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Diplomats Press Uganda on Alleged AIDS Graft Case


Foreign diplomats based in Uganda are urging the Kampala government to deal more forcefully with charges that international donations to fight AIDS have been embezzled by officials once in the government. The charges led at least one group to suspend temporarily hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to fight AIDS in the country.

Four European Union envoys this week pressed the Ugandan government to investigate and possibly prosecute a former health minister and his two deputies for mismanaging funds provided to the Ugandan government by the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The group last year temporarily suspended $367 million in funding to Uganda, citing financial mismanagement. The suspension prompted the Ugandan government to launch an investigation, and Global Fund lifted its suspension three months later. But in a report they released this week, several EU diplomats express concern over the time line of the investigation.

While Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, did remove health minister Jim Muhwezi and his two deputies, Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha, the report said they should swiftly face prosecution for their actions. It said the three had lied "unashamedly and without blinking an eye" under oath while testifying before the panel about money spent on bogus fact-finding trips around the country.

In a response to the report, Information Minister Nsaba Buturo told VOA that the Ugandan government is committed to fighting embezzlement and that action is being taken.

"First of all, the minister of health who used some of the funding, has already refunded the money used," said Buturo. "Secondly, a number of non-governmental organizations are also returning the funds which were given to them. Thirdly, the police are already taking action recommended in the report by the judge on some of the individuals, particularly those who are not intending to appear in the higher courts."

The controversy over the misuse of funds has damaged Uganda's image as one of the most successful AIDS fighters in Africa. Since 1992, HIV prevalence in Uganda has dropped by more than half.

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