We must empower the Directorate of public prosecution, making it a centre of excellence and attractive to lawyers with similar drive
By Odrek Rwabwogo
Hajji Issa Buyondo is an elder from the district of Lwengo. Along with Hajji Nyindo, they were among the first people in their area to welcome the National Resistance Army (NRA) forces advancing for a siege on Masaka barracks in September 1985.
Yoweri Museveni, then leader of the guerilla army, later camped in Lwengo sub-County to receive support of rifles and ammunition from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and to co-ordinate the assault on Masaka and the battle of Katonga.
A nephew of Buyondo, who attended our history, ideology and mentorship training sessions at Masaka secondary school and at Zebra Hotel, in June and late in December 2015, introduced Buyondo to me.
"Mukulu, olowooza Movement eno eneedayo okubeela obulungi, ngabweyaali mulubelyebelye?" [Loosely translated: ‘sir, do you think the Movement will ever return to its purity of the founding days?'] Buyondo asked me when we met recently at the Masaka Highway Hotel in Nyendo.
Taken aback by the question, I protested in Luganda: "This is why I teach; it is the reason, together with my colleagues, get to the younger generation to know what sacrifice your [Buyondo's] generation made to restore our country to the path of progress. I am optimistic we will get there" I shot back.
Mzee Buyondo answered with a sense of pessimism, "I lived under Amin and Obote governments. When soldiers become rich, they naturally forget their source of power, the people and where they came from initially. It is beginning to look similar with the Movement".
To remind the reader, anyone below the age of 40, which is more than 55% of Uganda's population, have reason to thank the Movement, even if one may be dissatisfied with the current trend of our politics and public service, for ending state criminality and the impunity of past armies. A soldier slapping you at a roadblock would receive a ‘thank you' hug because he could kill you, if he wanted but had chosen a slap instead!
Today, whenever I see civilians chasing a Police officer or arresting army men, bad as it is, I thank God for the sacrifice of the older generation, that made it possible to restore respect of the citizen as the source of power.
However, Hajji Buyondo, like many older supporters of the Movement who hold on to the hope of rejuvenation and are nostalgic about the old days of the Movement, was being circumspect that day.
What I believed was the underlying message he wanted to deliver, was that the cancer of corruption eating away at the core of the values of the Movement in both government and party, seems such a large enemy that we may not be able to defeat and, therefore, we run the risk of missing the moment of moral and political renewal so badly needed for our organisation to survive.
Buyondo was repeating a 200 years old message delivered in not too dissimilar words by an English man, William Cobbett (1763-1835), who was writing about stability taking shape in Europe at the end of 22 years of Napoleonic wars (1793-1815) and the attendant sense of forgetfulness by the ruling classes. Cobbett said, "I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach" meaning that the more settled leaders feel, the less and less they care about change and rejuvenation.
In a previous installment, we reminded the reader of the stern discipline of the NRA (an eye for an eye) that ended impunity of the colonial armies. In this, we did not mean martial law to apply on civilians, even though we know corruption actually ‘kills' people by diverting scarce resources that would build the necessary hospitals, roads and schools to individuals' gain.
We can, for example, deduce that the lack of looting of shops in Kampala and other towns after the January 26, 1986 takeover, something that Uganda had never seen with any change of government since 1971, was a result of this discipline honed in the bush by the NRA.
However, we know very well that in a free and democratic society, courts must function, investigations must be conducted, good prosecution must be made and evidence adduced and the corrupt must be tried and convicted in a transparent manner.
But, because there is a feeling of despondency about the fight against corruption today, with a number of people accused of diverting public resources not being fully and publicly punished, we are now raising a red flag about the future of the Movement.
This is why we return to our foundations to find out what helped the NRA and see if we can borrow a leaf for our times.
We would like to propose some measures that perhaps can restore public confidence in this process for people like Hajji Buyondo and his generation to begin to believe again that we can renew this machinery and guarantee the Movement more time in our country.
If one can defeat state criminality, they surely can defeat corruption in the public service.
First, we must start with the conversations we hold with our children at our dinner tables to build collective values that make us Ugandan. It should hurt us all that one person is taking away medicine meant for hospitals and he/she has built a large house where he entertains us for birthdays and weddings as some Ugandans like to do.
We must be infuriated into action by a civil servant who inflates a bill to get his cut; we should build collective anger to act as one in the interest of the values we uphold as a nation. Fighting corruption is akin to battling insecurity; battles cannot be made partisan.
All the arms of the state, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature must find common ground to reform the laws, empower the fighters and restrain themselves from playing politics with this unrelenting enemy. We got to decide what we call ‘values' as a people.
We cannot assume having several groups, religions, tribes, makes us one. An ‘anything passes' society is no nation at all. We got to find a core element that unites us and build around this strength.
In many Asian families, parents pass on the skill and business acumen from parents to children by practically demonstrating what they do and how they do it. Even traditional families in the subsistence sector used to do this. Children start at young age to work with their parents.
It is instead the Ugandan modern quasi middle class families that have changed this. This class suffers a crisis of identity because they are not where they used to be and are not sure whether they will get where they are going.
They are hungry to appear like the western middle class without understanding the basis of Western Europe class stratification and development. In the process, it does not matter to them what they destroy to get there.
