Kampala. Officials from the Ministry of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees have made stinging accusations against their counterparts in the Finance ministry for not releasing Shs32.8 billion approved for resettling victims of floods and landslides on the Mt Elgon area.
This follows other devastating mudslides that killed at least 43 people, injured an unspecified number of others and displaced more than 800 last Thursday.
A leaked paper prepared by the Minister of Disaster Preparedness, Mr Hilary Onek, which Cabinet discussed yesterday, states that for nearly eight years, the Finance ministry has refused to release the money meant for the resettlement.
In the paper, Mr Onek has asked Cabinet to direct the ministry to release the money immediately.
“…To inform Cabinet that the request for [Shs32.7b] made to the Contingency Fund for Bulambuli Resettlement of people affected by floods, landslides has not yet been released by the Ministry of Finance,” Mr Onek’s paper reads in part.
He also states that after the March 1, 2010 landslide disaster in Bududa District, Cabinet ordered resettlement of the survivors in Kiryandongo District.
In 2011, a standing Cabinet subcommittee headed by Gen Moses Ali was appointed to establish the number of people at high risk of landslides in Bududa, Sironko, Manafwa and Bulambuli districts.
The committee established that close to 100,000 people were at high risk of landslides and recommended their relocation to safer places.
A 10-year resettlement project for the 100,000 people was drawn up and approved by Cabinet.
The project was to be implemented in phases resettling 10,000 people every year at Shs8b, which would translate into Shs80b in 10 years.
Mr Onek further states that the project received funds only once in 2014 and the resettlement process stalled after government procured 2,868 acres of land in Bulambuli. However, the land is under contention. According to the resettlement plan, each household was to get 30 iron sheets, 50 bags of cement, 20,000 bricks, 10 tonnes of sand, timber, nails, two doors and four windows.
Government would also provide them with bush clearing tools, open gardens, supply planting materials and relief food until the first harvest. This would cost Shs32.7 billion.
The paper states that since all the resettlement activities stalled due to lack of funds, the 2,868 acres of land the government had procured are now at risk of being taken over by encroachers.
Onek runs to Cabinet
With diminishing hope of accessing the funds, the disaster ministry has run to Cabinet seeking its intervention.
“I request Cabinet to reinstate the ‘The 10-year Resettlement of Landless Persons and Persons at Risk of Landslides’. Direct the Ministry of Finance to release Shs32.8b from the Contingency Fund for the emergency resettlement of persons at risk of landslides in the Bulambuli government land,” Mr Onek states.
No definitive explanation could be obtained from the Ministry of Finance officials on why they have not released the money which was approved for the resettlement.
Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, yesterday said he could not give an informative comment because he had just returned from outside the country and was not in position to provide details about the matter.
“I have just got out of the plane, I am just getting back. Ask Matia Kasaija [Finance minister] because he was there and attended the Cabinet meeting,” Mr Muhakanizi said.
Mr Kasaija was not available for a comment as his known cellular phone number was off air.
Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the minister of Information, did not answer our repeated calls and text messages to his phone by press time.
Meanwhile, Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa) has joined the humanitarian initiatives to offer support to victims of the Thursday mudslides in Bududa.
Makerere is sending up to 100 student volunteers to join Muasa officials to distribute relief items.
The association has launched a campaign to raise relief items either in cash or physical items which they said will be donated to victims.
Dr Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, the Muasa chairperson, yesterday said under the Aid Bududa Community initiative, the students will help in mobilising funds and doing the actual distribution work.
A mapping survey by the department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Climatic Science at Makerere University in 2015 found that a fresh 40km-crack on the slopes of Mt Elgon had developed and warned of looming landslides.
In 2010, landslides struck Nametsi Sub-county in Bududa, leaving 365 people dead and hundreds of others displaced. In 2011, a mudslide hit Bulambuli and killed 28 people. In March 2012, mudslides killed six people in Sironko District and in June 2012, another mudslide buried 18 people in Bududa. Last year, 10 people were buried alive by mudslides in Sironko. Subsequently, the government promised to relocate the people at risk but no conclusive action has been taken since.