More than Shs 2 trillion has been swindled since 2000, activists claim:
Way back in 2000, businessman Gordon Wavamunno wrote in his book, "The Story of an African Entrepreneur" that of all the problems and evils Uganda faced then, none was worse than corruption.
Uganda, he cautioned, risked becoming a haven for corruption and 'a den of malpractices'. For 12 years now, the government has been battling one scandal after another involving grand theft of colossal sums of public money.
From the junk helicopter scandal to ghost soldiers, GAVI, Global Fund, the Tri-star apparels project, Chogm, the National Identity Cards project; the bicycles for LCs, the pension scam, the PRDP firestorm in the Office of the Prime Minister as well as the city markets compensation to businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba, billions have been lost.
Besides the prominent cases involving billions, petty corruption involving smaller sums often goes unnoticed and unreported.
A review by the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) of major corruption scandals that have rocked the country in the last decade reveals that the vice is on a steady rise. ACCU Executive Director, Cissy Kagaba, says the sums involved have been growing steadily over the years.
"Corruption cases of 2000 involved smaller amounts of money, but today because of the impunity, corruption has become more frequent and involving colossal amounts of money," she says.
ACCU's statistics indicate that from 2000 to 2006, the country witnessed nine mega corruption scandals, in which Shs 977bn was lost, compared to 15 scams from 2007 to date in which Shs 2 trillion was lost. With this money, the activists say, the country could have built at least 15 new national referral hospitals or four big hydropower dams.
Arthur Larok, country director at ActionAid Uganda, agrees with Kagaba. He says President Museveni has often publicly vowed to fight corruption, but there is little to show for this. Larok notes that presidential pronouncements on corruption have not translated into real actions that can deter "politically-connected thieves" and civil servants.
"It is not about having it embedded in the manifesto, it is about the political will to implement the laws, policies and strategies," Kagaba says.
In his book, Wavamunno noted that combating corruption is a matter of life and death because businesses can't survive in a climate where corruption is rife.
"Unless corruption is checked, it will retard economic growth and national development and popular slogans like 'Prosperity for All' will remain hollow.
Larok does not believe that the war on corruption has been lost.
"Yes, we have lost many battles against corruption, but the war will definitely be won," he says, proposing new interventions that he believes can make a difference.
These include civic education, a review of the Penal Code Act, and the ouster of President Museveni from power in the 2016 elections.
"People should shed off fear and embrace courage. Ugandans shouldn't rest until we immunize this country against corruption," Larok says. "If we kicked polio out of Uganda, why not corruption?"
He also laments the apathy, indifference, inertia and foot-dragging amongst Ugandans, which he says fuels corruption. Civil society organizations, Larok revealed, have launched a plan that will sensitise the public about the dangers of corruption through newsletters, radios and outreach programmes.
Larok also wants to see a review of the legal regime governing the fight against corruption so that loopholes being exploited by thieves to go scot free are plugged.
According to him, one of the reasons why corruption thrives is because it is not a risky venture.
"To make corruption risky business, we need a law that turns the burden of proof on the accused," he argues.
"We need a law that allows, in cases where evidence has been adduced by a respectable institution like the Office of the Auditor General and corroborated by Parliament, property of those implicated to be confiscated and auctioned," he stresses.
Activists further want Parliament to expedite the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2012 that proposes recovery of stolen money through the attachment of thieves' property. Activists have also proposed the introduction of 'aggravated corruption' in the law to cater for mega scandals such as OPM, Pensions and Global Fund fraud where life imprisonment should be the ultimate punishment.
Above all, Larok believes the ejection of President Museveni would help.
"With this headmaster (Museveni) still around, all the proposed interventions will not bear fruits," he said, calling on Ugandans to exercise their constitutional right by voting Museveni out of power in the 2016 elections.
Both Larok and Kagaba accuse Museveni of lacking the political will to fight corruption.
Rev Fr Simon Lokodo, the minister of Ethics and Integrity, says the government is on top of the situation. He concurs with civil society activists that there are some gaps in the legal regime, citing the Anti-Corruption Act, which stops at conviction and does not address the recovery of stolen property. Lokodo also points at the Leadership Code, which compels public officials to declare their wealth but does not provide for the verification of the declared assets.
The government, Lokodo reveals, is about to introduce two bills that he believes will plug the existing gaps, including the Assets Recovery/Proceeds of Corruption Bill, which the minister says has already been drafted.
"I will be presenting it before cabinet and finally Parliament by February 2013," he said.
"People scatter their illicitly acquired wealth amongst children and relatives; this law will help us go that far and recover the money on top of prison sentences," he explained.
The government will further table the Quitam Bill 2013, that would give citizens the right to privately prosecute those suspected of corruption with the help of concerned government agencies, Lokodo says.
"We want to empower citizens to [undertake] private prosecutions of the corrupt as long as they have evidence," he stressed, adding that once these measures are taken, "corruption will die automatically".
In addition, the government is drafting the National Ethical Values policy that it hopes will sensitise citizens on the virtues of honesty and transparency.
Major theft scandals according to ACCU (From 2000- 2012)
Training ghost soldiers
1.6bn GAVI funds
Lost in the ministry of Health
600bn Global Fund
782bn Meant for UPE
School facility grant
Via Tri-star (AGOA)
Umeme subsidy fee
2009 2.7bn Naads
2010 2bn Lost via Posta-Kenya
Lost via IGG's office
Lost via Posta-Kenya
2011 205bn Identity Card (ID)
2011 5bn Meant for LC Bicycles
Basajja (compensation scandal)
150bn Pensions scam
2012 375bn Lost via ministry of Education
22bn Lost via OPM
400bn Lost in ghost firms (MOF)