Google+
Thursday 18th of December 2014 10:27:16 PM
 

You buy the Truth, we pay the Price
Banner
 

Holding the IGG to account

E-mail Print PDF

How the ombudsman has been misusing her office and thereby undermining its stature and prestige; and what can be done about it

Last week the Inspector General of Government (IGG) issued a report on the dossier submitted to the office by a “whistle blower” regarding “corruption” in the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The allegations were a collection of personal frustrations from an employee who had been fired from the Fund and wanted to vent his spleen on management. Although to its credit the IGG found nearly all the allegations empty, the implications of its report undermine the ability of the Fund to attract competent managers in the future. Indeed, granting audience to every Tom, Dick and Harry has promoted a culture of impunity by whistle-blowers.

 

First let me declare a conflict of interest – my name had been mentioned by the whistle blower. The IGG found the claims without merit. I should therefore be prising the office. Yet I find a fundamental flaw with how the Inspectorate is approaching its job. It needs to understand the political economy of Uganda’s complaints against corruption. The power to cancel or block a major contract/tender or subvert the management of an institution in Uganda has been dispersed across many diffuse fragments of the state; the IGG, parliament and its various committees, PPDA, police, intelligence organisations and State House. The assumption is that this creates checks and balances against abuse of power. Yet the reality is that this creates opportunities for corruption and fighting personal vendettas.

The most difficult power to exercise is the power of restraint. The constitution and other enabling laws (the IGG and the Whistle-blower Acts) give enormous powers to the Inspectorate. This power needs to be exercised judiciously. Yet most IGGs (with the exception of Jotham Tumwesigye) have failed to restrain the use of this power.

Uganda needs, as an IGG, a person with a strategic mind; a person who can exercise the power of that office after conscientious examination of the issues involved. The aim would be to insulate the institution from petty complaints many of which can be handled by internal mechanisms within an institution. Therefore even when the IGG technically has powers to investigate certain complaints, the best way might be to refer many of them to the management of the concerned institution.

For example, in the NSSF report, the IGG investigated how the Company Secretary used his official phone while abroad; how the Deputy Managing Director went with per diem of five days yet attended a conference for only two and how the Managing Director sold a plot of land at Shs 650m which had been bought at the same price three years earlier. These matters are beneath the prestige of the office and should have referred them back to the board of NSSF to handle internally. The only justification would be if the inspectorate demonstrates that it referred the complaints to management and it did nothing in spite of repeated requests.

Secondly, the IGG needs to strike a balance between conflicting interests – like fairness and equity on the one hand and economic viability and common-sense on the other. For instance, the IGG stopped the construction of Pension House in Nakasero in 2008 because then NSSF MD, David Jamwa, had altered the design of the building (from eight to 32 floors) thereby increasing costs from Shs39 billion to Shs 136 billion. The exchange rate then was Shs 1,600 to the dollar, a litre of petrol was Shs 1,800 and a bag of cement was Shs 14,000. Six years later the dollar is Shs 2,500, a litre of petrol Shs 3,750 and a bag of cement Shs 32,000.

Although NSSF has already sunk Shs 60 billion into the structure, the cheapest bidder to finish the building quoted Shs 285 billion in 2013. As I write this article, even this new procurement has also been stopped by the IGG. Indeed, the new costs make the construction of Pension House unviable. Therefore, the cost of the IGG’s intervention in this case far exceed any injury it sought to cure. I can quote tens of projects in which the IGG has intervened and instead of saving the taxpayer, it has escalated the costs astronomically. One could argue that the indirect benefit is to scare thieves. Yet the reality is that even the IGG’s interventions create opportunities for members of its staff to extort bribes from those they are investigating.

The cost of fighting alleged corruption should not exceed the benefits that may accrue from such an endeavour. This principle applies to other spheres like marketing and tax administration. In marketing, the costs of reaching a particular market segment should not exceed the margins you are going to get. The cost of collecting tax revenues from a shop in rural Karamoja should not exceed the amount collectable. Shopkeepers in Kampala may complain that in letting their counterparts in rural Karamoja not pay taxes, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is not being fair. But it is not economically viable for URA to spend Shs 50m a month to collect Shs 40m worth of revenue. Here the Authority has to sacrifice the principle of equity and fairness at the altar of common-sense.

Finally, the Inspectorate needs to respect and try to enhance the internal control mechanisms in the institutions it investigates. If the organisation has internal procedures to correcting mistakes, the IGG should encourage them to work, not usurp their powers .So far, the IGG has appeared to either not understand its role or have lacked faith in the internal governance structures of other public institutions.

All institutions, public and private, have various internal control weaknesses which they keep working to improve. A perfect company or institution does not exist – not even in the Vatican. Even Google, Microsoft and Apple have many internal control weaknesses which auditors point out routinely. The standard, therefore, is not whether but when the IGG should intervene and investigate complaints in an institution.

