By Julius Businge
The lawyer, anti-corruption activist and worker at the Human Rights and Peace Centre at the School of Law, Makerere University spoke to The Independent’s Julius Businge.
What was special about this year’s anti-corruption convention?
The Anti-Corruption Convention this year took a more inclusive and participatory posture; we had various constituencies ranging from university student guilds, the informal business sector, political parties, social movements and the diplomatic corp.
The idea is that the fight against this scourge is stronger when more people join this citizen-led effort. Additionally, this year’s Convention will celebrate one year of the Black Monday Movement, a campaign that has harnessed the ordinary citizen’s ability—across Uganda—to take action against the theft of public funds with impunity.
So what would you say have been Black Monday Movement achievements for the last one year?
Citizens; market vendors in Owino, women’s savings groups in Teso, students in up to 18 universities, the political elite, have realised the gravity of the scourge. Over the last 12 months, Ugandans have been able to make the connection between the dereliction that punctuates health facilities across Uganda and the staggering theft of public funds by government officials with impunity. This realisation has awoken the citizens and spurred them into different forms of action within their respective formations.
But some people say the participation of civil society in the fight remains minimal
Our undoing is the astronomical costs incurred in producing some of our materials such as the monthly newsletter; we are unable to satisfy the overwhelming demand across the country. Outside Uganda, Civil Society Organisations have borrowed a leaf from the Ugandan example by establishing their own ‘Black Monday Movements’. This has happened in Nigeria and Malawi.
The achievement is that there is growing consensus across the continent that citizens, in the face of emasculated institutions and absence of political will, can successfully take remedial action to salvage their countries’ destinies. Civil Society includes all non-state formations ranging from the media, religious institutions, the student movement, labour/trade unions and political parties among others.
So, perhaps the question should be about the apathy/despondency that other non-state actors have shown in the fight against corruption. Uganda has up to 8000 NGOs; of those, a significant percentage is inactive, others are simply writing proposals and submitting them to donors for money, others are conduits for government-linked corruption while others are simply existing and earning salaries.
You will be surprised to learn that for all its success, the Black Monday Movement is principally an initiative of a paltry six organisations that is National NGO Forum, Action Aid Uganda, HURINET, ACCU, DENIVA and UYONET and about sixty organisation partners across the country. Therefore, your indictment of Civil Society as participating minimally in the fight against corruption is, to that extent, true.
How do you describe the corruption situation in Uganda today?
Corruption in Uganda today is primarily political. We have State Capture: a type of political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage through illicit and unobvious channels. It is a function of regime longevity. So much so that talking against corruption is inevitably synonymous with or perceived as an attack on the incumbent regime.
Corruption in Uganda, far from being a failure or inadvertent omission by the regime is the life-blood of the regime. If the powers that be attempted to genuinely crack the whip, government would implode because the edifice of corruption is the architecture and DNA that defines and characterises the government in power today.
Last year when development partners suspended aid after corruption was unearthed in the Office of the Prime Minister, the government refund their money….what should have been the government’s response?
This question is impossible to respond to because the institutions that have the mandate to take punitive action are either emasculated or are struggling under the paralyzing yoke of absent political will. It is erroneous to expect the government to do anything to rein in corruption. All those implicated in the theft should have felt the full weight of the law, the monies ought to have been recovered and the properties realized out of that theft attached. All those who are implicated in corruption should be eligible for the death penalty; there is a thin line between the theft of public funds and murder.
So who do you blame for the current high levels of corruption in this country?
Blame falls squarely at the door-step of the leadership because leaders shape the culture in any society or organization. Regrettably, President Yoweri Museveni has only taken to lamenting the scourge of corruption to fellow presidents – as he recently did with Kagame when he said “I am surrounded by thieves in my government.”
Instead of taking decisive action, he pays legal fees for convicts, excuses generals implicated in corruption citing their contribution to the bush war, re-appoints censored ministers, and publicly asks Judges to find senior politicians like Prof. Gilbert Bukenya innocent.
In your opinion, how should government handle the fight against corruption in this country?
The current government is unable to do anything to fight corruption in this country. To fight corruption in Uganda is to inevitably place oneself on a collision course with the ruling regime because corruption is its life-blood, not a failure. So, it is incomprehensible and illogical to imagine that this government can fight itself, so to speak.
Now that government is failing the fight, basing on your submission, are there new strategies you are planning to use in the fight against corruption in Uganda?
The word “activist” is misleading. It creates the unhelpful impression that there are some people whose job it is to fight for our country. The fight against corruption ought to be every citizen’s mission because bad roads, derelict hospitals, and an ailing education system affect all of us without exception, and that includes those who are under the illusion that they are apolitical.
Over the last eight months, we have diversified the means through which we spread the message and mobilize citizens to join the fight against the theft of public funds with reckless abandon through music distributed on free CDs, information on shopping bags, wristbands, bumper stickers, visits to schools, caller-tunes and social media. It is these channels that we shall expand the scale and scope of the campaign.
Government has made it possible to find the money to pay for dubious and fictitious compensations and yet the Inspectorate of Government (IGG) or the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) cite inadequate funding and human resource as their biggest challenges…what is your view on that?
This government is pre-occupied with its longevity in power as opposed to the well-being of the taxpayers from whom it derives sustenance. It is not in the interest of President Museveni or his cronies to have an Inspectorate of Government or Directorate of Public Prosecutions that bites. The emasculation of such institutions is consistent with the regime’s intention to hold on to power for as long as it possibly can. Having a weak IGG/DPP favors the regime’s interests.
There is talk that the cost of fighting corruption is higher than the amounts recovered from the culprits. Isn’t this adding an injury to a wound?
The cost of fighting corruption is definitely higher than the amounts recovered (if any) from the culprits because for instance, none of the 22 Commission of Inquiry report recommendations I have read has ever been implemented right from the Justice Julia Sebutinde reports on the junk-choppers, Police, to the latest on GAVI, CHOGM, National IDs, LCs’ bicycles, OPM, NSSF, UMEME etc. All these are gathering dust on the shelves of State House; some have never seen and will not see the light of day.
How do you compare Uganda’s corruption levels to other regions?
All the corruption reports (Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index; ACCU’s yearly reports as well as the Forbes Magazine reports) paint a deplorable picture about Uganda in the region. Although our neighbours to the East may have spine-chilling figures, it is only because their currency is stronger and so on conversion to US dollars, appears worse. I would nonetheless like to underscore the fact that it is insensitive of us to sit here and compare who is a worse thief in the region. Beyond the statistics are real human beings who suffer, regardless of which country has a more corrupt leadership.
So what’s the way forward?
My last word will be three quotes to the majority of Uganda’s population which is below 30 years of age. Each generation prompted by Frantz Fanon, must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission and fulfill it. Second, the limits of the oppressor are determined by the oppressed and third, apathy is complicity. If you are not a rebel; if you meekly accept the world’s deteriorating state of affairs, it’s not because you do not have a heart or a brain…it is because you are an idiot.