Kampala- The domestic chief spymaster has warned that pervasive graft involving bureaucrats coupled with deteriorating public services are a security risk, and could take down President Museveni’s government.
“Corruption can lead to loss of legitimacy and trust in government,” noted Brig Ronnie Balya, the director general of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), adding: “Because of corruption, disenchanted citizens can resort to mass demonstrations, violence and mob justice [and] in some countries; governments have collapsed because of this.”
He made the comments in a presentation to last month’s Cabinet retreat, and the details, which until now remained secret, are believed to have prompted the Executive to authorise the domestic spy agency to lead the anti-corruption fight.
Brig Balya added: “[The] failure to provide, monitor and evaluate service delivery, could result in undesirable situations; including political dissent, rebellion, demonstrations, attempting violent regime change/coups or any form of instability.”
A senior Makerere University lecturer, however, disagreed.
“Corruption has been instrumentalised as a tool for power consolidation,” said Mr Ndebesa Mwambutsya who teaches history.
Although pilfering of public resources by some government officials is not new, with Uganda ranked 139 out of 168 countries in last year’s Transparency International corruption perception index, this is the first time a serving topmost spymaster strings the government’s survival to its ability to rein in graft.
Brig Balya, in his capacity as ISO chief, also chairs the Joint Intelligence Committee and serves as the secretary to the National Security Council.
He warned that if corruption is not tackled urgently, it could shut down the government and state organs, making the government in power “irrelevant to general population”. If this happens, he said, “It would be a recipe for insecurity in all forms.”
This newspaper has seen a 50-page brief to Cabinet in which the one-star general highlights weaknesses in the fight against corruption and provided crucial leads on how corruption, a national threat, undermines service delivery, hence facilitating what he called, “political and economic sabotage of government programmes”.
Where trust in public institutions is poor, ISO boss explained that, peoples’ ability and willingness to engage in gainful activity also reduces. This, according to him, becomes a recipe for poor segments of society to sink further into poverty since they are highly dependent on services provided by government.
There are no up-to-date figures on the amount of resources that government officials spirit away, but the World Bank estimated in 2005 that the country loses $300 million (about Shs1 trillion at current conversion rate) annually.
Unchecked corruption, Brig noted in the July 2016 presentation, can “lead to insecurity and uncertainty and undermine democratic and development gains of a regime in power.”
Uganda has a plethora of anti-graft agencies such as the police, the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA), a Drug Monitoring Unit at State House and the Ethics ministry. In spite of sporadic prosecutions and convictions, corruption continues to thrive, offering the opposition bullets to sting the government.
Opposition chief whip Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda implored state actors to take Brig Balya’s warning seriously because “the government collapsed long time ago but citizens are ruled [at] gun point and kibooko (lashes).”
Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the government spokesman, in comment on the spymaster’s analysis yesterday said: “As [the] government, we acknowledge the need to fight corruption in order to improve service delivery. When intelligence uncovers the schemes and good clues are got then, prosecution and any other sanctions are easy.”
IGG spokesperson Ali Munira however, said: “We recognise that corruption is still a big problem and we are building capacity of our investigators to be able to deal with syndicate corruption in ministries.”
Brig Balya had warned that corruption leads to elite capture (where the technocrats and connected individuals turn institutions, opportunities and resources to their private advantage) and on the other hand, patronage and clientelism are both cause and consequence of corruption.
He explained that clientelism entails a situation where a small but highly organised group controls power and uses its influence to benefit from public resources at the cost of the would-be beneficiaries.