We can’t catch thieves with partisan nets

Sunday February 17 2013

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Greed replaces service delivery. Widespread corruption signals that something has gone wrong in the relationship between the State and society. Public service has been replaced by private greed. When corruption is pervasive, everyone suffers – ordinary citizens, the State and the private sector-- Augustine Ruzindana, former IGG.

When President Museveni addressed Parliament last year on what he called the “nefarious” and “mendacious” campaign of the foreign interests using non-governmental organisations and some lawmakers to cripple the development of the oil sector in Uganda, he promised to come back and lecture the House on corruption.

He asked Ugandans to “stay tuned”.
At press briefings and in private meetings with ruling party lawmakers, whenever the President is confronted with questions on the endemic corruption in the country, he is always quick to remind whoever cares to listen that the financial scandals we see today in virtually all the government departments were discovered by NRM cadres and therefore, Ugandans should not panic.

He assertively talks a lot about the government support to the Office of the Auditor General, the police’s Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID), the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and disparages the outspoken voices as “weevils”.

In attempting to explain what has become of his zero tolerance to corruption, the President told a group of donors recently that key institutions like the IGG, seem to have been infiltrated by questionable characters. Even so, the NRM Caucus has also become a stumbling block in the fight against corruption.

On many occasions, the caucus and some individuals have shamelessly shielded implicated officials, sacrificed others and in the final analysis vulgarised the war against corruption.
I would be churlish to close eyes to the role of Parliament in the fight against corruption. The 9th Parliament, the antics of the ruling party members, and some opposition MPs, notwithstanding, has tried to fight the curse that afflicts many countries and yet the target appears out-of-focus.

Corruption has infringed upon every aspect of society to the extent that even some lawmakers and enforcers have been tempted in the process. Such disturbing events have confused the fight against corruption. Things are too bad that even the “tough laws” cannot worry the thieves any longer.

It’s a syndicate of rogues masquerading as civil servants, scheming how to beat government systems. The scoundrels have turned their offices into hunting grounds.

In search for effective approaches in the fight against corruption, the three arms of government: The Executive, Parliament and Judiciary, need to stop posturing. For instance, one wonders why the Executive could not wait for the report of the Public Accounts Committee into the theft allegations in Prime Ministers office. The pressure from the donors is understandable but we cannot keep bungling crucial investigations that are essential in the fight against corruption.

In 2010, the Office of the Auditor General produced a report on the gross mismanagement of public funds at the National Social Security Fund, but because some people played politics in what became a “cat-and-mouse game”, this report which was before the committee of Parliament somehow ended up in courts of law. I am told the acting IGG at the time, Mr Raphael Baku, wanted to use the AG report as evidence.

The same way they had “slayed” OPM inquiry, an investigation by the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises, was bungled on mechanical grounds. The NSSF report had a lot of issues: From the Shs8 billion in Nsimbe Estates scandal to Shs11.3 billion in Temangalo Part II.

Parliament, through its accountability committees, should be allowed to play its constitutional watchdog role in the fight against corruption. The police are free to conduct parallel investigations as long as DPP and IGG do not inhibit in the work of Parliament. My understanding of Rule 64 is that its import was never intended in any way to curtail the work of Parliament in the fight against corruption, neither was it planned to defeat Article 164 of the 1995 Constitution.

For the avoidance of any doubt, this is what Article 164 of the Constitution says: “The Permanent Secretary or the accounting officer in charge of a Ministry or department shall be accountable to Parliament for the funds in that Ministry or department.

Any person holding a political or public office who directs or concurs in the use of public funds contrary to existing instructions shall be accountable for any loss arising from that use and shall be required to make good the loss even if he or she has ceased to hold that office. Parliament shall monitor all expenditure of public funds.”

From this Article, it’s very clear that the Constitution is supreme and any law that is inconsistent with its provisions is of no force or effect. I am glad that Speaker Rebecca Kadaga followed her sense of right and wrong and reversed her earlier decision to halt the PAC investigations into the theft of foreign aid in OPM. The witnesses before court can wait but others should not be left out.

Again, from the discussions I had with Prof. William Muhumuza from Makerere University’s Political Science and other anti-corruption crusaders in the country, it appears without coordinated efforts, corruption will not be defeated. If the confusion in the fight against corruption is allowed to continue we are likely to end with a hopeless legislature … constantly pursuing thieves with repeated escapes.

The President could be committed to fighting this but as I have argued before, for his continued failure to lead a national campaign against corruption, he finds himself at crossroads. Whichever way he chooses, he risks being damned. This is what is confusing the fight against thieves.

The challenges Uganda faces today - a flared rich-poor divide, poor service delivery, particularly in the districts, crumbling public institutions because of patronage and a dispirited civil service - highlight the urgent need to address imbalanced development between the wealthy politicians and a struggling countryside. The anti-corruption crusaders, including the civil society groups, should stop posturing in the middle of a crisis.

Our multi-agency approach in dealing with the thieves can only deliver results if we galvanised bipartisan voices in Parliament and better coordination between watchdogs.