By Kalungi Kabuye
The last couple of years have been a bit rough or many business people in Uganda, largely as a result of the effect of the suspension of aid by many donors form the west.
The government had to cut down on its expenditure to try and plug the hole left by the withdrawal of donor funds.
And all that was because of the scandal of stolen funds from the Office of the Prime Minister and the pension fraud in the Ministry of Public Service. About Sh60bn went missing in OPM, and the pension scam involved about Sh120bn.
To many people this was the epitome of the diseases of corruption in Uganda, with Geoffrey Kazinda, a former Principal Accountant in OPM the face of it all.
His lavish lifestyle and opulent possessions convinced many that Uganda was one of the most corrupt nations in the world, supported by the 2013 Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, which put Uganda among the top 40 corrupt countries.
But then early this year came a report about corruption in the European Union, the extent of which was termed ‘breath-taking’ by the authors of the report. They estimated that more than US$164bn is lost to corruption every year in Europe, but that the actual figure might be much higher.
To put this in perspective we shall use soccer as an example, since many Ugandans are hooked on European soccer. If the corruption in Europe is soccer, then what Ugandans play is like village soccer, on a muddy field with no boots and no uniforms.
The amount that Kazinda and his cronies stole and that pissed off the Europeans so much they cut aid to Uganda is about US$16m, compared to the US$164 that is stolen in Europe every year.
To put in even more sharper perspective, Uganda’s GDP is about US$21bn, which is what the total economic activity in the whole country in a year is worth. So some guys in Europe steal about 10 times the money that the whole of Uganda creates in year.
Given that Kenya’s GDP is US$41bn, Tanzania’s US$28bn, Rwanda’s US$8bn, and Burundi’s US$3bn, giving a total of US$101bn – Europe in one year loses to corruption more than what all 5 countries of the East African Community can produce in one year. Talk about Big League soccer.
The reports, while defining corruption as the ‘abuse of power for private gain’, nevertheless admitted that it is ‘a complex phenomenon with economic, social, political and cultural dimensions, which cannot be easily eliminated’.
For the record there is no absolute measure of corruption, so what that Commission did, and what Transparency International does every year, is to do a survey and ask people what they think about the levels of corruption, hence the word ‘perception’.
The European Commission found that corruption perception was highest in Greece, Spain, Romania and Croatia; and lowest in Sweden, Holland, UK, France and Germany.
So, what is the moral of the story? While corruption is a big problem in Uganda, and indeed the region, it is not necessarily just an African problem.
Sure we got thieves like the Kazindas and a lot more yet to be found and punished, but there are even bigger thieves in Europe. Maybe somebody should suspend aid to the EU till they get their act together, at least we trying to do just that.