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The genesis of corruption in Uganda

Ramathan Ggoobi

The genesis of corruption in Uganda

If a wife asks a maid to steal for her Shs. 10,000 from her husband’s wallet, but instead the maid picks an extra UShs. 5,000 for herself, should anyone blame the maid?

Karl Kraus, “Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.” Is there anybody who still doubts that Uganda under NRM provides perfect evidence to Kraus’s assertion?      

Many people now believe that this government will forever be remembered as a government that set incredible corruption records. It  is a government where we have witnessed all tribes of thieves — thieves stealing all sorts of things, clinic ranging from under-pants to money meant to help the sick, money meant to immunise children, money meant to buy malaria and aids medicines, leaders who have stolen relief items for their disaster stricken people, thieves of money meant to pay the elderly… the list is simply endless and heartbreaking.   

The PPDA (Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets) authority, estimates that more than $100 million (Shs. 260 billion) is lost every year in procurement corruption alone. In the last five years, a total of over Shs. 1,026 billion has been stolen from government. And that is just the amount so far known. One would not be entirely wrong to imagine that the unreported loot could probably outweigh the reported. Below is a summary of the biggest scandals we have so far heard about in the last five years.        

It took four years for us to learn that over $27 million (Shs. 70 billion) meant to organise the 2007 CHOGM in Kampala had been stolen. We also learnt in 2008 that $10 million (Shs. 26 billion) of global fund to fight malaria, aids, and TB had been stolen, although some sources put the figure at $37 (Shs. 96 billion). Another $4.6 million (Shs. 12 billion) were lost in the GAVI immunisation scam.

In July 2008, some Shs. 11 billion of Workers’ Fund at the NSSF were lost in the infamous Temangalo scandal. In early 2010, Shs. 19 billion meant to print National IDs were stolen. A year later, another $1.7 million (about Shs. 4 billion) supposed to supply 70,000 bicycles for LCs, were stolen. Shortly after, we got the news that another Shs. 60 billion had gone missing from Microfinance Support Centre. As the year was closing, a whopping Shs. 169 billion were reported to have been ‘erroneously’ issued to Basajjabalaba.  Then in 2012 we learnt that another Shs. 169 billion meant to clear outstanding pension claims of 1,018 former East African Community workers had been stolen. Finally, a reported Shs. 50 billion has been lost in the on-going Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) scandal. Undoubtedly another multi-billion scandal   

Relegation of corruption to civil servants   
Mr President, whenever questions of graft in your government are raised, you defend yourself and NRM as a government that put in place institutions that fight corruption. You usually cite the IGG, the Judiciary, the Auditor General, Solicitor General, and the Police. In your view, with these institutions in place your government has done enough to fight graft. We (your critics) have always warned you that without clear political support (active political will) these agencies have been rendered useless. They are barking dogs with no teeth to bite. You, the executive, who is in possession of the teeth to bite, unfortunately you are the one hobnobbing with the thieves. Even where the “system” identifies these thieves and isolates them, you lobby Parliament, Police and probably the judiciary to protect them. You also reappoint them in cabinet or other senior public offices. You are often quoted defending celebrity thieves.

In March 2007 you penned a long article in the New Vision entitled, “Achievements on Road to Kyenjojo.” In the article you wrote, “As you travel to Kyenjojo, you are first irritated by the potholed Mityana-Kampala section of the road. I normally quarrel with (Former Works Minister John) Nasasira on account of this road as well as Kampala-Masaka-Kabale and Kampala-Kafu roads…”

In a rebuttal I wrote, in these very pages, wondering whether a President of a country — the top appointing authority in the land — should only afford to get irritated by a non-performing minister. I asked, “What does it take to fix roads?” (See The Sunrise of March 30th – April 6, 2007). I wondered how a government that collected Shs3,076 billion in taxes, and received an extra Shs3,500 billion in donor money every year, for a period of 20 years, could fail to fix roads.

I called for an investigation into the Ministry of Works and I predicted that such an investigation would expose tons of corruption in the ministry that always blamed its non-performance on insufficient funds. We were thankful when you listened to this call and instituted an investigation in Nasasira’s Ministry. When the report came out, in May 2008 you wrote to the then Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi expressing your anger at the “unacceptable robbery” that the investigation in the roads sector had unearthed. It was discovered that over $20 million (Shs. 52 billion) meant to finance three projects (the 54km Pakwach – Nebbi road; the 76km Nebbi – Arua road; and the 98km Kabale – Kisoro road) had been stolen.

But characteristic of you, struggling to protect Nasasira, in your letter to Premier Nsibambi, you stated, “The money is misused by civil servants who are poorly supervised by senior political leaders.” I wrote in these pages that you were not fair to the people of Uganda whom you tax left, right and centre, for you to always relegate theft of public resources to civil servants, and in the process vindicate fellow senior politicians as mere “supervisors”.

Leave “maid” Kazinda alone!
I told you that it is the senior political leaders who connive with civil servants under them to steal taxpayers’ money. I told you that this tendency of hiding under ‘carefully coined’ statements to ‘protect’ the very people you directly appoint was itself corruption. Mr President, history has shown us that you are a great friend of the corrupt; and the Baganda say, in direct translation, “Tell me your companion and I tell you your deeds.”        

When Mbabazi was reprimanded by Parliament for his role in the Temangalo scandal, you came out and fought like a desperate combatant who has fallen in an ambush to rally Cabinet, the NRM Parliamentary Caucus, the Buganda Caucus MPs, and the entire Parliament to get him off the hook.

Meetings after meetings were held at the expense of Uganda’s taxpayer to save a person whom the Committee of Parliament had found to have peddled influence, had found to have gotten involved in conflict of interest, and also had found to have violated the Leadership Code Act while selling his Temangalo land to NSSF for shs11 billion. You immediately peddled lame excuses claiming, “The Mbabazi matter was an investment and not a procurement case.”

I warned you that as long as you continue to protect the senior suspects, the lower level public servants would develop a feeling, “If ministers are the closest persons to the President and they are assured of Presidential protection, who are we to abstain from ‘eating’?” Four years later the results are out. A camera man attached to OPM made off with Shs. 96 million purportedly as allowance to take photographs of 50 ‘ghost’ houses in Northern Uganda.

I saw this young man on TV sitting in front of PAC members telling them how he bought a still camera at Shs. 16 million and I said to myself, “Why not?”

A friend recently analysed for me the ongoing circus in the OPM scandal. He said, “If a wife asks a maid to steal for her Shs. 10,000 from her husband’s wallet, but instead the maid picks an extra Shs. 5,000 for herself, should anyone blame the maid?” I really pity Ugandans who cannot see why Kazinda shouldn’t be in jail, and neither should Bijirimana be explaining himself on a daily basis. Let us stop harassing the maids and go for the wife.

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Ramathan Ggoobi

Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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