The Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament has deemed necessary to amend the Refugee Act so as to address the challenges refugees pose to host communities and also define how various stakeholders relate.
While meeting local government leaders, who included speakers and councilors from West Nile region in Arua over the weekend, the Speaker was informed of the strenuous relationship that exists between the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office of the Prime Minister on one hand with the elected local leaders.
The local leaders are irked that despite being host communities to refugees, they are never consulted on refugee matters and not even given jobs, with petty jobs being allotted to persons outside the region. The leaders cited the upcoming international summit on refugees as one such event where their input or participation has not been sought.
“Our problem is with the Office of the Prime Minister. OPM thinks it’s government itself and that it can run these activities with refugees alone,” Charity Farida, the Speaker Yumbe said.
According to the District Chairperson Zombo, Birombo John Orwiny, the presence of refugees was putting pressure on the little infrastructure in West Nile.
“Heavy trucks laden with food are damaging our bridges and there is no plan by the Prime Minister’s Office to work on the roads,” Birombo said.
During her interaction with the leaders from the eight districts that comprise West Nile, the Speaker of Parliament said there should be a linkage between the UNHCR and the local governments. The Speaker was shocked to find out that local leaders, and even the area MPs, had not been invited to the forthcoming international summit on refugees.
“Our chairpersons are the elected representatives. I am taking this smatter very seriously. I cannot ask a refugee commander to tell me what is happening because I do not have access to him,” Kadaga said adding that “A policy change has to occur very quickly so that the local governments are involved in taking decisions; in understanding what is budgeted for and how the money is being used because no one is auditing these organisations.”
The Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees due from 22-23 June 2017 is taking place following the 28th African Union Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa where it was noted that Uganda was experiencing the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Uganda is currently home to refugees from 13 countries and their impact has far reaching economic and social effects on host community resources.
Kadaga said because of the gravity of the refugee issue, she plans to accord a day for Parliament to debate the issue of refugees comprehensively with a view of amending legislation. She would also like to see the UNHCR taking responsibility and supporting maintenance of infrastructure in the areas they operate and engage in corporate social responsibility programmes.
“We need to redefine what constitutes a host community in our new policy to encompass contiguous communities because they are also affected,” Kadaga said.
The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Hon. Winfred Kiiza, said Chairpersons are the people who handle budgets, have the peoples mandate and are answerable to the communities. She said it would be killing the spirit of decentralization not to have the leaders participate in the affairs affecting their community especially since it is the district councils that allocate land to the refugees with consultation of the people they lead.
On the issue of land conflicts in West Nile, the Speaker said government had been tasked to demarcate the boundaries. She reminded the First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. Moses Ali, to follow up the matter and complete the demarcation exercise.
West Nile is currently mired in border conflicts with deaths reported. There are international border disputes with South Sudan in the districts of Lamwo, Amuru, Moyo and Yumbe. There are also disputes with the Democratic Republic of Congo in the districts of Nebbi, Zombo and Arua.
Apart from the international disputes, there are also inter-district border disputes between Gulu and Amuru; Amuru and Adjumani, Yumbe with Arua, Moyo and Yumbe, Nebbi and Nwoya including sub-county and parish conflicts.
The local leaders drew to the Speaker’s attention the need to promote local tourism sites in the region. The leaders were also concerned about the activities of the balalo cattle keepers, whom they said roam the region with guns.
The Parliamentary Outreach Forum is part of parliament’s deliberate approach to take Parliament closer to the people. Through the programme, Parliament meets leaders and the local people. This is the 8th outreach the parliament has conducted. Outreaches have been conducted in the Central Region in Masaka; northwestern region in Fort Portal; north eastern region Moroto; eastern region in Mbale; Gulu, Arua for the northern region and in Kalangala for the island regions. Since its inception in 2008, the outreaches have been helpful in influencing changes in policy.
Among the people who attended the outreach to West Nile were area Members of Parliament, Ministers and Officials from the Office of the Prime Minister.