliamentary chamber that due to escalation of tensions in the DRC, the number of refugees crossing Lake Albert into Ndaiga in Kagadi district has shot up.
Unfortunately, the MP said, some security chiefs and local leaders in the area had turned the crisis into a money making venture.
"A number of boats are coming in loaded with refugees and each refugee who arrives at the landing site is charged Shs 20,000," Tinkasiimire said.
He said the entire refugee care program need a comprehensive audit for Uganda to continue claiming to be receptive to the refugees.
Neither the Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda nor the ministers responsible for refugees; Hilary Onek and Musa Ecweru were in Parliament.