Recent scandals at the Office of the Prime Minister and Public Service have put the ruling party in the spotlight, even with President Museveni advocating for zero-tolerance to corruption. Suspects are still under investigation, with a single convict yet to be sentenced.
However, the individuals under investigation are still innocent until proven guilty. But this does not erase the fact that billions of money were siphoned to private accounts.
But before we delve into the first cases of corruption investigate under the NRM government, it is import to note that the same vice in Uganda is as old as the country.
In 1900, the British Commissioner to Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston, bribed Apollo Kagwa with 100 cows to sign the famous March 10, 1900 Uganda agreement. In his book: Uganda Protectorate Vol I, Johnston said: “I had promised to give Regent Kagwa 100 cattle if he appended his signature on the agreement.”
It was partly this bribe that later led Kagwa to resign in 1926. The Musale newspaper of April 1932 also wrote of how Kagwa was bribed to append his signature on the agreement, though he was reluctant. The discussions which led to the signing of the agreement had stalled for three months.
Thus the moral decadency has been growing since 1900.
Enter the NRM
When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came into power, the situation was not any better. In fact, in 1986, NRM found corruption and abuse of office at its highest. About one month in power, the government faced the first saga involving a civil servant.
On February 24, 1986, the General Manager of the now defunct Uganda Airline, Dr Ben Ochola Latigo, ordered the recall of a plane which had been airborne more than 30 minutes back to the ground. The plane was destined for Dubai in the United Emirates when it was recalled back to Entebbe airport. The scandal was widely covered by local and international media.
Dr Latigo ordered the recall of flight No: QU 172 which had left him as he was on his way from Kampala to Karachi. Pakistan. He arrived at Entebbe airport more than 30 minutes after the plane had left. Some airport and Uganda airlines workers told the press.
His action attracted bitter criticism from the government as well as the public. In an attempt to do damage control, he issued a press release in which he defended his action. In the press release he said that he ordered the recall because he had the powers to do so, besides, him and other senior officials were destined to Pakistan for an official negotiation with the Pakistan International Airlines which were to lease two B707 engines to the Uganda Airlines.
The plane was said to have had more than 20 passengers, but the Airlines spokesperson said that there were only seven passengers, and five crew members.
Popular pressure to have Dr Latigo arrested flared and he was arrested on the Uganda-Kenya border as he attempted to enter Kenya. On March 7, 1986, he was produced before court in Kampala. He was represented by Advocate Henry Kayondo and was granted a court bail of Shs300,000 cash. Although he later won the case, the government instituted a commission of inquiry into the mismanagement of the Uganda Airlines which was the first ever by the NRM government to check corruption in Uganda.
The commission discovered that Latigo owned TEKDEL INTERNATIONAL LTD which hired two Mercedes-Benz Cars number UWW 555 and UWY 762 to Uganda Airlines at Shs95,000 per day. As such, the Airlines owed him millions of money the commission heard. Latigo was appointed manager in December 1985 by the military junta under Tito Okello Lutwa. He replaced Colonel Wilson Gadi Toko who was the vice chairman of the military council.
While Latigo’s scandal was the first recorded under the NRM, it was not the biggest corruption saga in which millions of public money was swindled in the earliest days of the regime. The biggest theft scandal was discovered in July 1987 when Nathan Bisamunyu, the General manager of the Uganda Industrial Machinery Ltd (UIM) connived with and his acting chief accountant, Joseph Watson Wasswa, and siphoned Shs760 million from the parastatal. The Criminal Investigations Department (CID now CIID) swung into action and the two were apprehended by police in Kampala, recorded a criminal case No: 1150/87 against the two.
The case was later politicised as it dragged on. The Inspector General of Government, Mr Augustine Ruzindana, instituted an investigation which discovered overwhelming evidence. Meanwhile, the two were out on court bail as the case dragged on. Because Bisamunyu was from a prominent family in Kabale, there were allegations that he was being protected by NRM stalwarts and minister from the region.
On September 11, 1989, police detective Okot Safarino who was in charge of investigations wrote to the minister of Justice and Attorney general, Prof. George Kanyeihamba, expressing dissatisfaction about irregularities in the case. The letter leaked to the press. In the same month, Peter Kabatsi, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) withdraw the case against the accused.