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War on corruption: A game of thrones?  

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President Museveni and Speaker of Parliament Anita Among.

The phrase “we are going this way, that way, forwards and backwards” is a famous line in the lyrics of the nursery rhyme, The Pirate Song.

In it, a child hears the same thing in conversations with a ship captain on the Irish Sea, despite injuring self while learning the ropes of life between the ages of one and five.

Uganda is not all that young or a sea, although 19 percent of it is water and wetlands, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS).

However, the monotony and stagnation in the nursery rhyme is what anti-corruption agencies see in Uganda’s official war on graft that the Ombudsman last October reported to haemorrhage Shs9 trillion in taxpayers’ money.

Put another way, an equivalent of 17 percent of Uganda’s Shs52 trillion national budget for the ending financial year is pilfered by bureaucrats, with limited or no sanctions of the kind the United States and the United Kingdom imposed on Parliament Speaker Anita Among and other notable current and former Ugandan officials a month ago.

The targeted individuals, among them Ms Among, deny any wrongdoing and dismiss the punishments --- travel, asset and financial freezes --- as the West’s affront on Uganda’s sovereignty and retribution for the anti-gay law that Parliament enacted last May.

But barely 10 days after President Museveni, speaking at the 2024/5 national budget reading in Kampala on June 13, vowed to crush the corrupt, Ms Among in comments at an upcountry event suggested otherwise.

In terse remarks following the arrest of three lawmakers, who have since been remanded to Luzira Prison on corruption charges, Mr Museveni said “we are going to stamp out corruption”.

“I don’t know how they [the corrupt] forget that we have got a lot of power [and] capacity, which we shall use, if necessary … these corrupt people insult our heroes … They have now attracted our full attention … We shall crush this treachery.”

And, a couple of days later, he added that “the biggest problem we have now [as a country] is corruption”.

“This is not happening on the moon, it’s happening in the district, sub-county and constituency. I have opened a war on the corrupt; so, make sure that you are not in my gun sight,” he said.

These comments followed the remand by the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala to prison of the three MPs: Lwengo District Woman representative Cissy Namujju, Bunyole East MP Yusuf Mutembuli and his Busiki South counterpart Paul Akamba.

Prosecution avers that they on May 13 in Kampala solicited for 20 percent as kickback out of budget increment they promised to lobby for Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in the 2024/2025 Financial Year allocation.

The trio subscribe to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and, according to Mr Francis Xavier Ejoyi, the country director of ActionAid Uganda, their prosecution in the wake of the President’s pronouncements of a renewed war on graft suggested a seriousness by the government to tackle the vice.

That was before Saturday. Officiating at the launch of Ssentaayi Development Foundation at Katovu Playground in Lwengo District, Speaker Among said: “The President [Museveni] has heard your cries where you said that ‘when your child misbehaves, you beat and say go back and do something good.’”

“And you are better off having a child, even if she goes and eats something, so long as she brings [some] back home … That [Cissy Namujju currently on remand on corruption charges] is going to be your Woman MP forever.”

The comments were unsurprising to a crowd that had just been told by Rakai District Woman MP Juliet Ssuubi Kinyamatama, and her Kasambya counter David Kabanda, that Ms Namujju’s generosity benefitted the electorate if even she acquired the resources in a questionable manner.

“If she stole as we all hear, she has been sharing [the loot] with people of Lwengo,” Ms Kinyamatama said amid yodelling by the crowd.  

These comments immediately drew differing interpretations, with Mr Ejoyi saying that “one of the biggest hindrances in the fight against corruption is political impunity; political leaders who say one thing and they do the other”.

On “[the] one hand, they say they are fighting corruption and on the other hand, they are dragging their feet,” he said in an interview yesterday, adding, “With what is going on in Parliament, I fear that it [Legislature] can no longer check the Executive and Judiciary and appropriate resources as it is supposed to. So, if Parliament cannot check the other two arms [of government], what is it for? This is bad for our democracy.”

The Speaker’s decision at the Saturday event to suck the President into MP Namujju’s predicament left State House speechless.  

“I can’t comment [on the matter], despite the President’s name being dragged into this. Will I comment on everything that the President is dragged into?” said Mr Sandor Walusimbi, the senior presidential press secretary.

The head of the Legislature, who under the National Order of Precedence is the third top-ranked citizen of the country, spoke in Lwengo two days after a joint meeting with President Museveni and Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo.

In a 1:33pm post on X on Friday, Ms Among reported that they met the previous day and discussed “governance, strategic planning and our commitment to improving the lives of our citizens and ensuring a prosperous future for our nation”.  

She did not say when or where the President indicated that he had heard the cries of the constituents of Lwengo District about the plight of their incarcerated Woman MP Namujju, but handed over to the organisers Shs50m that she said was a cash donation from the “Father and the Son guided by the Holy Spirit”.

The Speaker dug her knees to the podium, prompting the men standing by her side, including the translator, to also momentarily kneel.  

The crowd roared after punching the air with fists when Ms Among said Ms Namujju would be Lwengo District Woman Representative to Parliament “forever”.

However, if convicted of the corruption charges, the MP would be barred by law to seek an elective office --- at least for 10 years.

Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo in comments to our inquiries yesterday described as an “overstretch” any suggestion that their Thursday meeting at State House discussed the fate, or freedom, of any of the remanded legislators, let alone Ms Namujju.

“The MP Namujju issue was never discussed in our meeting. We discussed strategic issues. The Speaker [in the weekend comment] was not speaking on behalf of the Judiciary. There are many justice players,” he said.

He added: “Even [I] and the judge to handle that matter [trial of the accused] do not know any information on the [case] file. So, linking the comments of the Speaker and our meeting is far-fetched.”

Mr Marlon Agaba, the executive director of the Anti-corruption Coalition Uganda, said the prosecution of the lawmakers was welcome, but “we have seen these episodes before [where the arrest of bigshots is followed by their release]”.

“I have a feeling that this is going to turn out the same way … not so many MPs have been convicted of corruption. So, [the] cases [against the trio] will also die out and that has been Uganda’s sad tale in the fight against corruption,” he noted.

At the Saturday event, Speaker Among disclosed that she had visited MP Namujju in prison and reported that she was in “good spirits”.

Bukoto West MP Muhammad Ssentaayi, who organised the function, asked the government to expedite investigations into Ms Namujju’s case. 

As a gesture of giving back to the electorate, Mr Ssentaayi donated 30 tents, a water bowser, a coaster bus, and three mini trucks to help his constituents.

“I came up with the idea of forming Ssentaayi Development Foundation because my area is a remote one, people find it hard to access clean and safe water and that is why I have bought a water bowser to serve my people,” Mr Ssentaayi said.

But the lawmaker is under fire from Lwengo District Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Kittata, who is bidding to unseat him in the 2026 elections.

Parliament Speaker Among used the function to dissuade the district boss.

“I beg you to leave [MP] Ssentaayi alone, you should remain serving the district as the chairperson, why would you want to oust Ssentaayi who has just served for one term? I will support you in that capacity of chairmanship, not as [an aspiring] MP,” she said.