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33 YEARS LATER: NRM has fought half the battle

President Museveni and Land Commission chairperson Catherine Bamugemereire in Lusanja, Nangabo Subcounty in Wakiso District. Issues of corruption in the land sector have been in the headlines

`There are many untouchables who hide under the umbrella of the presidency’

NRM Programme point No.7

Three days after Jan.26 when the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party marks its 33rd liberation anniversary, Transparency International (TI), a global NGO that fights corruption will release its latest report which ranks countries and their perceived levels of corruption called the Corruption Perception Index (CPI).  Going by recent rankings, Uganda’s situation has been worsening. Peter Wandera, the executive director TI Uganda Chapter spoke to The Independent’s Flavia Nassaka about the NRM government fight against corruption.

When Transparency International arrived in Uganda, NRM had been in power for about eight years. The new government had come with a 10 point agenda – one of the points being fighting corruption and misuse of power. How was the corruption situation then?

The coming of Transparency International to Uganda can best describe the context of corruption then. The president had set up an Inspectorate of Government desk under his office. It was looking at corruption and human rights. Later it became an independent agency and Augustine Ruzindana became the first IGG. During one of his travels, he met with founders of the Global Transparency International and decided the country needed such an entity. There were few specialised agencies to fight the vice. So Uganda Revenue Authority was set up to stump out corruption in customs, then came the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, and the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity came up. New laws were also put in place to set up the entities and address the type of corruption that was happening.  In the 1990s, there was petty corruption involving say bribery, where people basically wanted small monies to make ends meet but now it’s about accumulating wealth, property and its syndicated. It has evolved. Big monies are lost.

Ironically, just last month Transparency International awarded President Museveni for fighting corruption. What was your basis?

It’s unfortunate that people were missing out on the wider debate. Our chairperson was clear that the President was being recognised for putting in place laws and institutions. We were not rewarding him for having no corruption; it’s a different matter.

But, Ugandans feel the corruption situation is worsening, basing on your annual CPI.  Why?

Corruption has many faces that affect our score.  There are two types of surveys that we use to come up with the Index. In Uganda, there is the East African Bribery Index which looks at five countries in the region and focuses on key public institutions like the Police, Revenue and Health. In this survey, we ask citizens about their dealings with a particular institution. Eventually we consolidate the answers and gauge the country’s performance. Then, the CPI is done globally using international sources of data – 13 of them now, including the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). We get information about different countries to come up with the scores.

Ugandans feel corruption is worsening because of what they see; the scandals uncovered almost every day. It is worse now with politicisation of everything and patronage. If we can have an anti-corruption conversation without involving parties and politics our performance is likely to improve. Everything is now connected to the NRM government because some of the cases are facilitated by big political figures. There are many untouchables who hide under the umbrella of the presidency. It’s such that make our CPI worse. Let there be thorough investigations, let officials step aside when they are implicated in corruption scandals.

If the NRM left power now, would we score better in terms of CPI?

Change of government alone may not help. Ugandans who will come into office with the same attitude will also have people who will say it is our time to eat.  Fighting corruption needs a concerted effort that can’t be given a blue, red or yellow color. Most of internal quarrels in political parties are about money.  In Uganda, the anti- corruption fight is only half way fought. It’s a complex struggle that will take us a bit of time.

What do you make of the newly created State House Unit to fight corruption?

Creating a new entity is not bad but this one is providing more of fire-fighting response.  It would work better under other agencies as a special department. As it is now, issues of the law will come in eventually. The good thing with such entities is that they expose criminals but Ugandans are interested in what happens after that. It can be made consistent and empowered to follow through to ensure properties are recovered. What such new units do is create some fear but people eventually get used to them. It’s what happened with the IG. Those days, some people even feared to associate with Ruzindana because of the office he was holding.

What needs to change if the country is to wipe out the vice?

People should realise that it’s also up to them to fight corruption. There’s a sort of acceptance of corruption as a way of life and people don’t question anything. In developed countries, you can’t become rich overnight and people don’t question it. The state will also pick interest in you. Secondly, the many agencies should be equipped to investigate cases by allocating them enough resources and cushion them against interference.

Finally, what’s your take on the good and bad corruption talk?

The discussion of bad corruption or good corruption shouldn’t arise because corruption is corruption. It becomes a viscous cycle which eventually makes someone suffer. The likes of Geoffrey Kazinda, if you went to his home village people were happy because he used to help them a lot but look at northern Uganda where the resources were stolen, they are languishing without clean water.


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