NUDIPU restores hope after a fraud incident

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Joseph Malinga

For the last two months National Union of the Disabled People of Uganda (NUDIPU) has been embroiled in mitigating effects of a fraud case in which, Persons with Disability’s (PWD) saving groups lost approximately Ush 200m.
The funds are accumulated savings by groups of PWDs in Mbale district over a period of 2 years. NUDIPU with support from the Norwegian Association of the Disabled (NAD) has for the last five years been implementing a savings and credit model called We can Manage credit and savings groups that aims at promoting income levels among PWDs.
The Groups’ Savings Project has proved to be a very successful model which has provided the best response to PWDs needs given testimonies from different districts. The project operates in the 13 districts of Mbale, Sironko, Kumi, Ngora, Busia, Bugir, Tororo, Soroti, Pallisa, Serere, and Manafwa and Bulambuli.
The project supported the formation of 850 groups with a membership of over 25,500 persons with disabilities including their families, with a saving value of shs 2,865,040,000, and a Loan value of shs 3,490,784,150.
Monitoring reports indicate high level of participation and achievement among the beneficiaries with majority indicating how they have been able to pay school fees for children, acquired decent accommodation, met basic needs and initiated business.
This level of achievement cannot be compared by any standards with regard to other programmes that NUDIPU or government has since implemented. In fact, one of the beneficiary noted that he had never received a lump sum of shs 300,000 for the 50 years he has lived all his life, but that through the We Can Manage (WCM) Project, he is now able to not only feel and touch the money, but also spend it.
According to the project model, PWDs, caretakers and well-wishers of PWDs in a given locality come together to form a group. Usually they are 30 members.
Members determine the share value (normally UGX 1,000-2,000) each member contributes every week as a saving. With the savings, members are able to borrow and return what was borrowed with interest. At the end of every cycle (52 weeks) the money is shared out. Just imagine how a simple act of saving has made life meaningful for persons with disabilities in the rural areas of Eastern Uganda!!
An unfortunate incident, however, nearly threatened the aforementioned success. Early this year NUDIPU noted with concern that one of the staff based in Mbale, who was charged with overseeing and supporting managing the project abused his office when he reportedly fleeced beneficiaries under pretext that he would help them bank their savings, only to discover that all funds entrusted to him by the unsuspecting and innocent groups members were actually being diverted to his private use.
This is the first time in history that NUDIPU has been involved in such a fracas. It therefore, did not only take leadership and management of NUDIPU and development partners by surprise, but nearly destroyed the project, and leaving many of the beneficiaries in despair and demotivated, to say the least.
Some though kept believing the suspect was still a good man who was being framed by other people. To them, it was unthinkable that the person who supported them with the project, who they trusted could fleece them of their hard earned savings. To others, this is a reality they have to live with.
Following this incident, a lot of questions have been asked regarding what NUDIPU is/will do to redeem the situation. The damage this incident has caused to NUDIPU and entire disability movement is insurmountable and requires systemic and carefully thought out remedies. With profound concern NUDIPU thus regrets the incident, and deeply regrets the unfortunate occurrence with the affected beneficiaries.
NUDIPU’s role as an organisation is to advocate for the rights of PWDs ensuring that they are mainstreamed in development processes at local and national levels. Any act such as the foregoing incident is contrary to NUDIPU’s vision, mission and values. The suspect’s act is totally unacceptable and not part of the norms and values cherished by NUDIPU.
In lieu of the above, NUDIPU supported the process of apprehending the culprit, who was subsequently arraigned in courts of law. He is currently facing 26 counts of embezzlement in Mbale Magistrates’ Court. NUDIPU has also hired the services of a lawyer to represent the affected members in court. NUDIPU is determined to follow the matter to its logical conclusion so as to ensure that the affected PWDs access justice.
NUDIPU is also working around the clock to ensure the remaining groups are not affected. Our monitoring systems have already being beefed up. We are also working towards strengthening the financial management skills of the group leaders.
Meetings have been held with different district leaders to ensure the project continue as planned. We have also held meetings with affected groups in order to restore their confidence in the projects’ objectives and goals, and rejuvenate their enthusiasm towards the project. As a result, all the 26 groups affected have agreed that they would continue the savings’ scheme despite the setbacks met, as the process of ensuring justice is being pursued in Courts of Law.
As an organisation, we are aware of the negative effects the acts of our staff member inflicted on the beneficiaries. We are however undertaking all relevant measures to ensure that the project gets back on course as was previously planned and hope that the whole situation shall be resolved. As much as this incident brings with it negative effects, it also has provided opportunities for reform.
The writer is a Comunications Manager at NUDIPU

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