Scandal will bolster calls for direct aid to NGOs

Sat, Oct 27, 2012, 01:00

BACKGROUND:The suspension of any further Irish aid to Uganda’s government is an unprecedented move

NEWS THAT the payment to Uganda of €16 million in aid from Ireland has been suspended is a serious development, and not just for the east African state.

Reports that up to €4 million from last year’s Irish allocation to the country, along with a further €8 million from Scandinavian countries, has gone missing are a cause for grave concern.

The suspension by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, of that element of Irish aid that goes through Ugandan government channels is unprecedented in terms of the amount involved.

The sharp and decisive Irish move reportedly took even the Scandinavians aback, but Government sources say it reflects constant, close monitoring of aid money and its dispersal overseas.

Millions in public money going astray would be bad news at any time, but is particularly so now.

Ireland has a tradition of generosity towards the developing world. However, there are minority views that (a) we should put ourselves first, (b) that development aid doesn’t really work and (c) that the danger of corruption is too great.

At the height of the Celtic Tiger era, during Ireland’s successful campaign to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern pledged at the Millennium Summit in New York in 2000 that by 2007 we would reach the UN target of allocating 0.7 per cent of Gross National Product to development aid.

That was then. The aid budget now is €639 million, or 0.5 per cent of GNP. It is still a substantial figure, and proponents of development assistance would argue it has saved many lives and helped countries to find their feet.

It is unusual for a senior official from the Department of Foreign Affairs to take to the airwaves. That Brendan Rogers, the widely respected head of the development wing of Irish Aid, went on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday to talk about the bad news from Kampala indicates the seriousness of the issue.

Rogers worked in Uganda from 1996 to 1998, and saw it emerge from the bad times of Idi Amin, surely the most bizarre and eccentric of dictators, and his successor Milton Obote.

While acknowledging that Uganda has been “a poster-boy for corruption”, Rogers drew attention also to major progress made in education and in combating HIV/Aids and poverty.

The missing money, he said, was diverted to a fund linked to the office of prime minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi. “This money was taken when it was in the care of the government of Uganda,” he said bluntly. “We want it back.”

The money was earmarked for northern Uganda, which endured terrible suffering in a 20-year conflict involving Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The incident will be used to bolster the argument that aid should be channelled through NGOs and missionary orders, not governments.

Rogers will travel to Uganda next week, where he wants to ask Mbabazi what has happened with the Irish funds.

He needs answers, and so does the Irish taxpayer.