President Museveni has taken a leap of faith by deploying the military to fight reported graft in Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and restore foreign investors’ confidence.
Gen David Muhoozi, the Chief of Defence Forces, will according to a source, this or next week name the team which will report to the President through State Investment and Privatisation minister Evelyn Anite.
This newspaper understands that Mr Museveni last Friday instructed Ms Anite to set up a customised anti-corruption office at UIA headquarters on Lumumba Avenue in Kampala and a toll-free line to enable investors and members of the public report corruption cases to UPDF.
The soldiers, according to Ms Anite, will also handle complaints about delays in approving investment projects.
At a news conference on Monday, the minister announced telephone number 0800100770 as the “Anti-Corruption Hotline” for reporting the cases to soldiers.
She told journalists that the President also instructed her to work with Attorney General, Mr William Byaruhanga, to ensure that those caught soliciting bribes don’t get bail. The minister didn’t explain how the president intends to deny suspects bail yet it’s a constitutional right.
“Corrupt civil servants were asking investors to give them bribes including, shares of up to 10 per cent in their companies before approving projects. This is going to stop,” Ms Anite said, adding: “The president has instructed me to work with the UPDF and bring the culprits to book. Under the new arrangement, investors will report demands for bribes and any form of delays to the military and those arrested will not be given bail.”
President Museveni first fronted the proposal of blanket bail denial to suspects at the height of the Walk-to-Work protests in 2011, claiming that the demonstrators were “economic saboteurs”.
The idea, opposed by a cross-section of citizens, however, immediately ran into a legal conundrum because the Constitution gives courts discretion to grant or deny bail to suspects on case-by-case basis.
Last month, state Minister for Labour Herbert Kabafunzaki was arrested and subsequently suspended on allegations of soliciting a bribe from an investor, Aya Group chairman Muhammad Hamid, whom police is investigating over accusation of sexual harassment brought against him by a former female worker.
Prior to the minister’s debacle, the President had coordinated the arrest of two senior officials in the Ministry of Finance for reportedly soliciting a bribe from Chinese investors. This matter is in court.
Opposition leaders denounce reversion to the UPDF as a magic institution to fix corruption as “a slap in the face” considering its own checkered record on the matter.
The Inspector General of Government Irene Mulyagonja, on the other hand cautioned that the soldiers “better know what they are going to do” if they are to succeed. For instance, she said, they must follow proper procedures of referring the suspects to institutions that are mandated to fight corruption and other crimes.
“They (soldiers) can catch the corrupt, but they cannot prosecute them. They may have to refer such cases to us or any other authority mandated to do that work,” Ms Mulyagonja said, adding that since the President has on several occasions referred cases to the Inspectorate, he might do the same when he gets information from the UPDF team.
“And once we have their information, we would have to carry out fresh investigations. Any intervention in the fight against corruption is a welcome move and we cannot oppose it. The Inspectorate of Government cannot afford to send staff to sit in government agencies (to monitor what happens) because we don’t have resources,” she said.
Addressing a news conference last Monday, the minister who said he was implementing directives from the President, however, explained that the involvement of UPDF in the fight against corruption “does not undercut the role of anti-corruption agencies,” but rather serves to supplement their efforts in the war against “the cancer of corruption has eaten into the bone marrow of our economy and is threatening the future of Ugandans”.
Minister Anite said: “We cannot rely on the few bold investors who come out to report those asking for bribes. We need people we can trust to help us fight back. Our people want jobs some people are frustrating investors. The information we have is that 80 per cent of investors in Rwanda, first came to Uganda and left because there is corruption in the Ministry of Finance where I sit; there is corruption in UIA and there is corruption in public service.”
This is, however, not the first government institution where UPDF is going to get involved. The President in 2014 entrusted National Agriculture Advisory Services (Naads) programme, the country’s flagship plan to modernise agriculture, with the army after persistent complaints about corruption in the delivery chain.
The Operation Wealth Creation where Naads falls is headed by the President’s brother, Gen Salim Saleh. However, the insertion of the armed men and women instead of professionals has resulted in no turn-around in the limping programme. Seeds supplied under Naads are failing to germinate; the animals are dying; and, procurement is irregularly linked to demand or season in the case of seeds.
The President has previously defended his decision to deploy soldiers on civilian programmes as justified because “soldiers are tested, they deliver and not corrupt”. This clean bill of health flies in the face of the army’s blighted record of procuring under-size uniforms, maintaining ghost pilots of payroll for nearly a decade, buying expired food rations and junk helicopters.
The UIA executive director, Ms Jolly Kamugira Kaguhangire, confirmed the UPDF assignment and explained that an office has been earmarked for them at UIA head office and that she was only waiting for the President to identify the team.
“This decision has accelerated what we wanted to do in the fight against corruption,” Ms Kaguhangire said, adding: “I had wanted to establish an information centre to speed up job creation. Transparency, integrity and professionalism is what we want.”
She promised to work with UPDF in the fight against corruption.
Without giving names, Ms Anite revealed that one of the richest men in Africa had come to Uganda to establish a cement factory but he relocated to other countries because people were asking for shares in the company. She said this matter is being investigated and that the culprits will be dealt with.
“UPDF is going to help us safeguard our exit doors such that once we have investors; we don’t lose them to other countries. We are going to protect witness because we want to build investor confidence. We are cleaning up and we are confident that the UPDF is going to succeed where civilians have failed,” she added.