Minister’s response to graft report misleading
Posted Friday, November 1 2013 at 02:00
When Human Rights Watch released its report “Letting the Big Fish Swim”, it was largely criticised for being non-revelatory and only documenting what the general public has come to know about corruption in Uganda. Speaking on KFM premium talk show, The Hot Seat, on October 21, panelist Angelo Izama described the report as a collection of newspaper reports over the years.
In the immediate aftermath of the report launch, the Rev Fr Simon Lokodo. the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, and the director of Ethics Mr Lapenga led the government response to the report, restating government’s ‘unwavering’ commitment to the fight against graft. While they disagreed with the report, they were respectful.
I thus find the belated response to the HRW report in the form of a newspaper article by Ms Rose Namayanja, the Minister for Information and National Guidance, rather unnecessarily abrasive, dismissive and deliberately misleading.
In her article, “Human Rights Watch report on graft a sham” (October 29), the minister calls the report “myopic” and “intended to undermine the confidence of Ugandans and development partners in the government’s fight against graft.”
So consumed in her salvo of the HRW report, the minister unintentionally implied that the Auditor General Office was incompetent and unable to detect the massive theft in the Office of the Prime Minister. She boldly asserts that the rot in the OPM was only unearthed by a ‘whistleblower’ and took a presidential order for a special audit to be commissioned.
While I find the minister’s approach typical, I do think it is unhelpful in the broader anti-graft efforts. In fact, the manner of the response reaffirms our worst fears – that those in power see nothing wrong with the obtaining situation. They, like the minister, can go on to lie in the light of day about our country’s anti-graft efforts.
Let us look at the facts starting with the OPM scandal. The President did not order a special investigation; rather the request for the same came from the PS to the Treasury, PS Office of the Prime Minister, the director CIID and development partners. The Special Investigation Report from the Auditor General dated October 19, 2012 attests to this fact.
I suppose the tendency to associate everything good to the President and all wrong to other people drove the minister in her article to refer to the President as having requested for the special audit.
Ms Namayanja also claims that the Auditor General, in his routine annual audit report, gave the OPM a clean sheet and it was only a whistleblower that lifted the lead on this scandal. This again is false. For the FY ending June 2011, the audit process of the OPM was not complete and was not part of the annual report to Parliament.
The Auditor General did not, therefore, give a clean sheet to the OPM for the year in question. The reason for the failure to audit the OPM was ‘due to absence of records’ (Page 1 of the Special Investigation Report).
The deliberate failure to provide value for money vouchers to the Auditor General during the audit period forced the Auditor General to write two letters to OPM on the right of the Auditor General to access information for the purpose of the audit exercise. Instead of providing the required information, the OPM PS turned himself a whistleblower for offences happening under his nose, and which could have easily been detected in an audit process.
Lastly, the minister parades the numerous anti-corruption agencies, as evidence of the political will to fight corruption. To her, these agencies, no matter their government-induced incapacities, is evidence of a commitment to rid the country of grand and petty theft of public resources.
This obsession with institutions and laws as the panacea to the graft that has engulfed our country is misleading. Yearly reports from the Office of the IGG, Auditor General and other anti-graft agencies indicate a plethora of complaints about resources, failure to institute the Leadership Tribunal to enforce asset declaration and limited number of personnel to handle investigations.
If there is political will to fight theft of public resources, why has the government not instituted the Leadership Tribunal to enforce the declaration of public assets? Why would the government harass, arrest and arraign in court anti-graft crusaders such as the Black Monday activists for simply handling out leaflets decrying corruption?
Madam Minister, it is those who seem to think all is normal and well who are against the mothers dying in hospital at birth because of lack of basic medical facilities; or children studying in deplorable and deprived schools. It is those who make false asset declaration and do not want to establish a Leadership Tribunal to prosecute them. It is not those who are doing all they can to expose the inadequacies in our effort to fight theft of public resources.
Mr Opiyo is a civil liberties lawyer. email@example.com