By Morrison Rwakakamba
The October 2013 Report jointly published by Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and the Human Rights Watch misses the opportunity to add value to the fight against corruption in Uganda.
This is because it not only reproduces worn-out legalistic solutions to the fight against sleaze but also exalts finality and tends to be judgmental, void of context and activist in nature. Straightway the report seems to suggest that being accused of corruption is the same as being guilty of corruption.
The Report also without explicit evidence alleges complicity of government and development partners ‘donors’ in ‘letting the big fish swim’ otherwise meaning that government with support of development partners deliberately fails its own institutions to prosecute corruption! Why would government set up and finance institutions if it deliberately wants to fail them? By ‘big fish’ the report points to Ministers or former Ministers that have been implicated and let off the hook because of insufficient evidence, prosecution weaknesses or simply weak and fictitious cases.
Do the authors want government to manufacture evidence against ministers in cases where compelling and watertight evidence against them is absent? The report also calls upon development partners to maintain strong and consistent political pressure on government. I have a problem with things like ‘pressure government’.
Development partners are supposed to be partners of government in development. Why should they pressure government? Why shouldn’t we be talking of dialogue and joint actions to defeat corruption? Of course these reports are sometimes moved by ulterior deeply partisan motives. You recall the lazy report that alleged that Uganda’s First Lady, Janet Museveni had travelled nine times to Israel in one month? You recall how this allegation that was completely devoid of logic caused excitement in Uganda’s opposition, media and sections of the civil society?
The Human Rights Watch Report also talks of ‘political influence’ in exacerbating corruption tendencies without clearly defining this ‘political influence’. It is for example self-evident that operational matters of handling contracts, payments and accountability are legally out of reach for Ministers and politicians.
It is the Permanent secretaries and technocrats in their offices that handle money. Ministers are only facilitated to execute their functions. This is the same thing with boards of government authorities and other statutory agencies. Ministers and Board members only superintend as supervisors of ministries and agencies with no direct link to daily financial operations.
Ministers are keen on outputs and outcomes that fulfill the Manifesto and Vision of NRM as anchored in annual work plans and budgets approved by Parliament of Uganda. The Auditor general looks at financial integrity of government operations and reports accordingly. Therefore, political influence has no place in the architecture of Uganda’s finance governance.
There is therefore a need to define this ‘political influence’. What does it mean? How does it happen? Was it on gunpoint that permanent secretaries and technocrats sign off money to Ministers? I think technocrats who succumb to such advances are either complicit or brutally incompetent. And for Ministers who have penchant to stray into mandates of technocrats, the law restrains them. Those that have insisted, the law will continue to deal with such behavior.
Importantly, by focusing on legalistic options the report accentuates our weaknesses in the fight against corruption. We have focused more on putting in place and refining hardware administrative, legislative and judicial systems while relegating software incentives that entrench powerful value systems and social sanctions in our country.
The NRM government has worked to strengthen investigative organs that deal with corruption. For example, the government reformed the office of the Auditor General (AG) and Director of Public prosecutions (DPP) from mere departments to substantive and independent institutions.
The Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) has powers of the high court and is visibly interrogative and very much on the scene in the corruption fight. The anti- Corruption Court is in place. Indeed as the 2013 Human Rights Watch Report indicates, since its establishment in 2009, the court has disposed of 516 out of 766 cases registered.
The civil society is also involved in a bevy of actions aimed at visualizing corruption for masses. For instance, the name and shame book by the Anti-Corruption Coalition and the latest push in form protests codenamed ‘black Monday’ – are highlighting citizens’ rage at this rampant theft. Of course the report squarely blames the police for woes of black Monday activists without pointing out dysfunctions in their organization and how their good campaign and platform has been stampeded and high jacked by political peddlers.
For Ugandans to trust and join the black Monday crusade, its leaders and activists must be seen as honest and impartial- and not Trojan horses for opposition politicians in Uganda. Indeed government listens to honest and constructive voices in civil society that for example called for liberation of budget information and public expenditure. For example, the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic development is now publishing releases and has launched an online budget information portal – for citizens and taxpayers to follow their money via - http://budget.go.ug/. Are things like this not worthy mentioning in the Human Rights Watch Report?
But we cannot even exclusively talk about public corruption without talking about informal and private corruption. I have pointed out before that majority sectors and compartments of life in Uganda are corruption infested- churches, homes, schools, sports clubs, government offices, private offices, farms, firms etc.
For example, farmers are reportedly conniving with extension workers to inflate input prices; some local councils and community leaders are taking bribes to make unfair decisions in village courts; police constables are reportedly receiving ‘facilitation’ to intervene on behalf of cunning village landed gentry to cheat peasants; teachers are riding bodabodas for quick buck and receiving salaries (from tax payers)while our children are receiving no lessons; milk vendors are diluting milk to cheat consumers; traders are tampering with weighing scales and cheating farmers; politicians are buying votes and business men are cheating government taxes. This trend may not be in the headlines and human rights watch reports–but it is sadly entrenched. Will a compendium of anti-corruption laws, legislations, and human rights watch reports stop this anarchy?
As a Country- we need new approaches, renewal and a return to our ancestral values that define us a people that lived by the code of respect, fairness, community and honesty. All leaders, parents and peoples of this Country must engage in preaching and stop pointing fingers - because both the givers and receivers of bribes are wrong doers.
I hope this will not be dismissed by skeptics and law puritans, like those Yale Law school report authors as moralizing the fight against corruption. For legalistic solutions to corruption to have headway, they must be supplemented by a campaign to return to values of community and citizenship – The President of Uganda is on trial, pitching this campaign. We must all fall in and engage especially with young people in schools, clubs, social media platforms and everywhere.
They need to learn that the world must be shared and every one must have an opportunity. That to own twenty houses you can’t sleep in at once and four cars you can’t drive at once is meaningless and backward. Parents must live by example- we must for instance go to our kids’ schools and request to speak to children classes about values like morality and community. If we don’t live by example and preach our historic values- society is gone! Not even the fiercest of laws and prison sentences will avert this dangerous trend. It’s the only credible journey we must start. We must rally to the principle of common citizenship that Winston Churchill talked about on 5th March 1946.
Special Presidential Assistant – Research & Information (Head of Unit)