Caption for the landscape image:

A thief in my govt? Deny them bail - Museveni

Scroll down to read the article

President Museveni addresses traders at Kololo Independence Grounds on May 7, 2024. Museveni has asked courts to deny bail to persons accused of corruption. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI. 

President Museveni has asked courts to deny bail to persons accused of corruption, resurrecting his polarising proposal he previously said should apply to rape, terrorism and murder suspects.  

Speaking to ministers at the ongoing Cabinet retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi District, the President, according to his full statement shared on social media, said: “We urge the Judiciary to support us by placing corruption (especially embezzlement) in the category of offences that are not considered for bail. With a correct, revolutionary, and objective approach, we should easily defeat corruption.”

Section 19 of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009, defines embezzlement as the offence of a person stealing their employer’s money or valuable asset, and it is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment or Shs6.7m fine, or both. 

The Judiciary and the Uganda Law Society (ULS), the umbrella body of lawyers in the country, have in past separate rejoinders to the President, argued that bail is a constitutional right that presiding judicial officers determine at discretion.

Article 23 of the Constitution, which deals with protection of personal liberty, provides under Clause 6(a) that a person arrested in respect of a criminal offence is “entitled to apply to the court to be released on bail, and the court may grant that person bail on such conditions as the court considers reasonable.”

For this reason, critics, among them lawyer-cum-opposition politician Peter Walubiri, said bail is a settled matter in law and Mr Museveni’s push for its denial to suspected capital offenders smacks of Executive overreach, which violates the principle of separation of powers between the different arms of government, undermines the rule of law and erodes good governance.

“Mr Museveni is the law in this country,” he said, “He has no intention whatsoever to fight corruption because corruption is a pillar of his government.”

Ministers and other government officials attend their retreat at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi District on July 8, 2024. PHOTO/PPU

According to Mr Walubiri, “when you see somebody being tried for corruption, there are other reasons, not that he (the President) is fighting corruption because Museveni presides over a corrupt edifice”.

Mr Walubiri’s strident comments mirrored similar vitriol by Opposition activist Kizza Besigye who, in a media briefing on Monday, called out the head of state, whom he described as an “architect … constructor” of a corrupt system eating up Uganda, adding that nothing would change in the war on graft with him in power.

“Museveni has been leading both the official and the private corruption,” Dr Besigye said, citing, among others, nepotism in allocation of government jobs.

He added: “… we cannot talk about corruption, let alone dealing with it, ending it, fighting it, without fighting the entity called Museveni and his family.”

Besigye: Citizens should demand accountability

Mr Faruk Kirunda, the deputy senior presidential spokesperson, said the Opposition politician was an ingrate recycling old lies for which Ugandans rejected him at the ballot four different times. 

The Supreme Court, in its decisions on two separate petitions by Dr Besigye – in 2001 and 2006 - found evidence of irregularities and vote rigging but upheld the results on grounds that the impact of the malpractices on the final outcome were not “substantial”, a constitutional threshold for annulment.

Mr Kirunda argued Mr Museveni’s government has established systems for fighting graft, and that the President personally remained the “number one guarantor of the ‘zero tolerance to corruption’ policy”.

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has prided itself in establishing or strengthening accountability and transparency laws and entities, among them, the Inspectorate of Government, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Criminal Investigations Directorate of Police, the Office of the Auditor General and the State House Anti-Corruption Unit.

Despite these efforts, Uganda’s Corruption Perception Index ranking by Transparency International has not changed much, with the country on average among 40 most corrupt out of 180 surveyed globally.

In addition, the Inspectorate of Government, the official Ombudsman, has revealed that thieves in government pilfer nearly Shs10 trillion annually. 

The Inspector General of Government (IGG), Ms Beti Kamya, addresses Parliament’s Ad hoc Committee in 2022. Her entity is in charge of fighting graft. PHOTO/FILE

Seizing on this revelation, and his parallel investigations that resulted in the remand to prison of three Members of Parliament on budget-related corruption, Mr Museveni, in the address to ministers, promised the smashing of the corrupt, a renewal of his war on graft that he has echoed publicly at least six times since the first mention at the June 7 State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).   

“We are now coming in directly to restore the NRA heritage. The young people (with their passion-driven outlook) and the victims of corruption have a chance to lead this effort,” the President said in his address to Cabinet this week, apparently referencing the five-year guerilla war that catapulted him to power in 1986.

He added: “Therefore, corruption should be crushed and will be crushed. Before the advent of the NRM leadership, corruption was endemic in Uganda, both during the time of the British and afterwards. When the NRA came on the scene, all this misconduct stopped.” 

There is no independent evidence to support the claims by the President despite him establishing a Ministry for Ethics to principally check on moral decay and graft, with Transparency International year-on-year ranking Uganda among corrupt nations. 

To his credit, several dozens of government officials, among them, a vice president and ministers, have appeared in the dock on corruption charges, but they have walked away without conviction, or their guilty verdicts quickly overturned on appeal.

Justice John Bosco Katutsi, who headed the Anti-Corruption Court, would later say he was tired of trying “small fish” – euphemism for low-cadre government officials – when the “big fish” were allowed to swim freely.

In an interview yesterday about the President’s proposal to deny bail to corruption suspects, anti-graft campaigner Marlon Agaba said the head of state must demonstrate his commitment to fight corruption through action, not just tough rhetoric.

“I think, first of all, the President himself has been consistent in terms of the rhetoric, in terms of talking, in terms of threatening to crush the corrupt, but there’s been very little to show in terms of action,” said Mr Agaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU).
Mr Agaba said “we need to see action, especially addressing the high-level political corruption that involves the Parliament and the Executive”.

Both the Executive and the Legislature have endured social media storm first over the alleged diversion of iron sheets and goats meant for vulnerable Karimojong and, later, an activists’ led exhibition that exposed alleged financial mismanagement and extravagance involving Speaker Anita Among.

She has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, despite both the United Kingdom and the United States governments separately imposing travel, asset and financial freeze on her and other serving or former ministers such as Goretti Kitutu, Agness Nandutu and Amos Lugoolobi.

L-R: Agnes Nandutu, Amos Lugoloobi and Mary Goretti Kitutu. PHOTOS/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

President Museveni, in a resurrection of his past positions, has in the past month sharpened his attack on permanent secretaries, chief administrative officers, town clerks and sub-county chiefs as midwives to graft by failing to safeguard public resources entrusted in their care.

He chided civil servants for demanding higher salaries well aware that majority Ugandans are outside the money economy and proclaimed his regret for not stopping lawmakers from determining their own emoluments.

“I could have blocked the moves by the MPs to award themselves high salaries. I opposed [it], but did not block because it is not always correct to block everything you consider a mistake,” Mr Museveni told the ministers, adding: “It is better, sometimes, to oppose but also allow people to learn from their mistakes or for the issue at hand to be clearer.”

ACCU’s Agaba, in response to our inquiries, identified commercialisation of politics in the country as a fertiliser of corruption by elected leaders. 

“There is a very clear symbiotic relationship between the politics in this country and corruption and that starts even with elections…they (candidates) are investing billions of shillings in elections. So, when they get into that office, the main aim then will be to recover what they have invested,” he said.

Back at Kyankwanzi, the President said corruption exists in both the government and private sector and law enforcement should go after perpetrators everywhere.

“Therefore, it is the work of the police to ensure those who steal from companies, private or government, are held fully accountable, including paying back the money they stole on top of prison sentences,” Mr Museveni said.

Museveni vows to tackle corruption in public institutions

Police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate under AIGP Tom Magambo has been working closely with the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions in prosecution-led investigations, targeting, among others, previously untouchable bureaucrats. 

Corruption offences

•    Soliciting or accepting by a public official of gratification in exchange for official act or omission.
•    Offer to a public official of goods of monetary value for otherwise official work.
•    Diversion or use of state resources for private gain.
•    Solicitations to gain undue advantage directly from a private actor, or their proxy, to refrain a public official from acting.
•    Solicitation to exert improper influence over official decision-making. 
•    Fraudulent acquisition, use or concealment of property derived from corruption.
•    Participation as a principal or accomplice in commission of afore-stated offences.
•    Any act or omission by a public official for illicitly obtaining benefits for self or third parties.
•    Neglect of duty.