The recent meeting between President Yoweri Museveni and his former self-exiled Minister of Gender Labour and Social Development Zoe Bakoko Bakoru has sparked a heated debate among Ugandans regarding government’s tolerance to corruption. Some analysts however sympathize with Bakoko saying she is a victim of political schemes for powerful forces within government.
Bakoko was shown posing in a photo opportunity with Museveni, during the President’s visit to the United States last week. Bakoko’s meeting came after president Museveni’s repeated claims that Bakoko had committed no crime and should probably come back and settle home.
According to a statement from President Museveni’s media team, Bakoko allegedly asked for pardon against allegations on her involvement in the mismanagement of up to US5million in workers’ savings when she was minister of Labour.
The president’s determination to resettle Bakoko has angered workers, civil society groups and opposition-leaning politicians saying that the president is setting a bad precedent regarding tolerance against corruption and the rule of law.
The Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) Coordinator Cissy Kagaba expressed dismay at the move lamenting that it will not only undermine government’s goodwill to fight corruption but will also set a bad precedent.
“People will embezzle public funds in the future and run abroad for a while hoping to seek presidential pardon if president Museveni goes ahead to offer it to Bakoko Bakoru,” Kagaba said.
She added: ” If this government is committed to fighting corruption, it should allow justice to take its full course for such people to prove their guilt or innocence in courts of law but not just offering them presidential pardons.”
Stanley Kaggwa, the Deputy Chairman General of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) told The Sunrise that letting Bakuru go scott-free will not augur well for justice in Uganda.
“We have laws in this country and it is in accordance with those laws that we want her acquittal to be pronounced and not individuals like President Museveni because if that happens, it will set a bad precedent for this country,” Kaggwa warned.
On his part, the Uganda Media Union chairman Ikebes Omoding told The Sunrise that much as president Museveni has the presidential prerogative of mercy to pardon Bakoko Bakoru, she must pay workers’ money and explain the saga through which 8 bn of worker’s cash was lost.
NOTU Deputy General Secretary Olaka Misilamu is also one of those that have vowed to support efforts to drag Bakoko Bakoru to court the moment she sets foot on Uganda’s soil to face the law.
“We have every evidence that she connived with some workers and misappropriated workers’ savings. This is a good opportunity for her to return but we shall wait for her and drug her to court immediately she arrives. We can’t allow politicians to continue playing about with workers money like that. ” said Olaka.
The assistant General Secretary of the Fisheries allied workers Union Grace Nabukalu agrees with Oloka urging that workers have no problem with Bakoru’s homecoming “as long as she is ready to face charges of embezzling our money.”
She added: “Some of us are doing the work we are doing for the good of our workers voluntarily because there is no money to pay for our services and yet such people took away sacks of money. We want her to face the law and ultimately pay back our money if she is eventually convicted”
Some NRM leaning politicians have come out to back the President, arguing that the president is not doing anything unique extending the prerogative of mercy to his former labour minister.
But while they support Museveni for his goodwill attitude, experts say that Museveni does not have the right to forgive anyone who is facing an arrest warrant. Indeed Museveni’s prerogative of mercy comes after the due process of the law.
Gaudence Imalingat, the Director of Education and Organising in Uganda government and Allied Workers Union (UGAU) told The Sunrise that President Museveni’s move to return Bakoru home is a move in the right Direction. “If government has in the past forgiven people who once took up arms to over throw it, what is so strange with forgiving Bakoko Bakoru?” Imalingat said.
Insiders say however that Bakoko is simply a victim of a sinister move by some politicians who did not like her transparency in matters regarding financial management in the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).
Bakoko’s woes started when she revealed, as the oversight minister for NSSF, that the country’s richest entity was losing up to 5m dollars every week.
Insiders add that Bakoko took to hiding because she spoke the truth. At the time of her escape, NSSF was facing serious management problems including the loss of billions of shillings in the Temangalo saga under the management of then MD Chandi Jammwa.
Analysts add that powerful people in government engineered an arrest warrant back then, as a way to stop her from returning home to be witness in the case that could implicate them.
The president’s insistence to have her back may be a sign that indeed someone else was taking the money other than Bakoru. Regardless of the timing of Bakoko and Museveni, if indeed she accepts to come bak, she will be an asset to Museveni’s 2016 bid for re-election.