Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in Anti-Corruption court dock Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in dock at the Anti-Corruption

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Camels will pass through eyes of needles before Museveni fights corruption

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Mr Nicholas Sengoba

During the State of the Nation address a fortnight ago, Uganda’s President, Gen Yoweri Museveni, revealed that he had discovered a corruption syndicate. It was between the Ministry of Finance and the Parliament of Uganda. A few days later three ruling NRM Members of Parliament; Cissy Namujju Dionizia (Lwengo District Woman,) Paul Akamba (Busiki County in Namutumba District,) and Yusuf Mutembuli (Bunyole East County in Butaleja District) were arrested and arraigned before court for alleged corruption. Word has it that there will be more arrests in the coming days as investigations progress. Understandably, this has caused a lot of excitement that Museveni has started biting, after almost 38 years of barking. They are now calling upon the President to ‘tighten the noose.’

According to the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Ms Betty Olive Namisango Kamya Turomwe, by 2022 Uganda was losing about Shs9.1 trillion per year due to corruption.

Going by the current budget of Shs72 trillion presented last week by the Finance Minister, Mr Matia Kasaija, that adds up to about 12 percent of the budget.

This figure is almost equivalent to the sum total of what is allocated to the education sector that will receive 5.85 trillion (8 percent) and health 3.0 Trillion (4.1 percent). With domestic revenue projected at about Shs30 trillion in the 2024/25 budget, this means about 30 percent of taxes collected will be stolen at the current rate.

Since 1986, nothing has teased the NRM government to failure, like corruption. Fresh from the bush in 1986, the Prime Minister’s office then headed by Dr Samson Mululu Babi Kisekka, formed the Luweero Triangle Foundation Fund for displaced orphans. Between 1986 and 1988, touched by the history of suffering and liberation attributed to the region, well-wishers in Uganda and abroad donated about Shs68 billion, including vehicles, tractors, and motorcycles. The money vanished prompting a cartoonist to sarcastically claim that the big people had a right to the money. That they had been displaced from the bush in Luweero to the heights of Kololo hill in Kampala and that they were orphans since their parents had died long time ago.

Then in a parliamentary session in 1987, Prof Sheme Chemangey Masaba, the then State minister for Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, claimed that there were alarming levels of corruption in the new NRM government. He was sacked for sticking to his guns and refusing to withdraw the remarks.

These two issues should have served as a harbinger of what was to come. But because Uganda was sighing relief after the ‘liberation,’ not many checked. It was unimaginable that people who ‘sacrificed’ in the bush could come and steal public funds with reckless abandon.

Since then Museveni has exhaustively used every word in the revised and updated edition of the latest Book of Excuses For Not Fighting Corruption. That the corrupt are a blessing because they steal and invest at home thus growing the economy, is one that has endured.

When NRM went to the tall grasses to fight the Milton Obote II regime in 1981, it leveraged two things. The wealth and manpower of mainly the Baganda people of Central Uganda. The agro-based economy helped by the cooperative movement meant that dealing in both food and cash crops had brought them a huge financial dividend. They could afford to have, plus manage big families and have a surplus to support a war effort. Secondly, their hatred for Obote because of the abolition of the monarchy and exiling of King Edward Muteesa in 1966, was a good motivation to lend their support to anyone who promised to bring Obote to his comeuppance.

When NRM succeeded in 1986 they had learnt a vital lesson about power that would put them at odds with fighting corruption. They urgently needed to nurture a moneyed class that had NRM to thank for its emergence, dependence and existence - for the sake of patronage.

Secondly, there was need to have their ‘own’ support not the kind that is lent by disgruntled people like the Baganda of Luweero. What is lent can always be taken away or hired out or sold to the highest bidder.

It would also be important that for convenience, that support would be homogenous and could identify as a group with fairly common grievances and aspirations like the Baganda had. This inevitably meant that it would have strong ethnic and tribal connotations. The difference was that NRM was not tilling land and trading in coffee and cotton like the Baganda. It was handling the heavy the national treasury.

Thus the journey to create a moneyed or what the NRM loves to call a ‘middle class,’ started with gusto but also with Museveni’s hands tied, in the face of corruption.

Today, if you look at the salaries of most top Generals, police officers, public servants, politicians or judges and compare it with their wealth it reminds you of Jesus miraculously turning five loaves and fish into a bounty to feed millions. The predominant ethnic makeup is also notable.

In an environment full of relatives, friends and in laws, the accuser, prosecutor and judge may end up being related and having a conflict of interest. So most anti-corruption efforts are still-births.

Many of those who benefit are also great supporters of the government. They play a huge role in perpetuating it in power. They know that only the NRM can save their grabbed land or ensure that their contracts run without competition or interruption and securely hold their jobs. In an election in a far-flung province they will orchestrate favourable conditions and results even without the prompting of the President. For if he sinks, they sink too and vice versa. The two have a mutual benefit in maintaining the status quo.

That is why the President has cautioned the current IGG against carrying out life style audits against the corrupt. He has publicly frowned upon military officers declaring their wealth as required by the law, to prove that what they own is commensurate with what they earn. In a country once bedevilled by coups and insecurity, many of the men with arms have now accumulated so much property that they have no appetite for war or coups. It risks their soft lives, trophy wives plus side chicks, planned kids and property in exchange for death or exile. They would want ‘no change.’

The Daily Monitor of June 7, 2018 (Thieves hide behind Museveni’s back- IGG,) quoted the then IGG, Justice Irene Mulyagonja saying with resignation that following the footsteps of many of the corrupt led to State House. She later climbed down from the lucrative IGG job and went to the Judiciary for less pay.

It is safe to say that hunch backed camels will first go through eyes of needles before Museveni effectively embarks on fighting corruption.

Twitter: @nsengoba