Sunday December 9 2012

Uganda versus Kenya: Who is winner of the East African corruption cup?

By Harold E. Acemah

The lead story of our sister newspaper, Sunday Nation of November 25, The return of Pattni, and the lead story of the Sunday Monitor’s Thoughts & Ideas section, Corruption scandals: Is Museveni digging a political grave for NRM?, caught my eye; both were on a subject which has dominated the news in both countries for much of this year.

Corruption in Uganda and Kenya has now reached such horrendous and outrageous proportions that many civil society organisations (CSOs) have argued that corruption should now be classified as a crime against humanity. Some Ugandans have even equated corruption with terrorism. Many Ugandans have also argued that instead of using the word corruption, we should call this odious crime stealing or theaving. I beg to differ and would contend that corruption is, in fact, a better and more comprehensive word than either stealing or thieving.

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word corruption means: 1(U) dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially of people in authority; 2(U) the act or effect of making somebody change from moral to immoral standards of behaviour.

Kamlesh Pattni is the disgraced billionaire who stole Kshs100 billion (about Shs3.1 trillion) in the early 1990s in the Goldenberg scandal - one of the worst corruption scandals to hit sub-Saharan Africa in the post- colonial era. Pattni is in the news again for the wrong reasons.

This time he claims that his World Duty Free Company was granted exclusive rights in 1991 to shops in all airports built by the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA); Pattni’s claim was challenged in court, but on November 8, 2012 to KAA’s dismay, court upheld Pattni’s claim. It appears that Justice Joseph Mutava may have been compromised by the billionaire businessman. The judge is now under investigation by the Kenya Judicial Service Commission over allegations of impartiality in his rulings on cases involving Pattni’s companies. It all sounds quite familiar, except for the staggering amounts of money involved which puts Kenya ahead of Uganda.

One of the many shocking revelations to come out of the Goldenberg scandal was that former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi was paid a $2 million bribe by a businessman, Nassir Ali! On November 25, Sunday Monitor published a long article by Yasin Mugerwa on the corruption scandals at the OPM and the Pensions Department of the Ministry of Public Service, which has led to the interdiction of several senior government officials such as, former Permanent Secretary Jimmy Lwamafa, former Commissioner for Pensions Kunsa Kiwanuka and former Principal Accountant at the OPM, Mr Geoffrey Kazinda.

The ongoing proceedings at the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on the above scandals have unveiled numerous unbelievable tales of graft, greed and impunity on an unprecedented scale. What is equally shocking is the attempt by the shameless ruling clique to feign ignorance and innocence against overwhelming evidence to the contrary from the public officials MPs have so far interrogated.

Corruption in both Kenya and Uganda has become endemic, systemic, rampant and too much to bear. The social and economic consequences on civil society are mind- boggling. The breakdown in the health sector, the poor quality of public education and the glaring lack of social services for the wananchi are attributable to the humongous corruption in government. Is this the matunda ya uhuru which the wananchi were promised in the 1960s?

Pattni has metamorphosed in recent years from a Hindu to a Christian and chosen the name Paul! In addition, he is now a self-professed pastor and televangelist. I have resisted the temptation to judge my brother-in-Christ, Paul Kamlesh Pattni, and will, therefore, give him the benefit of the doubt. Pattni’s Ugandan counterparts have, to the best of my knowledge not yet seen the light. I hope they will soon see the light, repent and return with interest the billions of taxpayers’ funds they have looted with impunity since early 1990s.

In both countries corruption is flourishing because the political will required to fight and eradicate the vice is lacking; hence the initiative taken by CSOs to deal with this scourge is most welcome. I believe that through collective action by concerned citizens, all politicians and public officials implicated in corruption must be exposed, isolated and eventually brought to justice. What is happening in Uganda today is a total disgrace to the image of our country and the sooner the wananchi stop this daylight robbery by a tiny, but avaricious minority, the better.

A Ghanaian friend has argued that what Uganda needs is a dose of the JJ Rawlings formula to save the country from state collapse. Ghana is today an African role model in democracy and good governance because of what Rawlings did in 1980, which effectively cleansed and sanitised politics in that West African country. I hope Ugandans and Kenyans will not be forced to take such drastic measures, as a last resort, to save our countries from falling apart. May the Lord have mercy.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.