The public deprived of services because of a few greedy individuals are understandably gleeful.
By Patrick Bitature
There has been a flurry of activity surrounding corruption in recent weeks, with a few public officials caught red handed taking bribes.
The public deprived of services because of a few greedy individuals are understandably gleeful. However, there are also those who are a bit sceptical, wondering whether this campaign will last or will peter out along the way.
It is heartening to see that President Yoweri Museveni has put his full weight behind the latest attempt and provides a positive signal to all parties concerned. He should be supported by every well-meaning Ugandan so that this drive does not fizzle out in a few weeks.
I am optimistic about this anti-corruption drive, because rolling back the endemic that corruption has become is one of the first steps we need to take towards attaining middle income status as a nation and for any other meaningful development we hope to see in the future.
We see it in our daily lives.
Beyond the morality of not taking what is not yours, corruption has wide reaching negative effects not only for the economy but for our individual advancement.
At the most basic level, corruption concentrates resources in a few hands. A billion shillings stolen from the state coffers or extorted from an investor is money that would have built several classroom blocks or treated patients at public hospitals or graded a few roads. It would have not only improved the standard of living of hundreds or even thousands of Ugandans but would also give them a chance to climb up the social ladder by providing a better education or underwrote a healthier life or created access to markets for goods and services.
Secondly the corrupt in an attempt to launder their money buy assets such as land and buildings or go into business. That would not be a bad thing and may even be beneficial to the economy through increased economic activity, job creation and maybe even increased tax collection. But because the corrupt do not have to factor in the cost of money in their business plans, they distort the market for everyone, squeezing the genuine businessmen out and often times damaging the market irreparably as they also collapse for lack of business acumen.
But corruption has an even deadlier impact on society. If it thrives, it provides the wrong incentives to the young and impressionable. It destroys the argument for hard and diligent work as the way to achieve wealth that is durable and sustainable. Why slog hours at a desk, spend years climbing up the corporate ladder or even take the risks and work tirelessly to build a durable business?
Our youth are being seduced by the fast life attained even faster, realising too late that the old fashioned virtues of honesty, thrift and good reputation are what one should aim for rather than making a quick buck.
This last point is particularly worrying. Because if we do not reconfigure our society’s incentives, corruption far from being the new normal will be the only way to do anything, making our economy unattractive to investors and development partners – local or foreign dooming our nation to mediocrity and hopelessness for years to come
A few years ago, it was estimated that up to sh500b annually goes missing from state coffers. This figure has probably grown since it was first mooted, but for an economy like ours that is a lot of money and missed opportunity to uplift the living standards of thousands of Ugandans.
According to next financial year’s Budget Framework Paper, the Government has earmarked just over sh100b for maintenance of roads around the country. If a road is tarmarced or even just graded and made all weather, it unlocks the economic potential of whole areas. The farmers can produce more because the trucks can get closer to their fields, the transporters save money in wear and tear costs from driving on smoother roads, the end consumer gets goods at better prices because of increased competition from numerous suppliers.
It would not be a stretch to say that for every shilling used on roads, a few more shillings in additional economic activity for an area’s population is the result.
But when a handful of people eat this money, the net effect is minimal for the society at large – they may buy houses, distribute some charity but are most likely than not going to book a holiday abroad.
That the fight against corruption is critical and urgent cannot be overstated. The benefits of a reduction in corruption will be immediate and far reaching. This anti-corruption drive must succeed.
The writer is the chairman of the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda