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Corruption: Museveni’s Pontius Pilate moment

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President Museveni 

When Pontius Pilate led a bloodied Jesus Christ out to a balcony overlooking an angry mob of Jews, he was looking to outsource his agency, not for the wisdom of the crowd.

 As the governor of the Roman province of Judea, Pilate had the authority at the Passover to set free one prisoner. The choice lay between Christ, whose charge sheet had been upgraded to the treasonous crime of proclaiming himself the ‘king of the Jews’, and Barnabas, a notorious prisoner, probably a murderer.

 “Crucify him,” the mob below shouted, in reference to Christ. Pilate was conflicted. He did not think that Christ deserved the death penalty, but he did not wish to upset the Jewish lobby; and so he condemned him to death by crucifixion and publicly washed his hands to absolve himself of the blood that was soon to be spilled

In his State-of-the-Nation address yesterday afternoon, President Museveni had his own Pontius Pilate moment. Longstanding reports of a corrupt syndicate between the Finance ministry, Parliament, and in the civil service had finally been confirmed, he said, and was diverting money from the national budget.

 A hush fell over the assembled MPs and top government officials. The long-promised moment of decisive action was here.

 Then the President, unprompted, spoke. “Maybe we shall discuss an amnesty…”

 ‘Noooooo the crowd roared.’ They wanted a crucifixion.

 “You want blood?” President Museveni asked.

 ‘Yesssssss,’ the guests roared back.

 “Okay,” the Head of State said with a slight shrug of the shoulders.

 Whether, like Pilate, he washes his hands off the matter remains to be seen, but the episode showed the President’s dilemma on dealing with corruption in his government.

The address came months after more than two dozen senior government officials were found to have received iron sheets diverted from the Karamoja region. Although the President promised political and legal action at the time, it was impossible to act against so many officials without causing the government to collapse. Instead only three ministers: Goretti Kitutu, Agness Nandutu and Amos Lugoloobi were charged and the first two dropped in a subsequent Cabinet reshuffle.

 More recently, allegations of widespread corruption and mismanagement of public funds in Parliament had caused public anger and drawn the sting of travel and other sanctions against Speaker of Parliament Annet Among, the three ministers and their spouses. They deny any wrongdoing.

 Those who expected the President to use his moment on the national balcony to call for at least an investigation into the corruption allegations were left disappointed. He repeatedly praised Ms Among’s stewardship of Parliament, a compliment that the Speaker returned heartily.

 Those who need to be crucified, Mr Museveni said, were the people who received awards and cash prizes abroad for the work done to expose suspected corruption at home. These were being investigated, he said.

 The President did not name them but he did not have to. Agather Atuhaire, a journalist and lawyer, and Jimmy Spire Sentongo, a university lecturer, who were both involved in the “exhibition” that uncovered the suspicious financial transactions in Parliament have, in recent weeks both separately received awards for their work from the United States government, and the European Union respectively.

 To some, the President had not just washed his hands off his responsibility, he had then dipped them in the mud by going after those some might call whistleblowers. Time will tell how this particular tale ends. In the one in the Bible, Jesus was crucified shortly after the public trial before the Jews on a wooden cross to which he was nailed. But he wasn’t alone; crucified alongside him, to the left, was Gestas and, to the right, Dismas. The two were thieves.

NRM members speak out on corruption

Hamson Obua, Government Chief Whip.

The President said he has the evidence of officials involved in this corruption [in goverment]. Let us give him a chance to act and at an appropriate time.

Henry Musasizi, State Minister of General Duties. hear an Accounting Officer going to Parliament asking for more money which is not what we agreed upon [and] I think that is the genesis of the whole matter.

Theodore Ssekikubo, MP Lwemiyaga County.

The President confirmed that indeed there is massive theft and corruption at Parliament. So that one to us is a means that we should proceed with the Censure motion against the four Parliamentary Commissioners.

Lydia Wanyoto, NRM Women League Chairperson.

I don’t agree with the President on the issue of giving amnesty to the corrupt because those of us who are going upountry are paying the price as we have to dig deep into our pockets to pay for service delivery in our areas.

What they said about the address

Flavia K. Rwabuhoro, Kyegegwa Woman MP.

As leaders, let’s start moving away from foreign aid because it is wasting our time and making us lazy. We should embrace the East African community spirit because it makes us stronger.

Ruth L. Onduru, Maracha Woman MP.

Ugandans should learn how to generate wealth by producing both for the family and the market. We should also learn to create friendships with neighbours [for business].

Betty Engola, Apac Woman MP.

I think he [Museveni] is a good leader who wants the country to prosper, that is why he keeps repeating [the same] message, which the Opposition [does not like].

Juliet Agasha, Mitooma Woman MP.

He is emphasising domestic production and consumption and also talked about corruption in offices. I know ministers whose officers solicit bribes for people to meet them.

William Museveni, Buwekula South MP.

As Parliament, our face has been tainted with corruption. People think all MPs are corrupt and yet that isn’t true. We have all agreed to differentiate the corrupt from those who are clean.

Milton Muwuma, Kigulu South MP.

The ban on export of raw materials and processing them here is very welcome. The President has also said enough about corruption, which is costing his government.

Joseph Koluo, Toroma County MP

Corruption is beginning to cripple the economy and it is time for all of us to join the fight against it. We also need to do something about our [commercial] agriculture

Davis Kamukama, Bunyangabu County MP

He talked about the value of food and embracing regional integration. He is also beginning to take an eye for an eye approach to fighting corruption.

Kenneth Mutebi, boda boda rider.

I don’t have a radio and neither do I have a television set, when I buy data hopefully, I will follow [the adress] with my phone.

Sam Kwiri, a security guard

I was busy the time he was reading the State-of-Nation Address. Maybe I will get a recording and follow up on what was discussed.

Compiled by Stephen Otage