Friday,August 14,2020 15:27 PM

Corruption:Are public offices gold mines?

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd October 2002 03:00 AM

It was an oversight. A blunder. A fault. An error. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) staff are at pains to explain how they have amassed wealth in a short while to construct huge bungalows, maisonettes and mansions worth millions of shillings.

It was an oversight. A blunder. A fault. An error. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) staff are at pains to explain how they have amassed wealth in a short while to construct huge bungalows, maisonettes and mansions worth millions of shillings.

By Patrick Luganda

It was an oversight. A blunder. A fault. An error. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) staff are at pains to explain how they have amassed wealth in a short while to construct huge bungalows, maisonettes and mansions worth millions of shillings.

The trouble is that many of the officers have short memories.
They have either forgotten the existence of the magnificent assets or have completely forgotten the amounts they spent in putting them up. In unison they state: ‘It was an oversight.’

The Commission of Inquiry, into corruption in the eleven-year-old tax URA, headed by Justice Julia Sebutinde has driven many into hiding. Jittery officials who made declarations of their earthly possession earlier in the year expressed ignorance of the value and at times existence of their assets.

Justus Rugyengye, a senior messenger who earns sh800, 000 a month forgot to declare a large storied house located on Plot 23 Babukika road in Kabale town valued at over sh100m.

Nicholas Owacgiu, a junior revenue assistant in Pakwach, earning sh450,000 a month has a commercial building in Paidha town worth more than sh150m, which he said, was worth sh15 million.

George Twinomujuni, a principal revenue officer in the Domestic Direct taxes who earns a salary of sh1.7m has a Rest Bar and restaurant and four bungalow housing estate at Namasuba off the Kampala- Entebbe highway worth sh500m. In April he declared the property to be worth sh15m. Later he revised it to sh55m.

“You grossly under-declared your property. Our valuers have put it at sh500m. What do you say?” quizzed Justice Sebutinde.

“I have no comment my Lord. It was an oversight. I am sorry,” said the unblinking Twinomujuni.

The revelations so far are just the tip of the cancer that has eaten into the national tax body. So far it is just a handful of officers that are under investigation. A lot more may be unearthed as the queries continue.

Jotham Tumwesigye, the Inspector General of Government, says his office will conduct independent investigations to verify the commission findings.

“If the officers are found to have under-declared their wealth they will be dismissed from their jobs and the property confiscated in line with the leadership code,” says Tumwesigye.

The punitive action against the officers will be carried out by the IGG. “I do not know what the revenue authority is planning to do with the officials but we are going to carry out our investigations because we do not depend on what other people have discovered,” says Tumwesigye.

The failure to explain the manner in which the wealth was accumulated cuts across all levels of employment. The story has repeated itself down from messengers through to managerial levels in all sectors of the public service. The fight against corruption could not have intensified at a better time. This is anti corruption week.

In a paper titled ‘Public Declaration of Wealth,’ presented to the International Anti Corruption Conference, the IGG concedes that the fight against corruption is a tough undertaking.

“Leadership codes or other codes of ethics implementing agencies, have to be very effective in enforcing the codes they are required to enforce. This is the challenge we are facing in Uganda as we are just beginning to enforce the Leadership Code. It is a difficult task with our limited financial resources but we are determined to do the best we can with the limited facilities that we have.

Otherwise public declarations of wealth can be an effective weapon for fighting corruption,” said Tumwesigye.

Zie Gariyo, co-ordinator of the Uganda Debt Network, says that due to the limitation in officials to investigate corruption cases, members of the public should be educated to become partners in the war against corruption.

“The public knows who is purchasing which building or property. They should be educated to know that they can raise a query with the IGG and that a public officer can be investigated,” said Gariyo.

Gariyo says that the leadership code was translated into local languages and will be printed in small booklets for country-wide distribution so that people can actively participate in fighting corruption.

The Anti Corruption Coalition of Uganda estimates that about sh213 billion is lost annually. The figure is above the sh200 billion estimated by the Uganda Debt Network in 2000. Addressing a press briefing last week, the coalition said the estimate is based on reports from the IGG and the Auditor General’s office.

“The perpetrators of corruption are the public officers who embezzle, divert and misuse public resources. Some of the resources embezzled are also the borrowed money and grants given by donors for poverty eradication programmes,” said Sulaiman Madada, MP for Baale county and chairman of the International Anti Corruption Theatre Movement.

Baroness Lynda Chalker former British Minister for International Development delivering a keynote address at the Joseph Mubiru memorial lecture proposed that the public should have access to the financial register of all the wealth owned by their leaders. She calls for the creation of registers of financial interests of public figures, which should be frequently updated.

“No one should be exempt from this process and there will also need to be a clearly defined system of policing this policy by an independent commission of lawyers from outside the political and public ranks,” said Chalker.

The Minister of Ethics and Integrity says that what Chalker is saying was exhaustively debated in parliament and a middle position was agreed upon.

“We said Uganda does not have tight security to protect other people’s wealth...if people make bank accounts public, them someone out there may kidnap a child and bring this ransom,” said Matembe.

In Baroness Chalker’s submission she argues that the current register as used by the Inspector General of Government is not yet up to standard because it was a restrictive register that does not encompass everybody and as such could not help to eliminate corruption.

Chalker said that rampant corruption in the public sector was frustrating foreign direct investment. For Chalker’s proposal to work the leadership code would have to be amended. In its present format the declaration of wealth made by the leaders to the IGG is only accessible to the public on application.

Ken Lukyamuzi, MP Rubaga South says that the revelations by the Commission shows that the Leadership code may not work.
“Let all the leaders who have declared their wealth be subjected to detailed scrutiny like is being done with the URA. If the smaller people in URA can afford to under declare wealth to such magnitude what about the bigger officers in the tax body and in government,” said Lukyamuzi.

Fear is gripping thousands of officers in positions of leadership who have recently submitted their
declaration of wealth forms.

“I have nothing to fear because I declared all that I have. I do not have much after all and I am always struggling to raise fees for my children,” said a district departmental head who refused to be named.

However, hundreds of officers in various districts and in the central government have more than enough to declare. Many of them have property worth several times the income they have drawn since they entered the public service.

Bringing the corrupt to book is a tall order. With thousands of cases to handle, the investigators in the IGG’s office would just not be able to handle the situation. The building of a strong civil society appears a reasonable alternative.

Matembe, who supports the strengthening of the civil society organisations in the country to fight corruption, said government would help to build a strong civil society to hold it accountable.

Should the net be extended to bring in the civil society to scrutinise all the leaders, several jobs will go up in smoke.

Corruption:Are public offices gold mines?

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author