What you need to know:
- The chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase), Mr Joel Ssenyonyi, has been in the news over the work of his committee, most recently the probe into the mismanagement of Uganda Airlines.
It is already a year since you were appointed chairperson of Cosase. What has the journey been like so far?
It has been a learning curve for me. I was in the media for 14 years and then got to shift to this. Of course, the media experience has been very valuable. It comes in very handy. My legal training too comes in very handy. So it’s been a mixed bag. You will have people who will try to intimidate you, but that doesn’t break my spirit. If anything, my resolve at that point gets re-energised to keep pushing.
I thank God for what we have been able to do so far as a committee. We have produced three reports and the fourth one is almost ready. All of them have been unanimously adopted by the House because we try and dig in. We give in a lot of time to this work.
At the very start, I told my colleagues on the committee that we give this our best and they have done that to a great extent.
It is tough on my end [because] sometimes I have to sleep at 3am, reading voluminous documents, trying to get information. But I guess it pays when eventually we are able to do our work.
You have interfaced with State authorities, what is the look of things from your observation?
I think that most of the entities are in bad shape in as far as their governance, operations and finances are concerned. For every entity we touch, we find that there are issues with people being hired the wrong way, regulations not being followed plus lack of accountability.
So as leaders, we must get serious. If we want these entities to function the right way and for the taxpayer to get value for money, people have got to be hired the right way and we must be able to plug all the leakages. We have got a lot of work to do as a country and as leaders to fix them so that they deliver services as expected and then be accountable.
You say you put a lot of effort in coming up with reports for the House, yet the same Parliament is said to be a “toothless dog”. We have seen many of its recommendations ignored by the Executive
There is a maxim I loved many years ago. “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” That is the maxim I try to live by. Whenever I take up something, I want to give it my best, challenges notwithstanding.
Ugandans are looking up to us as leaders to remedy the challenges [that] they are grappling with; poor service delivery, taxpayers’ money being stolen and so on. So they are looking up to us. So whenever I sit in this chair as the chairperson of Cosase, I know that I am doing this on behalf of several Ugandans out there who are not able to come here and ask the questions of how their money is being utilised or stolen.
Government is in advanced stages of merging some statutory bodies. What do you make of the decision?
We have too many entities and there is too much money spreading all over the place. As we do this, we must operate very carefully because sometimes government wants to do something but then the motive is not a good one.
Look at the number of ministers we have. I dare say that even Parliament. Our Parliament is too huge and that is a fact. So, cutting across, there is a lot to that [process of merging]. So I think that some entities would need to merge but as we do that, let’s do it the right way but not to punish people.
Your work has placed you in a position where you press and push the ‘big fish’. How has this affected you?
When you fight corruption, corruption fights back. That is the reality. It fights back through propaganda, blackmail, intimidation and a lot of different things. Incidentally, I am a hardened guy. I have gotten hardened over time.
What has hardened you?
Life! Life hardens you. We have been through a lot. We just came out of an election where we were flying through bullets. But also, I know that whenever these things happen is because I am maybe holding the right place and so I will hold tighter. If I am digging the right place, I will dig deeper. [So my safety] it is something I think about. Sometimes I will let the police know, not that they might do something about it, but to have it on record. Truthfully, God protects me.
Why I never worry that much is because I am trying to do the right thing and I will keep doing it. I have a job to do, I will do that job. So I will not allow anyone to intimidate me.
You filed a case against a minister on allegations that he threatened you. What is the latest on that case?
I think that police was just dillydallying, like it is the case with many cases involving big shots in government. When I went to report, I played the [phone call] recording [of the sound in which he threatened when he called] and they [police] transcribed it. They had initially said leave us with your phone for about four days so that we extract [recording and other evidence], but I refused.
Have you heard from them again?
No! Not that I am surprised though. At least I put it on record. But also it was good to expose him so that he knows that he could not just intimidate me.
Just about how much effort do you have to put into do Cosase work?
It is a lot of work, honestly. Doing this work is like doing a very intense course. Every day, I am reading documents, Auditor General’s reports and those that I get from different sources. Sometimes, I sleep very late.
Yesterday [Wednesday] I slept at 4am because I was reading and extracting from documents because the only way you can get information is by reading. Sometimes, people think that questions I put to these guys, someone gives it to me. It is a lot of work but I am happy to do that work. I try to look for sources and as a journalist you know how hard it is to get credible sources that give you information.
I want to put in my energy and play my role because time will come when I will no longer be Cosase chairman. I want that when I leave the office of Cosase chairmanship, that I will have left a mark, however, small.
What is a typical work day for you?
I prepare myself and come early to ensure that I am in the committee room, usually by 9am. I conduct the committee sessions and run to plenary. Leave late, go home, read documents and then prepare for the next day.
It has cut down on my social and family life. I don’t make as much time for them as I should, so it affects all of that, but it is for a good cause I believe.
We have several entities that are under us as a committee. We can’t exhaust all of them, but we are trying to make sure that we inquire into many of them. I keep pushing my members so hard and I am glad that they appreciate that. Sometimes I call them on days when we shouldn’t be meeting. I want to appreciate them for acknowledging my leadership.
I might be the youngest, but then I am the leader and I try to offer leadership. I guess that is why when I encourage them to do something, they accept and follow because I mean well and respect them. We shall keep exposing the corrupt, we are not going to tire on that. We shall not be shaken, we shall keep doing what we have got to do to its logical conclusion.