The IGG needs to learn to refer many of the complaints it receives to internal processes of the institutions under scrutiny such as disciplinary committees, audit committees or the board. This is necessary to deter abuse by disgruntled former employees and other persons seeking to use her office to fight personal vendettas. It is also vital to facilitate the growth and consolidation of internal governance competences in these organisations to handle administrative abuses and weaknesses on their own.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Comments (11)Add Comment
...
written by Rajab Kakyama, May 12, 2014
Common sense is not the absence of deep thinking. But first, let's examine Mwenda's allegation as to whether the IGG's report undermines the ability of the NSSF to attract competent managers in the future, by, defining both the roles of the NSSF and the IGG. NSSF is a Public Savings Scheme mandated under the National Social Security Fund Act, Cap 222 (Laws of Uganda) to among other things, collect, safe keep, invest and distribute retirement funds from employees of the Private sector who are not catered for under the Government Retirement Scheme.
...
written by Rajab Kakyama, May 12, 2014
On the other hand, the primary objective of the ombudsman is to seek out citizens' complaints of abuse of public administrators and to negotiate changes in the offending practices. More specifically, the powers as enshrined in the Constitution and IG Act include; to investigate or cause investigation, arrest or cause arrest, prosecute or cause prosecution, make orders and give directions during investigations; access and search – enter and inspect premises or property or search a person or bank account or safe deposit box among others. Did, therefore, the IGG overstep (misuse) her mandate?
...
written by Rajab Kakyama, May 12, 2014
It should be and it ought to have been in the minds of applicants at the time including Ex- Managing Director (Mr. Richard Byarugaba) that the office they were seeking is/was of a public nature and therefore, it attracts/attracted the rigours of strict public scrutiny. How, therefore, does this report scare away future candidates worthy the salt? Let's then consider the "spirit" of the report. First and foremost, there was a complainant. Secondly, the report was addressed to the Minister of Finance, Planning & Economic Development (NSSF's line ministry) and copied to both the Chairman of the Board and his Managing director.
...
written by Rajab Kakyama, May 12, 2014
Having followed these steps, the purpose of the report is very clear that;- a complaint was lodged, investigations were carried out and here were the findings. The recommendations therein are at best "advisory" and the affected parties are not shutout from a higher public hearing. Mwenda should know as much I do, that public offices are home to mischief and all sorts of shenanigans- Public officers are seen to be lazy, arrogant, inflexible, short-sighted and sometimes too numerous. The office of the IGG should therefore, act (or be seen to act) as a "safety valve" to these weaknesses.
...
written by Rajab Kakyama, May 12, 2014
Which makes the argument that "the IGG needs to strike a balance between conflicting interests- like fairness and equity on one hand and economic viability and common-sense on the other", a valid one. My problem, however, is how he(Mwenda)arrives at the conclusion of what is petty and not. For a moment let's draw away from the NSSF - IGG report. Supposing a traffic officer pulls a driver over for speeding and discovers that the driver is trying to get a child with a gaping wound to the hospital, one would not expect the officer to write a ticket.
...
written by Rajab Kakyama, May 12, 2014
But before the traffic officer applies "common-sense" not to issue a ticket in this instance, reality demands that he should first stop the speeding vehicle, then through interrogations come up with "proper judgement." In Mwenda's book, this should be "premonitory!" Sometimes, common-sense demands the "good practical understanding" of the situation at hand.
...
written by Ocheto, May 12, 2014
Some of these institutions like NSSF have outlived their value to the society. They are cash cows for the politically connected to leech off the poor and less powerful or influential, and, like Mwenda, social snobs. NSSF ought to be disbanded it has been ripping ordinary off our money since its inception: scandal and after scandal after scandal. There comes a time for the workers to say let's cut our losses. It is people’s lives; it is their lives; and it is their money and it does not matter, the amount. The explanation does not always have to be rich and complicated; it could be lean and simple, which as it turns out is usually for the better and often the more correct.
...
written by Louis Twesigye, May 13, 2014
Andrew thank you for your analysis, to me the office of IGG should be abolished coz it conflicts with many other like police, auditor general etc. And instead,the AG s office should be given prosecution powers in courts of law coz they have the expertise that investigated a case and will be in position to know whether enough evidence is at hand or not. But not taking such cases to parliamentary committees that lucky any expertise and are full of.political intrigues
...
written by namoding tecla, May 15, 2014
That;s the problem uganda as a nation goes through too many laws and too many institution that duplicates the roles of others, its a high time ugandans stop making laws and institutions that overlaps its roles, disband others to stop wastage of tax payers money ,so that this monies is put into proper USE
...
written by Winnie, May 15, 2014
1. What will police do if IGG is doing its work?
2. NSSF scandal could have been sorted administratively how do you fire some one for not spending all their perdiem?and who says perdiem is accounted for any way?
3. The post of MD NSSF will now attract jokers who will fear making decisions just wait and see.
4. Whistler blowers are normally disgruntled staff who are determined to revenge on their former bosses.
2. The world is full of some unserious people that's why even ladies who get married when they are still virgins later die of AIDS.
...
written by Alfred, May 16, 2014
I agree with you Andrew,
Justice Mulyagonja should pay you for your advisory consultancy services.
Our society has degenerated that no one wants to see the other progresseither as an individual or institution.Why should IGG spend their time nd money on personal issues sfo xample who couldnt see that issues of UNEB were personal who couldnt see that issues of prof Bukenya,Hon Kutesa and Hon Nasasira were personal/political in nature?l? The best thing is to give the information gathered to the very institutions for action then the inspectorate should follow up on recommendations.
Well said it is only Justice Tumwesigye who never involved in these petty personal issues? Does IGG do cost benefit analysis? Who in the long run suffers the extra cost like in the NSSF house

Write comment

busy
 
 
 
 

NTV Newsnight

 
COMMENT