Jim Spire’s shocking exposé on corruption in Uganda’s Parliament

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • When Spire asked the doctor to recuse himself from the panel because of conflict of interest, he simply smiled and said he would “handle”. 

Spire – full name is Jimmy Spire Ssentongo – has spared no effort to show Ugandans that all is not well in Parliament. 

That is commendable, and he needs the support of Ugandans who are demanding accountability from their leaders.

However, his campaign to expose what is supposed to be corruption appears to be fuelled by allegations as opposed to irrefutable evidence. 

He is unwittingly arming his critics with verbal grenades to lob at him. On March 7, Spire appeared on NTV’s On the Spot with Parliament’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Chris Obore, to speak about his ongoing expose, euphemistically called #UgandaParliamentExhibition.

About 10 minutes into the show, it was clear that Spire had conceded an early goal, so to speak. Presenter Patrick Kamara was asking for evidence to support allegations against Parliament that Spire had been sharing on his social media platform, but he did not seem to have any.

Mr Obore appeared to be on strong ground. He was, in fact, correct in saying that the burden of proof falls on the person who makes allegations and that as a PhD holder, Spire should know this. 

Some may say that for #UgandaParliamentExhibition to be a roaring success, it needs objectivity — which is to say a fair, honest, accurate, rigorous, impartial, open-minded evaluation of the evidence. Objectivity, after all, is at the heart of what people who care about facts want to believe. 

I thought Spire knew this perfectly well. I thought he had come armed with stacks of papers containing evidence to back up what he had been sharing. I thought that proving that Mr Obore and the institution for which he speaks had a lot of explaining to do would be a cinch. It was not.

It is worth mentioning that Spire has been sharing financial impropriety information from an award-winning journalist named Agather Atuhairwe. A journalist of Atuhairwe’s calibre should be able to gather accurate, verifiable facts. Are we to assume that everything she has been posting to her X account is made up? 

None of what I have written here is meant to suggest that Parliament is a clean institution. The Speaker, Anita Among; her deputy, Thomas Tayebwa; the Parliamentary Commission, MPs and reporters covering Parliament may have skeletons in their closets. But if anyone wants the public to pay attention, they have to share incontrovertible evidence. 

The expose had started well, with Spire sharing a story of what he witnessed “some years ago” when he was invited to be part of an interview panel for Parliament research officers. 

He said the panel chairperson was a doctor — he did not share the full name and the job title — and had a relative among the candidates. 

When Spire asked the doctor to recuse himself from the panel because of conflict of interest, he simply smiled and said he would “handle”. 

One of the candidates, Spire wrote, could not even explain research basics and her transcript showed she had low grades. The panel gave her a score of 80-plus percent. Spire had given her 35 percent. 

The story does not end here. It goes on and gets worse. A former Speaker of Parliament had a relative among the candidates. “We were told before she came in,” Spire wrote, referring to the candidate. “After failing most of our questions, she got 80s. I gave her 30 something.” 

The strong candidates, the ones who actually excelled at the interview, Spire wrote, were not hired. 

If this is true, it is corruption. 

The expose should have focused on what is verifiable.

Mr Musaazi Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk