10 December 2018

Uganda: What's in Museveni's New Strategy to Fight Corruption?

Photo: Supplied
Anti-corruption chief Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema (file photo)

Kampala — When President Museveni ascends the podium at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala today to announce new tactics to fight corruption, his in-tray will brim with unresolved cases.

A day after he last Tuesday informed the country of today's planned proclamation, a court in the United States convicted a Chinese national, Parick Ho, on allegations that he, in 2016, offered $500,000 (Shs1.9b) separate bribe payments to both the President and Foreign minister Sam Kutesa.

Mr Kutesa has denied taking the bribe, describing the allegations as "lies."

There is no evidence that the President solicited, expected or received any cash from Mr Ho as federal investigators told the Southern district of New York court during prosecution.

Analysts say the initiative to be unveiled today is welcome in part because it offers him the first opportunity to publicly comment on the outcome of a case thousands of miles away, but one that touches on the subject of graft that the President is re-engaging a gear to fight at home.

Both Mr Museveni and minister Kutesa were not defendants and never testified in the US court.

The government has over the years enacted laws such as the Leadership Code Act and created a plethora of institutions, among them the Inspectorate of Government, to check hemorrhaging of public resources and punish culprits.

Transparency International (TI), a global anti-corruption organisation, last week commemorated a silver jubilee of its operations in Uganda.

President Museveni presided over the fête in Kampala during which he announced that he would today unveil new measures" in his government's "renewed fight against corruption".

The question of whether institutions created to fight corruption in Uganda are doing much returned to the fore after TI in its February 21, 2018 corruption perception index survey reported that the country had stagnated at position 151 out of 180 countries surveyed.

"This, according to critics, was a sign that may be the country still has gaps that are hindering its anti-corruption efforts, and that unless these gaps are addressed, the country's performance may never improve," the organisation noted in a preamble to the report.

President Museveni's planned declaration today would be expected to speak to the millstones as much as to the solutions.

He has already created an anti-corruption unit under Maj Edith Nakalema, his former private secretary, which over the months has been questioning State House staff in relation to their financial dealings in a revived palace power fight.

Insiders say it is the progress made by this unit, even when still scant and low-key, that the President will flag today as evidence he can bite from within as much as from far.

Put another way, he will argue that he is not all talk and no action as suggested by Ms Miria Matembe, the former Ethics minister turned vocal government critic.

"President Museveni cannot fight corruption because the supporters who sustain him are corrupt," Ms Matembe said in an interview, adding: "As long as he is interested in staying in power, he cannot do anything to fight corruption."

Under Mr Museveni's watch, some high profile cases of suspected pilfering of government resources have been prosecuted, even when some of the alleged big fish have been acquitted or walked away with lighter sentences.

A vice president and a number of ministers have variously been jailed or prosecuted for receiving kickbacks in big contracts for public works or supplies or fiddling with government money.

The cases have included bungled procurements for the CommonWealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), which Uganda hosted in 2007; fiddling with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) as well as Global Fund cash; the alleged spiriting away of Shs60b by bureaucrats in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM); and, the pension scam.

The President can today report these and others to show that his anti-corruption drive is more than rhetoric.

Already, his planned address today has been sold to Ugandans as defining and a must-watch on television.

"Listen in on Monday (today)... as @KagutaMuseveni makes major announcements in this renewed [anti-corruption] war. War on graft is reloaded!" Senior Presidential Press Secretary Don Wanyama tweeted on December 6.

The excuses and explainers for persistence of graft in the country have varied, depending on which official or agency is speaking.

The 3rd National Integrity Survey, for instance, found that seven of every 10 corrupt practices is fuelled by greed; a desire to accumulate wealth in the quickest time possible.

Greed

"This has been worsened by the shift in the middle-age crisis where the young generation competes to accumulate wealth irrespective of the means used," the study noted.

In June this year, the Inspector General of Government, Ms Irene Mulyagonja, told this newspaper that many corrupt government officials hide behind Mr Museveni's back.

She said corrupt officials use their connection to the Head of State to defeat or escape justice.

Her remarks followed Mr Museveni's questioning earlier in the same month of the effectiveness of the Inspectorate of Government in checking corruption.

According to the President, graft has continued because he had priorities to sort out a collapsed economy and infrastructure, a largely illiterate population, including the rank and file he led into government and inherited corrupt civil servants that he said manipulate the laws to clothe themselves from prosecution.

As the ping-pong continues, there are straitjacket cases the President can target to achieve a recovery of lost public resources or assets, if not prosecution, and show his political will to rein in impunity.

SOME OF THE CORRUPTION CASES OVER THE YEARS

-Shs6b bureaucrats pocketed as presidential handshake for handling the oil case

-Irregular sale of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation land in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb.

-Shs20b the government lost in guaranteed loans for Apparels Tri-Star Uganda Ltd.

-Shs142b that businessman Hassan Basajjabala received in compensation on the President's orders for cancelled contracts for managing Nakasero and other market in Kampala

-Shs200b paid to German firm, Muhlbauer Technology, to print National Identity cards it didn't.

-15-acre prime public land in the city, then of Shimoni Demonstration Primary School and Teachers' College, doled out ostensibly to a Saudi prince to construct a modern hotel, which never happened.

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