Uganda: President's Anti-Corruption Walk Shouldn't Be in Vain

opinion

On December 9 when President Museveni spearheaded the walk against corruption, he created awareness about how the vice has eroded public morals and sensitised the public about the devastating impact on the efficacy of development.

He specifically emphasised that corruption affects all aspects of society if it goes unchecked and it is on that background that I wish to throw more light.

To highlight the problem of corruption, suppose, as a thought experiment, that 20 per cent of funds is lost to corruption. The 20 per cent represents, not bribes per se, but the inflated contracting costs and the loss of equipment and other inputs that result from tolerating bribery.

In this scenario, a Shs 1 billion project would have cost only Shs 800 million in an honest system. Suppose further that the investment is tied to interest from a grant and must earn a return of 10 per cent one year.

Then an honest project needs to generate benefits of Shs 880 million, while the corrupt project requires Shs 1.1 billion, a difference of Shs 220 million. Therefore, a project that should have cost Shs 800 million must return Shs 1.1 billion in order to be worthwhile - a rate of return on productively used resources of 37.5 per cent. Even in developed countries, not many projects have such a high return.

In short, corruption can dramatically reduce the number of projects that seem worth undertaking. For instance, the procurement process of the construction of the Supreme court and court of Appeal went ahead smoothly without any complaints and there was no administrative review. It was done in a record time because it was done in a transparent, fair and corruption free environment.

In my more than two decades of top-level civil service management, I've always sought out the best ways of curbing corruption but have met a lot of resistance and threats.

That started in the late nineties during the formative years of Universal Primary Education (UPE) when its rollout spurred me to interest myself in anticorruption programs- both to enhance the value of the project and to improve government functioning overall.

I met resistance from some districts that tried to inflate student figures but I'm glad the then vice president Specioza Wandira Kazibwe backed up my actions.

Much as my speciality is development projects for the country, my biggest concern has always been the ordinary person and how corruption affects the end-user.

Worse yet, if corrupt opportunities arise against the vulnerable, the corrupt officials will have unlimited access to personal gain. I experienced this at the ministry of Public Service where a cartel of corrupt officials used to extort large sums from unsuspecting pensioners.

People would sit outside the ministry gate to cut deals before processing anything for the old men and women. I started the system of computerisation and it helped to get rid of these middle men, notwithstanding the enemies it created for me.

Given these potential problems, I'm glad that government continues to support reform and to limit waste and corruption. I also witnessed more corruption when I joined the ministry of Health.

When I introduced the labelling drugs, it was resisted after it had caused arrests of people who were stealing government drugs both in Kikuubo and West Nile not to mention a medical doctor in Katakwi who had turned a vaccine-storage fridge to cool beers at his restaurant.

To counter these challenges, I developed the Long Term Institutional Arrangement (LTIA) to create checks and balances and this is what convinced development partners to lift the suspension of Global Fund and GAVI funds to Uganda.

The development partners did this directly by supporting our programmes and also provided budgetary support to government as long as safeguards and good governance policies were in place.

It was even worse at the Office of the Prime Minister where I uncovered a cartel of corrupt officials that had besieged all sectors right from the ministry of Finance to Bank of Uganda and the Treasury.

I highlighted all this experience in my book titled Corruption: a tale of wolves in sheep's clothing. They almost twisted the media to play their narrative but the truth always comes on top.

It is for this reason that I also want to caution media houses that they play a subsidiary role in keeping anticorruption on the agenda and in helping in the design and monitoring of government programmes.

At the moment, Uganda needs serious anticorruption strategies that are consistent with general development principles. These include fair bidding procedures for government procurement, improved financial auditing, transparent public decision-making processes, streamlined and simplified bureaucratic procedures, civil service reform, easy access to information, and prompt and easy-to-use appeals processes.

Such reforms can both limit corrupt incentives and reduce other forms of waste and inefficiency. If espoused, they may be less threatening to national leaders and more difficult for these leaders to oppose if the benefits are improved service delivery and more effective implementation of tax and regulatory laws.

Yet again, this form of success is addressed in my book: From Tears to Cheers: A brief analysis of the reconstruction of Northern Uganda (2007-2012).

In this book, it is evident that despite the many challenges encountered, there was great success in peace recovery and development programme (PRDP) in northern Uganda.

Of course, procedures that increase transparency and invite public participation can lead to delay and invite controversy - so there may be trade-offs between more government accountability and speed. But quick action is not a virtue if it means that public officials can easily satisfy their own aims without concern for public or expert opinion.

On that note, I believe the way to go is to digitize systems and make information and services accessible to the public. For instance, the soon-to-be introducted of electronic court case management information system will make it unattractive to be engaged in corrupt tendencies because it will reduce person-to-person filing since this will be electronic.

So, I hope all Ugandans can pick a leaf from President Museveni's walk against corruption to work for the best interests of the state instead of personal gain through corrupt tendencies.

We must walk the talk.

The author is secretary to the Judiciary

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