The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Corruption - Museveni Could Learn From Singapore

opinion

Given the chance, most human beings will use their positions for personal gain.

Thus nearly everyone is capable of engaging in some form of corruption. Some people, out of personal commitment borne of piety or family and social upbringing, may avoid anything like theft, abuse of office, bribe-taking/giving - practices we euphemistically call corruption.

Yet this is the exception, not the rule. Generally, people use their offices and positions for personal benefit. So, what remedies can we look to?

First, we must close all loopholes that accord individuals undue discretionary power, amenable to misuse and abuse. However, in practice this is difficult. Individuals holding public office must wield not just sufficient power and authority but also discretion in exercising their duties.

Second, the age-old practice has been to build complex, hierarchical and detailed bureaucratic systems such that no one individual can engage in infractions without being detected. The irony in Uganda is that the more red-tape we have, the more centres of corruption are fostered.

The third remedy is to make corruption too costly for everyone. This can be done through a system that severely punishes theft, abuse and misuse of public (including privately-managed) resources while rewarding honesty and hard-work. This would work in a country like Uganda, and the case of Singapore is instructive.

Singapore faced stupendous existential threats shortly after splitting from Malaysia in 1965. There was no state apparatus to run a country surrounded by hostile yet relatively powerful neighbours.

The population was very poor (GDP per capita was $500 in 1959; it's close to $60,000 today). Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues understood that Singapore had to build everything from scratch - and perform at their very best. Failure was not a choice; efficiency and frugality a must.

They had to run an immaculate government. Lee established the Corrupt Practices Investigations Bureau (CPIB). The government also enacted stringent anti-graft laws.

"The most effective change we made in 1960," writes Lee in his 2000 autobiography, "was to allow the courts to treat that an accused was living beyond his means or had property his income could not explain as corroborating evidence that the accused had accepted or obtained a bribe." Lee adds: "we had established a climate of opinion which looked upon corruption in public office as a threat to society."

The CPIB investigated anyone, including senior ministers and longtime confidants of Lee. In one case, as the CPIB closed in on a senior minister accused of taking an $800,000 bribe, he sought Lee's intervention, pleading innocent. Lee advised his colleague to let the CPIB complete its investigations and clear him! Shortly, the minister committed suicide, leaving a note for Lee.

He expressed regret for his mistake, noting he had opted for the ultimate punishment to save himself the ignominy of a public prosecution.

But what do we see in Uganda?

In the late 1990s General Salim Saleh was involved in the infamous "junk helicopter" scandal. Saleh confessed to President Museveni that he took an (incidentally) $800,000 bribe. The president forgave him but ordered that the money be used for development or something like that. What if Museveni had done something different: forwarded Saleh's case to our equivalent of Singapore's CPIB.

The agency would have completed its investigations and prosecuted Saleh, securing a court conviction. The court would likely have been lenient to a first-time offender, handing him a two-year jail sentence, a fine of $50,000 and order that the bribe money goes to the treasury. General Saleh would serve half his jail term and get a presidential pardon. More than ten years later, we wouldn't have a Kazinda-gate.

We have a directorate of Ethics and Integrity, and a minister. We also have a minister for National Guidance! Every Sunday, we also pray for our leaders to stop being corrupt. What is more, the government started a programme of teaching patriotism in schools. Undoubtedly the patriotism curriculum includes "love for the country," which entails desisting from swindling public resources.

"It is easy to start off with high moral standards, strong convictions and determination to beat down corruption," opines Lee. "But it is difficult to live up to these good intentions unless the leaders are strong and determined enough to deal with all transgressors, and without exceptions."

How about enacting a law that will make acts of corruption and abuse of office, even with the remotest connection to the poor state of our hospitals and schools, capital offences? Our own 'CPIB' would investigate properties in Kampala and beyond, and ascertain who owns what and how they acquired it.

One does not require rocket science for this. But even with such science, the NRM government and President Museveni would be risking a "coup." Teddy Seezi Cheeye and Mike Mukula are in Luzira but hundreds, if not thousands, are in their offices and ill-gotten homes.

The author is a PhD student in Political Science at Northwestern University, Evanston/Chicago-USA.

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