Yes, there are many other Kategayas in government
Posted Sunday, March 10 2013 at 02:00
Politicians are loud, are always in your face, but the real thieves are the quiet civil servants who handle the money and use the ministers’ names to commit their thefts with impunity.
Last Sunday, many people who went for Mass in Catholic churches were surprised that the main celebrant avoided sitting on the usual chair in the middle at the altar. The priests explained in whichever language they were addressing the congregations all over the world that they could not sit on it because it was vacant – there is currently no successor to Saint Peter, the one who gives them authority to sit on it – until a new pope takes over.
The same weekend, a somewhat similar sense of emptiness to that in the Catholic churches gripped many Ugandans following the death of Eriya Kategaya, RO 002, Brigadier (honorary) and First Deputy Prime Minister. Dozens I spoke to on phone and via social media that Saturday evening all agreed to a man, that Uganda had lost an honourable man. Another thing they all said was that Kategaya never stole any public funds.
That indeed is a sad commentary of our country’s affairs. Continually referring to Kategaya as “the high ranking official who never stole” implies that whoever climbs to high office must use it to steal. Yet this is not true. Kategaya’s not becoming a thief was a matter of personal choice, not that he had a secret vaccine that immunised him against catching the corruption bug. Corruption is not an air-borne epidemic in the corridors of all Uganda Government offices that whoever enters there automatically gets infected and any public servant can choose not to be infected.
The lesson public servants can pick from Kategaya’s long career is that avoiding corruption does not stop one from rising to high levels of public service. Two misconceptions need to be disposed of. The first is that his long-term closeness to President Museveni was behind his elevation to high office. Well, that was a factor but then Kategaya was not the only acquaintance Museveni had. The reason he kept appointing him must have been that he was also effective. The second misconception is over his dropping out of NRM and subsequent return – which many described as going back on his word.
In the first place, Kategaya never resigned, he criticised his boss loyally and was thrown out. I am the person who interviewed him, wrote, edited and published his criticism which sparked the public fallout between the two men. We, who were never party to the private negotiations between the two men can only speculate on why exactly he agreed to go back. But it is worth noting that on return, he did not start promoting the unlimited terms policy, he just went to work on regional integration, a job that he was competent at. It was interesting to see in the past week some people who between 2003 and 2006 became experts at abusing Kategaya, even calling his refusal to steal public funds “laziness” now mourn him so loudly, hopefully genuinely.
Fighting corruption should be comprehensive. If Kategaya lived and rose to greatness without being corrupt, it follows that everybody can avoid or be cured of the disease, for Kategaya was not super-human. Civil society, media must focus beyond government leaders, who only ‘eat’ a tiny fraction of the stolen public funds, with 99 per cent going to corrupt civil servants. Politicians are loud, are always in your face, but the real thieves are the quiet civil servants who handle the money and use the ministers’ names to commit their thefts with impunity.
In fact, the politicians who ‘eat’ biggest could be opposition MPs on oversight committees who squeeze investors and criminals at night. But one needs evidence before accusing them. Yet everyone accuses ministers without first getting evidence! We spend too much energy attacking government leaders when the real thieves are those quiet civil servants – none of the pension robbers is even remotely connected to NRM – yet this is the largest heist since Chogm.
Although Kategaya was known to be clean, he was not the only one. Many political leaders are clean, but given the nature of their job, have enemies and attract unsubstantiated allegations. So there is no void. Unlike the papal throne at the Vatican and the empty chair in Catholic churches today, Kategaya’s departure does not mean there are no clean people left in government. The problem is that the real villains have eluded public attention, and attention is wastefully focused on smaller targets.