The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Ten Reasons Corruption Persists in Uganda

In the last one year alone, corruption cases made the most eye-catching news headlines.

And far greater scandals loom - unless the government moves fast to fix a badly broken system. The news was all bad, from former minister Kabakumba Matsiko using an alleged stolen UBC mast at her private radio station, businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba's compensation saga that claimed the political scalps of ministers Syda Bbumba and Khiddu Makubuya, to the billions of shillings worth bicycles that were never delivered, to LCs and now the pension and OPM scandals.

In all these 'grand' corruption scandals the country has lost billions of shillings that would have helped the productive sectors of the economy and possibly reversed the trend of poverty. Now, a new report on corruption trends in Uganda released by the Inspectorate of Government on Monday revealed that indeed, corruption might just be worsening.

The report notes that bribery and absenteeism in education and health sectors remain persistently high. In fact, teacher absenteeism in primary schools increased from 19% in 2009/2010 to 21% last year, while health workers absenteeism increased from 46% to 51% last year, the report says. The most affected are health center IIIs and IIs.

Local level health centers are meant to provide medical services to the majority of the rural poor yet this can only happen when health workers are present to attend to patients. According to the IGG report launched on Monday, poor implementation of government anti-corruption policies, laws and strategies are to blame for the increasing level of corruption in the country.

Sadly not even government's multitude of safe nets could slow the corruption march. For instance, government Institutions specifically created to fight corruption like IGG, Directorate of Ethics and Integrity, Anti-Corruption Act, Leadership Code, Anti-Corruption court and Office of the Auditor General (OAG) among others have not made a significant imprint either.

Even the 2008 government formulated five year National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2008-2013), which expires at the end of next month has not achieved much.

The big question is why is corruption on the climb?

Irene Mulyagonja, the IGG, says government is not dealing with simple corruption but rather 'grand theft.'

"It is increasingly seen as a threat to human existence and that is why there have been proposals to have it recognized as 'a crime against humanity," she said during the launch of the report. To her, government efforts to raise the bar on corruption are yet to reap full dividends.

"The losses incurred in OPM and pension scandals should be viewed, as a clarion call to step up efforts, resources, vigilance and resolve to stamp out this vice" she notes.

Government has lost close to over Shs 100bn in both the OPM and Pension scandals.

Constraints

Mulyagonja believes that poverty, moral disintegration of the population and weak governance structures are to blame for the persistent corruption in the country. Article 17 (I) (i) of the Constitution, Mulyagonja explains, makes it the duty of every citizen to combat corruption, misuse or wastage of public resources.

To her dismay, the general public's view towards corruption is that of apathy and sometimes acquiescence.

"The war against corruption can't be won without public endorsement, participation and vigilance" she says, adding that lack of public engagement is making the corruption fight very difficult.

Mulyagonja further says poor remuneration of government officials like police, IGG officials and prosecutors among others is frustrating the fight against corruption. "What do you expect from a police officer who is investigating billions of shillings but he/she is poorly remunerated and facilitated?" she wonders.

The number of investigating officials in the IG and police are also still inadequate. She says, IGG officials at regional levels are inadequate to monitor and investigate all the corruption cases in the districts. Besides, Mulyagonja says state prosecutors lack the requisite skills and expertise to prosecute corruption related crimes causing government to lose many corruption related cases.

"The best brains prefer to use their acumen in defense of the corrupt rather than prosecuting them on behalf of government".

Ahmadou Moustapha Ndiaye, the World Bank Country Manager Uganda says owing to the recent corruption scandals, Uganda needs a review of all anti-corruption measures. According to Ndiaye, the increasing corruption in the country is a clear testimony that some measures may not be working.

Implementation gap

For instance, last year, the Global Integrity scorecard ranked Uganda 98 out of 100 countries with anti-corruption policies and laws in place. The country scored poorly, only 51% in the implementation of those policies, meaning that the country has an implementation gap of 49%. The report recommends that for Uganda to reap dividends from its anti-corruption policies there is need to bridge the implementation gap.

According to the same report, several procedures in government offices, departments and agencies are also to blame for fuelling corruption. Doing business in Uganda, the report notes, is still associated with many procedures and red tape and very little has changed since 2009, when recommendations for better services were made.

For instance, the report notes, for one to acquire a construction permit, he/she needs to go through 16 procedures compared to only three in Rwanda. Going through all the procedures is time consuming and hectic, forcing people to pay bribes to get around the lengthy process.

Any positives

Besides, the challenges, Ndiaye is still optimistic that it is possible to effectively eliminate corruption. "World Bank's experience in other countries is that corruption can be effectively fought only when eliminating the vice becomes everyone's business. To this effect, the engagement of executive, parliament and citizens of Uganda is extremely important," he explains.

Jacob Oulanyah, the deputy speaker of parliament believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. To Oulanyah, the fact that cabinet ministers implicated in corruption scandals were recently compelled to resign, is a new hope demonstrating the assertiveness of parliament in execution of its oversight role.

Dr Sarah Ssewanyana, the Executive Director Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC )at Makerere University says government needs to be practical and not cosmetic in its fight against corruption.

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