To snitch or not to snitch

Sunday February 28 2010
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BRAIN BEHIND BILL: Dr Nsaba Buturo

Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo is the man of the moment and we know it has been a while since he commanded this much attention.

Most recently, you will remember him for his antics as Information Minister.

He was President Museveni’s version of Comical Ali, that Iraqi chief propagandist.

We cannot forget the colossal blunders; witty comments, hilarious retorts. Mr Buturo was definitely “in things” at the time, until the boss felt the good old chap from Kisoro had outlived his usefulness in that portfolio.

His re-assignment meant he could not command that much media space or attention, and we momentarily forgot about him.
But here is the new Buturo, riding on moral high ground; the anointed one in Cabinet whose main job these days is to ensure Ugandans are morally upright.

As doors to the Parliamentary Chambers open this week, Mr Buturo will be standing in the middle, pushing for the enactment of another piece of law that seeks to strengthen the government’s fight against corruption.

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Lawmakers are currently scrutinising the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, a good piece of legislation that intends to protect those who volunteer information that incriminates iffy characters for misconduct, corruption, or malpractice.

That is the spirit of the Bill, but judging from last week’s debate on the new law, it appears the government and Mr Buturo were taking us for a joy ride.

There is nothing controversial about this Bill. It is a law for which MPs are coalesced despite differences in political opinion.

So when Mr Buturo took to the podium in moving a motion for the Bill’s second reading it appeared a matter of clockwork. That didn’t happen.

A torrent of cynical comments followed Mr Buturo’s submissions, as lawmakers picked issue with the Bill’s lack of clear cut safeguards to protect those individuals who go out of their way to volunteer this useful information.

Buturo’s Bill was silent on several important issues. MPs asked, what if those on whom you are blowing the whistle are the very people supposed to protect you?

In defence, Buturo insisted the safeguards were in place, such as the prospect of a five year jail sentence for those [in government] who do not act upon information volunteered by the whistleblowers.

But what about the whistleblower; what is in it for them? To whistleblow is to snitch. To snitch is certainly risky business.

The slang version of snitch is to snake. And you know what happens to snakes when they tell on those who have committed the ills?

In my heady days at Ntare School, the snakes, whom we called “Abashweki” were some of the most loathed students. They got beat on; they were shunned and eventually turned into misfits and yet their intentions were noble.

In other places, especially in Black America, snitches are executed and that is why you will not find anyone simply volunteering incriminating information just like that.

To Buturo’s rescue, came the idea of incentivising the process of whistleblowing. The idea came from the back bench, from familiar quarters; Aruu County MP Odonga Otto. “We need to reward those patriotic Ugandans who inform authorities of corruption,” Mr Otto said, moving an amendment to the Bill.

“Where recovery of public funds is involved, a whistleblower should be entitled to at least 10 per cent as an incentive for people to report the corrupt.”

Mr Buturo appeared ungrateful. He could not see that a bailout had just been handed to him and claimed instead, that there are several Ugandans out there who are simply waiting for the new Bill “to report corruption even without payment.” The subject turned controversial.

One MP shared Buturo’s sentiment and wondered what would happen in cases such as the sex-for-marks scandals at universities.
What would the reward be for such a whistleblower.

For several hours, lawmakers failed to find middle ground, leaving Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga no option but to send MPs home to mull over the matter. So when debate resumes tomorrow, that will be a critical point of discussion. Will Buturo budge and accept the new proposal? He should.

We have several examples of laws which are out there collecting dust on our shelves and this shouldn’t be one of them.

This Bill offers the government opportunity to push for progressive legislation but only if it answers one critical question: to snitch or not to snitch?

For all of Mr Buturo’s handiwork, however, this is a Bill that will stamp its mark on his resume.

THE WEEK PAST

Princess No Show
Lawmakers on the Public Accounts Committee were huffing and puffing last week as Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko “dodged” a scheduled appearance before the watchdog committee. They threatened to invoke the powers of court for which the committee shares, by ordering an arrest warrant. Her troubles evolve around comments she made suggesting the committee had a hand in the death of businessman Joseph Behakanira who was a key witness in the committee’s on going probe of the 2007 Kampala Chogm. Interestingly, the grapevine now has it that her troubles with the committee have more to do with her own personal problems with individual members of the committee who have now found room to box her into a corner than the bizarre comments she made. Her re-scheduled appearance today offers the ingredients of an interesting encounter.

On bended Knee
The government spent much of last week on bended knee, beseeching Parliament to pass a Shs440 billion supplementary budget. The official claim is that the government is cash strapped and in dire need of money so Parliament should come through quickly. MPs, however, are not buying the excuse. Budget Committee Chairperson Rose Akullo led the charge in throwing out the government’s request, the second time in as many weeks, and ordered the government to revise its figures to include critical areas like healthcare, education and roads. You wouldn’t want to be in Syda Bbumba’s shoes right now. The Finance Minister has a delicate situation at hand.

Election Money
Engineer Badru Kiggundu, the Electoral Commission boss is sleeping soundly these days. The man has been handed a Shs60 billion kitty ahead of next year’s general election on top of Shs30 billion already forked out to the electoral body.
He appeared before Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee visibly elated. He claims he needs 198billion in total to guarantee a free and fair election.
I don’t want to sound cynical but I highly doubt he will pull of the job even if we gave him this money. History has a funny way of predicting the future and we all remember his poor show in 2006.

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