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I saved govt Shs50m at Makerere varsity and looked like a fool

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George Muhimbise

When the Inspector General of Government, Ms Beti Kamya, proposed a lifestyle audit for public servants, the President warned her to go slow because the thieves would hide their loot outside Uganda, which would be bad for the economy.

A year ago, I did an act that saved the government more than Shs50 million. Nobody even gave me a phone call to say ‘thank you’.  It’s when I realised that cheating the government is a normal thing.

I was a government-sponsored student at Makerere University pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration. The government was paying a living allowance of Shs760,000 per student each semester.

At the time of our admission, our course was taking three years but being a professional course, the duration of the programme was extended by a year, starting with the class that succeeded ours. However, there was miscommunication and some university officials thought that our class was also going to take four years.

So even when we had finished our studies pending graduation, the university sent living allowances to all government-sponsored students in our class. We had about 70 government- sponsored students and so with each student receiving Shs760,000, that was a total of Shs53 million. The university sent us the money thinking that our course was continuing for another year.

Imagine Shs60,000 on the account of a student who has just finished campus awaiting graduation! Some are still stuck in Kampala trying to find what to do to earn a living, others are looking for connections, etc., life is generally challenging and so this money is a blessing that a few or no student would declare or refund it willingly.

When I got this money, I inquired from a few friends and realised it had been sent to all government-sponsored students. I had a choice to enjoy it and keep quiet. 

The university would do the same the next semester and the government would have spent about Shs106 million on students who had completed their studies.

But I chose the right thing; to report to the university authorities so that they can reverse the transactions before students withdraw the money or recover it from those who had spent it.

Because I didn’t know which office was in charge, I wrote to the university bursar, copied the letter to the dean of students, vice chancellor and my bank, asking whoever was in charge to take immediate action. Indeed, after discovering the mistake, the university wrote to the students asking them to refund the said money.

After doing such an act, I never received even a phone call from any university official saying  ‘ thank you’, not even the person who had made that error and who would have been held to account. Perhaps I looked like a fool, how can a sane person return money to the government?

If the students realised that I was the one who made them return the money at the time when they needed it most, they would hate me for life. So what will motivate me to do the right thing next time?   

What will encourage me to report someone cheating the government? What will stop me from being corrupt if an opportunity comes when I know that it pays to be corrupt in Uganda?

George Muhimbise is a policy analyst. [email protected]