Tuesday January 21 2014

Amend and implement Leadership Code Act

By Maureen Agaba

I strongly support the assertion of the Minister of Information and National Guidance, Ms Rose Namayanja, in her article last week where she rightly stated that 2014 should be the year to break the spine of the corruption monster.

The minister also enumerated the achievements which demonstrate that the government has registered victory in the fight against corruption, and this is where I beg to differ.

As evidence of the victory, she among others listed all the anti-corruption laws that are in place as well as key government institutions mandated to fight corruption.

One key question that urgently begs an answer is, if all this victory that she presents has been realised, are we then losing billions of shillings in corruption scandals deliberately?

Indeed the re-opening of the Anti-Corruption Court as also pushed for during Uganda Debt Network’s press conference to commemorate the International Anti-Corruption Day last year is very welcome, given the Court’s mandate in ensuring that corruption cases referred to it are quickly concluded.

By the time its operations were suspended last year, the Court was working on expediting prosecution of anti-corruption cases including the mismanagement of Global Funds and the case of former Prime Minister’s Office chief Accountant, Geoffrey Kazinda.

Nonetheless, it remains very disturbing that the incidence and levels of corruption in Uganda have continued to escalate to alarming proportions despite the existence of Uganda’s highly praised elaborate legal and institutional regime to fight corruption.

Several cases of grand/ political corruption remain fresh in the minds of Ugandans: 2012 Ghost Pensions scandal with loss of more than Shs100 billion; the OPM scam where more than Shs50 billion was misappropriated and taxpayers’ resources used to refund the donors; 2007 CHOGM saga; botched National ID project; ghost bicycles for Local Government officials, funds lost from State House stores, bribery of voters during electoral process, abuse of government vehicles and drivers, procurement and contract management issues, etc.

All these in spite of the NRM “Zero-Tolerance to corruption” policy that was in the NRM Manifesto of 2006, declared as part of the overall National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Even when the perpetrators have been cited, government seems to continually drag its feet in pursuance of self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats who are bent on fleecing Ugandans of their resources.

Such resources are often neither recovered nor the cases brought to their logical conclusion.
The net adverse effect is borne by taxpayers, with women being the main victims when they care for the sick in health units with no basic medical care, fetch dirty water and encounter several challenges.

Indeed, in 2013 Uganda’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score was 26 out of 100 and was 140th position out of 177 countries, a notable decline from 2012’s 130th position, indicating that citizens believe corruption has worsened.

Previous compilations of the index indicate scores ranging from 2.2 to 2.4 between 2002 and 2011 (on a previously used CPI scale of 1 - 10), demonstrating that public opinion perceives corruption to be widespread. It is no wonder that damning reports such as the 2013 Human Rights Watch report castigate the government for failure to demonstrate greater commitment to defeat corruption.
Similarly, cases of usurping the roles and powers of key anti-corruption agencies that the Minister mentions, and influencing key players in the fight against corruption have also been reported. Could there be an unwritten practice and strategies to fail the functional capacity of the State institutions for whatever reasons? Is there selective prosecution and convictions, aimed at letting go of especially some of the implicated senior politicians and public officials?

As part of demonstrating political will to break the spine of the corruption monster, the Leadership Tribunal should be expeditiously instituted and the Leadership Code Act be amended to explicitly provide for its application to presidential appointees, given that these are the cream of the country’s leadership and “Big Fish” from whom highest levels of integrity, prudent and accountable practice and behaviour are expected.

The Inspectorate of Government should make public the details of declarations of public officials so that the public can be able to report instances of under declaration or over declaration of leader’s assets. The “prescribed form” to release information to the public should be provided for, to ensure broad public access to asset declaration records of the leaders.

The enactment of the Anti-corruption Bill is long overdue and should be expedited given that the impunity of the corrupt also could drive other potentially good public servants into corruption.

Ms Agaba works with Uganda Debt Network. magaba@udn.or.ug