12 December 2017

Uganda: Let's Fight Corruption With Stringent Laws


In a report by Transparency International released in January this year, Uganda ranked 151 out of 176 countries in the Corruption Perception Index of 2016.

This means Uganda ranked number 25 as the most corrupt country in the world. This year's anti-corruption theme: United against Corruption for Development, Peace and Security clearly points out that this vice is a big hindrance to economic and social development.

Corruption affects education, health, justice, democracy and prosperity. Uganda and most African countries continue to extinguish in corruption because they have failed to realise the damage it does to impede prosperity.

According to the United Nations, every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion is stolen annually through corruption. This is about five per cent of the global GDP of about $80 trillion.

This clearly means that Uganda is not an island; corruption is a global sickness, affecting all countries, but the difference is in its severity of lives behind marks in the latter.

Over 68 per cent of the countries in the world battle corruption but most of these are developing countries. In developing countries, the money lost to corruption is 10 times more than the official development assistance (ODA). This has been a big barrier to international aid as many of these countries have had to lose out on foreign donations.

Donors fear that monies would be swindled and embezzled, not to serve the rightful purpose. The global fund scandal in Uganda stands out in this case, where money meant to help HIV victims was mercilessly embezzled by top government officials.

These not only shocked the world, but also left tears in the eyes of the many who lost their loved ones simply because this aid never reached them.

The biggest remedy to corruption is intolerance, and fighting it back with stringent laws. Uganda has often been praised for having the best laws and policies in the world, but never delivers when it comes to implementation.

The same is the case with corruption. The country boasts of a rich legal framework which has often been terribly implemented or not implemented at all. The laws against corruption started way back in the 1970s with the enactment of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1970.

Then there was the Inspectorate of Government Act 1988, the Anti-Corruption Act 2009, Leadership Code Act 2002, and Public Finance Management Act 2015.

All these provide clear-cut punishments to bribery and corruption but until a few years ago, we hadn't seen any big names being convicted, despite their overt corruption.

A few of them, however, were not as lucky and they had to taste the whip of the law, Geoffrey Kazinda, and the on-going Abraham Byandala case being best examples. However, considering the countless number of officials still engaged in corruption out there, this is only a drop in the ocean.

The code of conduct and ethics for Uganda public services defines bribery as any gratification with a value equal to or more than Shs 20,000 given to public officials by anyone with the intention to influence any current or future decisions.

It further says that if one is given such, they should declare it to the Inspectorate of Government for it to cease being a bribe.

But this has never been the case; officials bag millions of money without mentioning a word of it to anyone, lest they risk their superiors asking for their own share of the gift.

The definition, however, seems to say that the Shs10, 000 my friend gave the traffic officer the other day wasn't a bribe since it was less than Shs 20,000. I think a bribe can be even as small as a Shs 500 coin provided I am giving it with intent to influence a decision.

Corruption in Uganda remains largely rooted in the judiciary, police and public offices. It has become a norm that justice can only be administered through corruption and the moment a traffic policeman stops you, your mind runs to how much you have in your pocket.

This is how degenerated we are! Here, the court that finds you guilty of a corruption crime is the same court that sets you free. This is how bad it is!

Massive corruption also happens in tax administration and customs and public procurement which has greatly undermined investments in Uganda. One out of five companies indicates that they give a gift in order to secure a government contract.

Pharmacies have become a big business in Uganda and most of it is boosted by corruption and the continued stealing of drugs in public hospitals.

Corruption also remains a big threat to climate change since through corruption and bribery, forests and wetlands have continuously been illegally given away to private individuals to turn them into money mines, at the cost of the environment.

With the whistleblowing campaign in place, we can only do much. Companies and government should ensure zero tolerance to corruption. New policies should be put in place and the available good ones should be adequately implemented.

Civil society and citizens should step up and vigorously demand for accountability. That is the only way we can fight this cancer.

The author is a political and social critic.


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