Uganda: Analysis - Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema

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

Kampala, Uganda — President Yoweri Museveni has unveiled Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema to the public as the newest anti-corruption tsar in State House. Nakalema, a trusted Museveni aide, was named to the task soon after she returned to Uganda in September after a one-year stint at the Shrivenham Defence Academy in London, UK on a senior command and staff course. Before her departure she had been a Personal Assistant to Museveni and the go-to person in State House.

Museveni commissioned offices for Nakalema's unit at the President's Office buildings in Kampala and told journalists the he appointed Nakalema because she is fearless, upright, and likely not to conceal corruption.

Her posting follows another one in June, when Museveni appointed one James Tweheyo; a former secretary general of the Uganda National Teachers Union, Capt. Martha Asiimwe, and one Sister Mary Grace Akiror to head an anti-corruption unit in State House. But in October Museveni abruptly removed Tweheyo and appointed him RDC. With Nakalema's appointment, the fate of the other two on the Tweheyo team remains unclear.

While explaining Nakalema's appointment on Dec.10, as Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark the United Nations set annual Anti-corruption Day usually commemorated on December 09, Museveni said Nakalema was part of additional fuel he was adding to the fight against corruption. In any case, he said the existing agencies; from the Inspectorate of Government, the Auditor General, Parliament, and the Judiciary have all become infested by corrupt people he called 'weevils'.

Museveni said his government has faced seven challenges related to corruption and defeated three, namely army killing people, poaching in the national parks, and army extortion at road blocks where they were killing people. He said officials who extort money from people, illegal operations in wetlands, and embezzlement and bribery, and nepotism remain.

Before the Dec.10 announcement, Museveni had on Dec.05 excited the country, when he promised to make major pronouncements on tackling corruption. Museveni was receiving an award for fighting corruption from a global accountability and anti-corruption NGO, Transparency International that was marking 25 years of operation in Uganda. Several speakers highlighted rising corruption levels despite numerous institutions and laws in place to fight it.

Former leader of opposition in Parliament Wafula Oguttu who was also awarded at the event for his anti-corruption efforts said whereas many corrupt people are being exposed, the number of corruption cases being recorded also keeps going up, an indicator that something is not being done right.

In some of the major corruption cases this year, one Apollo Ssenketto was jailed for 10 years by the Anti- Corruption Court for stealing up to shs24.7billion meant for the Mukono - Katosi road project. He formed a fictitious company that was dubiously awarded the contract.

The commission of Inquiry into land matters led by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire also exposed rackets of businessmen, religious leaders, ministers, and other prominent people involved in land and property theft. The Minister of Lands Betty Amongi and Minister of State for Lands Ronald Kibuule have been implicated in possible wrongdoing but no action has been taken.

Also, the Financial Intelligence Authority launched an investigation into former Bank of Uganda Executive Director for Commercial Banks Supervision Justine Bagyenda over alleged illegitimate accumulation of wealth. This was shortly after the Inspectorate of Government (IG) had quizzed her over acquisition of assets in different areas of Kampala and accumulation of money on different fixed deposit bank accounts.

The on-going hearings by the parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) into how Bank of Uganda sold and allowed takeover of several commercial banks, has exposed more corruption.

More action needed

Wafula was joined by anti-corruption activist Cissy Kagaba to demand more action against the corrupt. Kagaba wanted illicitly gained wealth to be recovered from the corrupt and government officials implicated in scandals to leave office.

According to the latest 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Uganda ranks 151 out of the 180 countries ranked by Transparency International. It was at the same rank in 2016 out of 176 countries, meaning only 25 countries were perceived to be more corrupt. A year before in 2015, it had ranked 139 out of the same number of countries ranked. In terms of CPI, the higher the corruption, the higher the ranking.

While Uganda rated to the highs of 151 in 2017, Rwanda performed best at 48 followed by Tanzania at 103. Kenya came 143rd of the 180 countries ranked. Burundi and South Sudan were worse than Uganda at 157 and 179 respectively.

The CPI does not measure actual incidents of corruption but the extent to which citizens think corruption takes place. Uganda's worsening perception figures could be due to increased reports in the media influencing perception. But the World Bank, in its 11th edition of the Uganda Economic Update released in May, noted that because of endemic delays in implementation, cost overruns and corruption, project costs in Uganda tend to escalate or double.

