Written by ODOOBO C. BICHACHI
If you came into Uganda in the last two months and followed the reporting in the press, there would be only one conclusion – Uganda is a very corrupt country.
And that would not be entirely off the mark considering the colossal figures being mentioned as stolen or unaccounted for.
In the ministry of Education and Sports, Shs 375bn is suspected to have been embezzled or misappropriated – euphemisms for stolen. In the ministry of Public Service, Shs 60bn was paid out to ghost pensioners as the real pensioners scrounge the earth to survive, and many others have died without getting a shilling of what was due to them.
My mother, who was a teacher for over 35 years, died four years after her retirement without getting her gratuity paid, and only ‘ate’ some of her monthly pension for just about a year.
In the Prime Minister’s office, at least Shs 5bn is suspected to have been embezzled by the Chief Accountant, Geoffrey Kazinda, and his accomplices, through a series of forgeries. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
In all these cases, there has been a string of high-profile arrests with the permanent secretary of the ministry of Public Service, Jimmy Lwamafa, and other officials, being detained, and now the Commissioner for Secondary Education, John Mary Agaba, is due for interrogation at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).
These investigations of massive corruption and subsequent detentions of senior government officials suspected to be involved should, ideally, have elicited public approval and excitement. Yet, you read a kind of muted response in the public.
And it is not difficult to see why. A few years ago, Ugandans were entertained to high drama when three Health ministers – Jim Muhwezi, Alex Kamugisha and Mike Mukula, and a close member of the president’s extended family Alice Kaboyo – were arrested over misappropriation of GAVI funds intended for vaccines and immunization andtreatment of HIV and tuberculosis.
Many Ugandans thought the Nyarwino (the fierce red-ant that President Museveni once equated himself to) had finally begun to bite even the so-called bigwigs. But in the end, they were all acquitted and the monies were not recovered.
More recently, ministers Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira, and Mwesigwa Rukutana and former Vice President, Gilbert Bukenya, were arrested for causing financial loss in billions of shillings to the government through awarding of several contracts outside established procedure ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Kampala in 2007.
But as in the past, nothing came out of this apart from providing Ugandans with some comic relief. In fact, the cases collapsed, either because the witnesses had suddenly remembered that the information they gave investigators was actually wrong, or because of judicial technicalities.
Again, no money was recovered, and nobody paid for their sins. Ugandans have, therefore, come to know, like the legendary hare told its young, that one should not get excited or scared about boiling/steaming things because they will eventually cool down, anyway! Both the corrupt and the good citizens that are affected by corruption have concluded that this is the case in Uganda; so, nothing will change.
Yet things should not always be this way; else, we will reach a point (if we are not already there yet) where corruption will be a religion. Well, the only way we will get beyond the boiling point and have the corrupt evaporate is if we applyenough pressure on the state and not let the leaders get away with mere comic performances and stage-managed anti-corruption exercises.
And this we can do by using the one thing that we still posses – the vote – by not voting (back) into power thieves, those associated with thieves, and those that protect or sympathise with thieves.
But to be able to do this, we must understand the relationship between corruption and our daily lives. Many pensioners – the senior citizens – are also among the most fervent supporters of the current government because at least they can sleep, unlike during the old regimes when they had to sleep in the bushes for fear of thieves or government soldiers.
But their past memory has clouded the present that they do not realize that the thieves of the past are different from the ones of the present. The ones of today allow them to sleep in their squalid houses as they cream off what could have come to them to make their lives better.
When you go to hospitals and find no medicine, when your children go to school everyday but cannot read or write properly, when you must jump over pools of water on what used to be called a road, etc, surely you should be outraged that somebody who is responsible is either not doing their job or they have eaten the money that should have done the job. It is not enough to find excuses why our leaders cannot end corruption because if they cannot, then they have no business leading us.
The article appears in South-South Learning at Maravi Post under courtesy of the Observer of Uganda. The author is a political and social critic. He’s a former editor of Sunday Monitor and The Independent.