4 February 2013

Uganda: When Public Interest Becomes Private, Then the Public Dies


I have been quiet for some time because I was just pondering on what was happening to the Ugandan society. Of recent, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge in regard to plunder of public resources by thieving government officials.

The entire media has been awash with "award winning" corruption scandals and we have all remained pondering whether these human beings have a conscience? There is one environmental economics theory developed by Hardins and the theory states that: "in a situation of scarcity of resources, an individual would strive to maximise the use of a resource not wondering about the other users of the same resource".

Indeed, you see how we use our roads without considering other users and the carnage such unscrupulous behaviour has caused. Because of lack of consideration for the sanctity of sharing a resource and the greed of single individual in regard to the use of the resources in the question, this theory is called "the tragedy of commons"

Indeed, every Ugandan of good will is by now aware of the nature of greed [read sickness] that has pervaded those trusted with public resources.

I am using sickness because how else would you describe a person who steals and lies to himself that he enjoys the stolen money, which was the pension of those old men and women in Kisoro, Kotido or Dokolo. The thirst for plundering public resources has become so insatiable that no amount of water can quench the thirst.

But one is imbued to hazard a question: "What is it that has driven the current level of corruption from "impunity through stupidity to sickness" at pandemic level.

I call it sickness because what sense is there for someone to rob the country and steal pension savings for the poor and wretched of the earth, men and women who have served their country diligently, only to end in abject poverty and impoverishment at the hands of unscrupulous and spineless individuals who sarcastically thrive on suffering of others.

Being a product of East African Revival Movement that swept through Kigezi in 1930's, I am painstakingly unable to judge, condemn or hate these thieves. I grew up and socialised into accepting all sorts of social deviants but I wish to repent here that it has taken me a while to forgive these people that have continued to plunder our national resources with impunity.

Thank God that I have now overcome this burden and I forgive them. As I have counseled people before, stealing is a deviant behaviour that grows from "formative" through youthful age" to adulthood". As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians, 9: 6, you reap what you saw. Indeed, we are now reaping what we failed to address a long time ago.

For the last 15 years, we urged Ugandan government that, if corruption is allowed to continue unabated, it will increasingly be impossible to fight. This is absolutely the situation in which we found ourselves. It is now not only an insurmountable task but also risky to endeavour to fight corruption.

Corruption has become clearly integrated in institutions of the Government and entire moral fabric within the public. The more one tries to address it, the more sophisticated those who benefit from corruption have become. I recently conducted a research and established that Ugandans can only perceive a service to be of quality only to the extent to which they pay either overt or under the counter for the service.

Any service which one has not bribed to receive cannot be accepted as good. Similarly, it was established that Ugandan society rewards quick and primitive accumulation of wealth in what is gloried as "the end justifies the means". Let me say that in countries like New Zealand, there is no way one can enjoy "ill gotten" wealth.

Corrupt people are ridiculed, ostracized and publically made misfits in society. It is this approach by what I will call "active citizens" that has helped to stump out corruption in these serious countries. The citizens realised that it was them that were being robbed and impoverished by the corrupt individuals. Once this realisation is inculcated in citizens, it is when they will rise up and fight corruption with all the lethal means at their disposal.

It is upon the public to set standards. Either as Ugandans, you continue glorifying thieves or you ridicule the robbers and reward integrity. This shall be the only way to reclaim the "Pearl of Africa". As Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere counseled: "When the public interest becomes private, then the public dies".

Indeed, when one looks at what is happening in the Ugandan public sector management, one cannot help to wonder whether there is any one with life in the public sector. And the worst feeling is whether there is any rationale for people to continue paying tax. Because if all the revenue people generate through tax is for stealing, then, why pay tax?

God save our country.

Writer is an international development consultant

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