COMMENT: By Joseph Were
She should have known that her role in the saga could damage URA; an institution whose brand is integrity
One of the most glaring omissions in the ongoing debate around the so-called oil cash bonanza has been the absence of comment and action from the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity. This case, in which 42 senior government officials got a socalled Shs6 billion golden handshake from President Yoweri Museveni, is in character, form, and possible motive, not a case of corruption but ethics and integrity. This distinction may make the crime different, but it does not make it lighter.
Corruption often involves a person with power being offered an inducement, in advance, by a weaker person so that they can abuse their power. In this case everything appears reversed. A very powerful person, the President, is offering weaker persons something, for something they have already done, and they are per se not required to abuse their office.
The officials from the Uganda Revenue Authority and in the ministries of Finance, Energy, and the Attorney General’s office, ostensibly played a part in an arbitration case in London which re-affirmed Uganda’s right to collect Capital Gains Tax on oil transactions and reportedly rescued at least $700 million that multinationals attempted to avoid paying. For that reason this cannot be corruption. Secondly, reward for good performance is often justifiable. And that too cannot be corruption even if the form it takes may be corrupt.
What is glaringly clear in this case, however, is that there was solicitation of the reward. Such demand or solicitation for reward is not corruption. It is extortion. This distinction is important too. It is corruption when the incentive is offered. It is extortion when an incentive, over and above what one is contractually entitled to, is demanded; even for good work done.
One of the most painful parts of this saga is that URA is its ground zero. It is not clear why URA has sunk so low to the extent of becoming a suspect in originating, pursing, and defending an act deemed to be extortionist. By accepting to lead the hunt for the solicited reward from the President, Akol showed poor judgment.
She wrote the letters of solicitation, convened meetings, paid herself Shs240 million, and conceived sophisticated means of concealment of the dubious payoff through misuse, if not abuse, of her office. Her attempt to cloak her actions in legalist defenses is the peak of perfect perfidy. She also conceived the subterfuge of picking the money from the URA Tax Fund set up for a totally different purpose, and passing it off as URA expenditure. Finally, the deal was, in a report to parliament, concealed as payment “to cater for arrears on salary improvements for non-teaching staff” at URA. The tax body was caught out because it is not known to have teachers. But even after being caught, the group that solicited and received the reward sought to block any discussion of it. They secured an injunction from the Constitutional Court for the purpose. This led the parliament of Uganda to suspend all House sitting until the injunction was lifted. Effectively, something Akol sold to President Museveni as a small matter of officials receiving just 1% of what they had rescued quickly swelled into a constitutional clash between the executive, parliament, and the judiciary. It led the Speaker of Parliament to write an unprecedented open letter of explanation to the President. Using unprecedented language, the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga called the injunction issued by Constitutional Court Judge Steven Kavuma “stupid”.