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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Approach corruption with a new mindset

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Emilly C. Maractho (PhD)

‘We are tired’, someone told me after the Budget reading. Tired of what? I asked. The person got personal, well, ‘I am tired’ she said, as if to exclude me from the statement.

‘Tired of everything I hear about corruption’. I no longer listen to these speeches. Yes, if I could skip a word for a year, it would be corruption. The lip service that is paid to it, the number of times it laces our public talk, the consequences of it all and the mindset around it or the way we have normalised it. 

Nothing is as heartbreaking as promises not kept. It is better not to promise anything at all. Every year we are promised that corruption will be history, and then we move. 

Sometimes, we are given some actions to indicate seriousness. We take people to jail. We try censoring them. We talk tough. We set up commissions of inquiry that cost us billions we could have put into the badly-needed infrastructure development. Besides the reporting that makes us look serious for a moment and the voluminous reports that gather dust wherever they are put, nothing much to celebrate. 

Then we see all the people implicated still around and the lucky ones get defended. The unlucky ones are dropped from one position but keep gracing our public life. Just imagine that the minister who was implicated in taking off with some public goodies escorting the Budget to be read on the red carpet, all smiles and smart. It says more. 

In short, we keep doing many things with no results worthy of writing home about.  What must we do differently? Who should do it? And do we have the capacity? I know that President Museveni has declared that we have a lot of capacity and power to deal with corruption.

Government Chief Whip Hamson Obua said some things. And I heard the Speaker caution ‘her members’, to not accept inducements.  We have been through many promising speeches, God knows. And God also knows, most times it ends there. There are many opportunities to hear from our leaders, maybe we need to do some things differently. And there are many questions. When you have been using the same methods and not getting desired results, you must look at some other ways. 

We have not accepted that we are failing on this front. We have also not changed our mindset around the problem. Our leaders, in particular, could use a different approach.

Perhaps, our leaders need to approach corruption with a different mindset. They could acknowledge that we have failed and accept that the corrupt are clever, so we may not have the capacity and power that we think we have, considering the years we have been at this. We need to approach corruption with a new mindset.

Turning to our slogan of mindset change, without limiting it to the Parish Development Model, we could make a difference. Rather than target citizens with mindset change, maybe we can target our leaders. 

Our leaders could start asking questions instead, and not try to offer solutions. Some citizens are bored and unemployed, yet creative. We could kill two problems of corruption and unemployment with one stone of listening to citizens. These citizens know the corrupt and their ways.

This is what James Kouzes and Barry Posner say in their book, The Leadership Challenge, about the power of asking questions and actually listening.

They suggest that every question asked is an opportunity to learn. What is important, they note, is that ‘asking good questions, rather than giving answers also forces you to listen attentively to your constituents and what they are saying.

This action demonstrates your respect for their ideas and opinions. If you are genuinely interested in what other people have to say, then you need to ask their opinion, especially before giving your own.’ 

The question I grapple with and many others as well, because you wonderful readers of this column, have asked me several times, is ‘Are our leaders listening?’ It reminds me of Twaweza and their seminal research series, ‘Are our children learning?’ When I read their report the first time, I thought, what a great question. And they have kept us interested.

Now I see they are looking at our experiences with climate change, maybe they could put their research skill to good use and now that we know enough about our children’s learning, start finding answers to the question, ‘Are our leaders listening?’ I am sure there would be interesting answers and pointers to some of our problems that never go away like corruption, despite our best efforts.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is an academic.                                                
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