Why RDCs can fight corruption

Women activists protest the rampant corruption in the country. Courtesy PHOTO

What you need to know:

If RDCs can be fully supported to diligently perform this role of continuous and routine monitoring/supervision as given to him/her by the Constitution, budget outputs would be getting realised at every point of expenditure and any attempts of fraud would be detected instantly - Presidency Minister.

Many Ugandans spend a lot of time discussing and lamenting how corruption is wide-spread in our society but pay little or no attention to discussing feasible and realistic approaches to fighting it.

I find this very ironical and hypocritical at the same time. The debates on corruption are quite often politicised and this denies the anti-corruption struggle valuable and genuine ideas that are bias free on how to push it forward. Corruption is just as a moral vice as homosexuality is. It has no religion, tribe or political party. A person is corrupt as a person. There is nothing like collective guilt, integrity or moral uprightness. It’s to an individual.

Therefore, when we only lament about the corruption levels in our society, talk and write so much poetry about it and only engage in the political ping pong of blame gaming for selfish political advantage and scheming against each other without supporting authorised actors to do their statutory oversight and watch dog roles, we don’t only miss the point but in a way also promote corruption. In my view, we can fight corruption by prevention, especially in the public sector where tax payers money get expended to finance public goods.

We can for sure agree as leaders (irrespective of whatever political colours we put on), that corruption can be decisively fought before it occurs through increased oversight over those we task to spend government money. The culture of asking for results from any body, junior or senior in government at every level, if cultivated will help fight the stealing of public funds with impunity and guarantee accountability. Call it value for money if you like.

The bigger debate, therefore, should concentrate on how we can scientifically follow and monitor the utilisation of public funds up to the last unit of public administration. The government officers authorised to carry out these inspections and supervisory work should be supported. And from the Presidency, we believe that the institution of Resident District Commissioners can be one such serious actors to fight corruption before it takes place, if we all can support them and not interfere with their efforts.

Recently, President Museveni used his power as provided for under Article 203 (c) of the Constitution to assign more other work to the RDCs to write directive across all government agencies, emphasising the need to use and involve RDCs in the supervision of government programmes.

Museveni directive
In particular, he directed that no project of government should be commenced or handed over without the RDC’s office witnessing the launch or handover. That, therefore, requires Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) to cooperate with RDCs to implement this directive.

Indeed, if all projects and programmes of government can be officially launched and explained to the beneficiaries both at the start and end of works, accountability will be achieved. If all the budget money (including the off budget projects that normally come from donors) can be followed and assessed based on the stated outputs in real time, as implementation of the planned activities goes on, then leakages and diversions can be significantly curtailed. And this will be the real and good preventive strategy to fight corruption.

While the other anti-graft agencies like IGG, CID, Auditor General, among others, have had their capacities built over the years with good amount of independence in their operations, most if not all of them, come in at the end of the expenditure cycle. They come in to do more or less post-mortem. They only fight corruption by punishing the culprits so as to create a deterrent environment.

The challenge, however, has been recovery of the stolen funds, not to mention the cumbersome court prosecutions that often get troubled by tampered with evidence. Those who steal public funds first scheme how to do it smartly and thus pinning them after is never a simple task. And thus the need to invest more efforts in prevention.

This is, however, not to say that our anti-corruption agencies aren’t doing much but only to acknowledge those shortcomings and think of how to address them. In addition to auditing and investigations, strict and real time supervision of government expenditures by measuring them against stated outputs in the budget statements, will do a lot in the anti -orruption struggle.

It is for these reasons that the Presidency has embarked on strengthening the office of RDCs in the districts to make sure that they increase their vigilance in the monitoring and supervision of government projects.

The law, therefore, mandates them to do that routine supervisory work on behalf of the central government. The reason why the Constitution makers deemed it fit to make these commissioners resident full time in the district was to ensure that the central government which is at a distance from the districts, gets an agent to monitor and oversee the funds it releases and how they get spent.

I am, therefore, convinced beyond reasonable doubt, that indeed if these RDCs can be fully supported to diligently perform this role of continuous and routine monitoring/supervision as given to him/her by the Constitution, budget outputs would be getting realised at every point of expenditure and any attempts of fraud would be detected instantly. Even the work of the IGG, Auditor General, CID and others would be facilitated better, if the laws establishing their institutions were recognising the constitutional role of the RDCs.

Currently, there is no formal collaborative link. A complaint or report about fraud from the RDC to the IGG, Auditor General or police CID is treated like any other complaint of a whistleblower yet this is from an officer of government mandated by the Constitution. The Presidency, however, through its department of Ethics and Integrity is trying to coordinate with these independent anti-corruption agencies to see how they can act swiftly on corruption cases reported on by RDCs and also put in place intersectoral collaboration frame works.

On the other hand, however, my office continues to receive correspondences from some district political leaders (LC5s and councillors) either demanding immediate transfer of the RDCs in their districts or even stating expressly that they have resolved in their district councils to chase the RDC(s) and/or deny them rights to attend the district council meetings. I find this practice not only irregular but illegal, and would like to call upon all district leaders to support the RDCs in their work and also appreciate the Constitutional and other general legal mandate of the office of the RDC.

Their intensified oversight and supervisory efforts, however, could be not going well with some leaders and thus the agitation for their transfer or sacking.

For the last two years, the Office of the President has embarked on the exercise of retooling and orienting RDCs so as to properly understand their roles and thus enable them to stick to their brief. The latest activity was the March 2014 Kyankwanzi retreat. As a result, most if not all RDCs, now fully understand their roles.

By and large, our office is pleased with their current performances and especially in regard to their increased vigilance in monitoring and supervision of implementation of government programes.

There are some RDCs, however, that also over step their roles and engage in activities beyond their mandate. My office will continue to take strong disciplinary measures against them.

I wish, therefore, to advise any one that may have any complaint(s) against the work or conduct of an RDC, to always bring it to my office. We have a department responsible for RDC coordination and supervision in the office of the President. Such complaints will be attended to expeditiously and action will be taken depending on the findings.

The author is the minister for the Presidency and Kampala City