By Ofwono Opondo
English novelist Henry Matthew wrote: “After a storm, comes a calm”. And so the arrest and production before the Military Court Martial last Tuesday of Col. Shaban Bantariza, recently posted to the Uganda Media Centre (UMC) as deputy executive director, could have been a slap and dust on our face.
However, UMC will pick itself up and move on with even more determination to pull in a single direction, and we have confidence that he will get the due judicial process.
It is not my intent to see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, or write no evil, because I believe that a man — every man (and woman) — must be strong enough to admit their mistakes, profit from them, and correct those mistakes in good time, which is being done in this particular matter.
According to the posting instructions signed by President Yoweri Museveni, Bantariza had been sent to the UMC pending his eventual retirement from the UPDF, and he had, in the brief stint, breathed life at UMC and media fraternity as an amiable, well-informed and eloquent multi-lingual person hard to ignore.
The charges of financial impropriety against him relate to his tenure while still the director of the National Leadership Institute (NALI), Kyankwanzi between 2009 and 2011. This goes to prove beyond doubt that no matter how high one climbs in Uganda, the law can eventually catch up with you, contrary to public criticisms.
Indeed, the President knew of the on-going investigations against Bantariza, which were perhaps not yet concluded at the time, or might have not been brought to his attention. It is one of those moments we can safely describe as professional and occupational hazards, for which we should not take hard feelings personally.
Or perhaps internal system failures and even intrigue could be the plausible reason for the predicament the President, UPDF and Bantariza find themselves in, much like the nomination of former Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima as internal affairs minister without him first quitting active service.
And while the vultures may jump into celebrations, I can also confidently say to the world that it was a matter we, at the Media Centre, had discussed with Bantariza, and for which we were fairly prepared for any consequences.
So, we shall not whine and point fingers at imaginary ‘enemies’ as elected politicians would usually be quick to do.
To Bantariza, it is a personal trial and tribulation, and a cross we are sure he is ready to carry. He should not fall prey to predators who always wait for the chance to exploit somebody else when that person is most vulnerable.
At least as we know, Bantariza is still innocent until proven guilty by the competent courts of law. It would be wrong for anybody to make conclusions before the due process is completed.
Skeptics are at liberty to various wild allegations that the President erred in appointing someone under probe, but of course, that claim would either be in ignorance or just being mean with the truth. Vetting individuals to occupy public offices does not begin and end at the time of one assuming office.
The process is continuous and at any stage, when a mistake is discovered, one may be held culpable and appropriate remedial action taken on a case by case basis, and this by itself does not imply Bantariza’s guilt.
Indeed, Bantariza is neither the first nor will be the last government official to be tried for alleged impropriety. Many, including a former vice-president, have faced courts and were acquitted at various stages of the judicial system, including at appeals.
It ought always to be remembered that fighting any form of corruption is one of the salient issues President Museveni has highlighted and put much effort to over the years, which are slowly but surely beginning to yield the desired positive results.
The writer is the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, government spokesperson and leader of URTAF, an independent Think Tank
Fill in your Name and Email Address to receive a Free Newsletter
Ofwono Opondo on Col. Bantariza’s predicament