In these African families, many children cannot immediately tell you what their parents do for a living yet they (parents) buy their children expensive gifts, hold regular parties for trifle things as birthdays, three, five year wedding anniversaries; they take their kids to expensive schools yet a casual look at their salaries, just leaves one wondering how the money they spend on all these items at ago, comes by.
Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of the nation of Singapore speaks to us well when he said that "the most effective change we made in 1960 was to allow courts to treat proof that an accused was living beyond his/her means or had income or property that they could not explain, as corroborating evidence of corruption".
Should we not, for example, be intrigued by a Ugandan public servant in designer suits that cost over $2,000 a piece, premium brand wrist watches costing $10,000 apiece, traveling first and business class planes that cost over $6,000 a ticket, living in upmarket places where homes cost over a million US dollars?
Should this not be a telltale sign that this person is helping himself/herself to our money? But we seem to work under some kind of mass psychology that disallows speaking out and tend to politicise everything. Many of us know the Runyakitara saying of "Kitandugaho" [literally meaning ‘I should not be the first to speak about that which is obvious to all of us].
Our laws should allow private citizens raising complaints publicly about individuals even if the common person may not have direct evidence.
The state should make this a basis for investigation. Not all investigations need to start with the Auditor General's findings. This is because some public servants clearly are known to the public to have amassed unexplained wealth. They dominate the money lending market but are ‘smart' at hiding and, besides, they appear untouchable. Why should young people not be upset with these fellows and cast their anger on everyone they wrongly associate with these people?
At worst a change of tactics in these five years, should create a bulwark of fear among the thieves in the public service that a shot can come from anywhere in the public, which by the way, many times know better than their government and at best, it can help open a new window into a way of using our public information act against corruption.
Secondly, we need to reposition all our anti-corruption agencies into one strong and powerful entity able to withstand pressure and generate the respect of our society.
Aside from stopping the whittling away of our limited resources into little fiefdoms pretending to fight corruption yet have neither the investigative capacity nor the will to fight, bringing these agencies together will stop the overlapping of roles.
Young graduates with shiny heads calling themselves investigators yet have no training in audit, accounting, have no modern technological tools to detect and apprehend the culprits, are simply job seekers and cannot tackle corruption. They are no match for the corrupt as the latter travel miles ahead of these kinds of investigators.
Small and weak institutions attempting to fight grand corruption cannot take on the cabal of entrenched interest of senior public servants in alliance with some politicians. Instead, they are intimidated and they cave in.
We must empower the Directorate of public prosecution, making it a centre of excellence and attractive to lawyers with similar drive, capabilities and motivation like those in the private sector. The state attorneys of the 1960s and 1970s had a certain level of respect and confidence with the public we do not seem to find today in the DPP's, AG's office and other legal levers of government yet we have a proliferation of young people in the legal profession.
The ability for example, by the office of the IGG to verify the truth or worthiness of declarations of politicians is doubtable. How do you tell that what one has declared is what it is and its value?
To do this successfully, the Inspectorate of Government requires capacity in modern capabilities, expand its funding base and strengthen cooperation with all government agencies from the registry of lands, business (instead of the current bickering among agencies of government) to banks in Uganda and outside to be able to trace hidden assets; assets sometimes put under relatives and friends names that nobody will ever know.
Thirdly, for the public to regain confidence that we can defeat corruption, we must work to end the current ‘judicial fatigue' with some cases that kick off with a lot of public interest but take so many years to conclude. If a case is not disposed of within a time frame, people forget and walk away to the next thing.
Why is it that in political cases such as election petitions, there is a designated time limit to close cases yet in matters of corruption that are even more important than politics, cases remain open ended? There are some defense lawyers who specialise in obstructions using technical legalities the common person does not easily understand; things like preliminary objections, challenging jurisdiction of some courts, requests for stay of proceedings or injunctions.
These things slow down the capacity of investigating agencies, especially in high profile cases yet the people being investigated are a million times richer than those who are investigating them. It is tempting our anti-corruption fighters to leave them this exposed to the thieves.
It is the same in several public procurement cases. Is it not possible for the law to be amended to allow judges to reject frivolous applications or for preliminary objections in corruption cases to be heard along with substantive issues or for rulings to be made immediately at the time of delivery of judgments and sentencing happens right away?
Grand corruption is holding Africa back and it generates petty corruption down the chain, which reduces productivity of firms. Whenever you see a bloated public service, it is a sign of an economy that is not creating jobs fast and, therefore, a lot of people survive on petty corruption such as taking some little money to push paper, if you are a secretary to a boss or a traffic officer to keep a closed eye to an offender who lacks road worthiness certificates.
And many times, the donor funded projects too are involved in corruption as a lot of what is called aid goes to their friends and cronies who set up ‘companies to benefit from this aid' to Uganda and Africa. Countries like Uganda have no robust abilities to check operating expenses of donor projects.
Ministries take as truth what the donors tell them and peddle numbers that are many times wrong. How do we explain the fact that from 1970-2008, according to the African Union's high level panel on illicit flows, over $850b has been lost yet we continue to seek for aid from Europe? We must stand together as institutions to end this shameful behaviour.
Next week, we will tackle the Movement and what drives its foreign relations/diplomacy.
The writer is an entrepreneur and farmer