Aid Freeze Impacts Uganda's Health Sector
KAMPALA — Ugandan civil society groups say recent freezes in direct foreign aid because of corruption allegations will devastate social service delivery. The groups have launched a Black Monday campaign to demand immediate corrective action from their government.
When Uganda’s parliament passed a budget in September, it included more than $2.4 million to shore up the health system. In a country where nearly half of all health positions are unfilled, the money was targeted for recruiting new nurses and midwives and increasing doctors’ salaries. The first round of recruitment was scheduled to start next week.
But the Ministry of Finance has not released the majority of the money - more than $1.5 million. In a news release, the ministry says it is still looking for funding and the money will be released soon, although it does not set a specific date. The ministry says the delay is a result of cash flow problems after several donor governments suspended foreign aid to Uganda in the last two months.
Britain announced it was freezing more than $17 million in aid until Uganda either proved earlier direct funding had not been stolen or until the British government was repaid. Ireland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have also suspended aid to Uganda over similar corruption concerns.
Government officials initially said the suspensions would not have an impact on service delivery. But Dora Musinguzi, the executive director of the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS says that is clearly not the case and the missing recruitment money is only the first example.
“We know that the donor freeze is going to affect so much of the service delivery. And, not only general service delivery, but vital areas of care, like health, like justice," she says. "We continue to see a very desperate and miserable picture of what it is like right now. We have tested it and I’m imagining if it gets worse.”
Civil society groups announced they are now officially launching a campaign demanding government officials answer the corruption allegations and recover any stolen funds. The effort, called Black Monday, includes weekly demonstrations and monthly office closings of non-governmental organizations across the country.
Leonard Okello, one of the organizers, says the campaign was prompted by concerns that Ugandan taxpayer money will be used to repay the donors and the responsible officials will not be held accountable.
“The thieves will continue," he notes. "Our worry is, impunity has become the style of dealing with thieves in Uganda. They loot government money, use the same money to manipulate the investigation system so the investigations from the police take very weak cases to court and the courts cannot get them guilty.”
To prevent this from happening, he says the Black Monday campaign is trying to increase public scrutiny of the process by demanding public meetings and more information. Until the money is recovered and aid starts flowing back into Uganda’s service sectors, he says Monday will remain a day of mourning across the country’s civil society organizations.