In the State of the Nation Address in June, President Museveni said Uganda was struggling economically partly because corrupt officials make it difficult for investors to establish businesses. He said he knew the culprits and that he would expose and kick them out of office.

"What happened to the IGG? Why don't the victims of corruption report those incidents to the office of the IGG? That was the purpose of that office; to protect the public from corrupt officials; to protect investors against corrupt officials. The IGG should reflect on this. Are her staff credible? Why does the public not trust that institution? We need answers," Museveni said.

He said it is wrong for people to expect money for every little task.

"We could not have liberated this country if we did not have a high degree of altruism. This attitude of altruism must come back," he said and blamed the public for failing to report criminals. He said there is no criminal his government cannot handle.

Museveni the problem

An official in the IG who preferred anonymity told The Independent that the President has on many occasions blocked investigations into corruption. According to the official, that makes Museveni part of the reason anticorruption institutions and laws fail.

"He has told us to back off some cases mid-way investigations, some when we are about to finish. He himself protects some people. How do you expect us to move? Fighting corruption is not speaking and threatening; it's action," the official said.

The official predicted that the 2018 rankings will show Uganda has worsened. He said even when the amended Leadership Code Act comes into force in March, the tribunals needed for it to bite have not been formed.

According to the 2017 amendment, in addition to key civil servants and Members of Parliament declaring their wealth in terms of buildings, companies, land and others, they will this time have to declare their cash at hand from Shs5million and above. But many are expected not to comply. And the IGG is toothless without tribunals, according to a 2010 ruling by court in which former MP Ken Lukyamuzi defeated the IGG. Court ruled that the IGG had thrown him out of parliament wrongly over failure to declare his wealth in 2005 because the IGG is not the tribunal.

"We will ask them to declare the money but some will want to hide. How are we expected to verify that with utmost accuracy? As you know Uganda is a cash economy. Big monies exchange hands without signing any document or going to the bank. We don't use credit cards," the official said.

Kagaba of ACCU told The Independent on Nov. 06 that Museveni's pledge to pay legal fees for then jailed Junior Health Minister Mike Mukula who had been found guilty of embezzling GAVI funds to be freed was wrong.

"He also said he knows the corrupt officials who solicit money from investors. Six months later, no names have been exposed yet. All they say is that there is political will but this will should be about people seeing corruption levels going down,"Kagaba said.

Kagaba says Museveni rides on political patronage and "mafias" will thrive since they run to the President for protection. She says Museveni's hands are tied and he cannot afford annoying them.

"We would expect ministers implicated in these commissions and investigations to step aside. That's what happens in countries like Denmark, Finland and Switzerland whose CPIs are good," Kagaba said.

"When they are investigated by the IGG, the president comes in to block. Their (IG) hands are tied too," she said and pointed at countries in the region that are beating corruption.

Kagaba says Museveni comes up with new laws and amendments not to curb corruption but to make it hard for the big wigs to be implicated. She said the amendment of the Leadership Code Act last year weakened it when they exempted spousal properties from being considered when auditing the assets of public officials.

She said the government would be recovering big monies if legally established institutions like the IG, the Office of the Auditor General, PPDA and the Anti-Corruption Court were allowed to conduct their mandates independently and allocated enough resources instead of setting up units with unclear departments that duplicate responsibilities and waste taxpayers' money.

Beyond the big monies

The IGG has been criticized for pursuing small cases instead of going for the big wigs. But an official at the IG told The Independent that it is a deliberate strategy because they might never bring the big wigs to book. Instead, the IGG believes, it is important to make people understand the true cost of corruption so that they can report culprits right from the grassroots. That strategy was behind this year's anti-corruption day theme of 'Winning the fight against corruption; a sustainable path to Uganda's transformation".

The official said that it is a mistake to limit assessment of the cost of corruption on big monies and big names. Take the case of the recent tragedy on Lake Victoria where over 30 lives were lost because someone was allowing an unlicensed boat on the water or when a nurse gives a child half a dose of vaccine so she can use one for two children and sell the other. What are the health outcomes and the life-long impact that may have?

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