Uganda: World Bank Pulls Out of $265m Road Project Amid Sex Assault Scandal
The World Bank has pulled out of a $265m road construction project in Uganda, following allegations of mismanagement by the government and sexual abuse of minors by employees.
The bank’s internal watchdog launched an investigation in September to explore the allegations. However, the bank has now said it doesn’t need to wait for the probe to reach its conclusion, citing a number of failures by the bank itself, the government of Uganda and a contractor involved in the project.
Rare withdrawal of funds
It’s an uncommon move for the bank to withdraw funds from a project like this, especially before an investigation has even finished. The bank has occasionally suspended work on projects, following allegations of wrongdoing, but this is an unprecedented move during a delicate time for the institution. The World Bank is currently in the process of attempting to update its social and environmental safeguards – a process that has sparked heated debate amongst shareholders and external voices.
One of the most pressing topics throughout the process has been the issue of child rights and World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, said the nature of these allegations has played a major role in its decision.
“The multiple failures we’ve seen in this project on the part of the World Bank, the government of Uganda, and a government contractor are unacceptable,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“Because of the serious nature of the allegations, Bank management has informed the World Bank Board and the Inspection Panel that it will take action on the project even while the Inspection Panel carries out its important work,” he added.
Impact on local area
Aside from the environmental impact, local people in Uganda’s Bukonderwa village say their lives have been ruined by the abandoned project. Multiple cases of girls being sexually assaulted by contract workers had been reported by April last year. At least nine adolescent girls became pregnant according to one external investigation.
An increase in HIV and Aids, underage sex work and school absences were found to be surrounding the area of construction. Despite the World Bank’s withdrawal of funds, activists have accused the institution and Ugandan government of failing to deal with multiple complaints quickly or seriously enough.