COMMENT: By Cissy Kagaba
While celebrating 20 years of National Resistance Movement in power at Kololo ceremonial grounds in 2006, President Museveni said that he did not know that the country had been wrecked by corruption. He then vowed to fight corruption in all forms.
Ten years later, the President is once again expression shocked that corruption is still a million miles away from being ended. He is once againing pledging another war to deliver the country to his proclaimed dream destination of a corruption free land.
Museveni has recently declared his determination to renew efforts to fight corruption at several public events. He did it during the swearing-in of his new Cabinet at State House and more ardently during the 2016 State-of-the-nation address.
“I have quite a bit of information about leaders who ask for bribes from foreigners and locals who invest here. During the campaign, I compared these to rats who eat stored millet. These rats must be exterminated. They damage our future,” Museveni said while delivering the State of the Nation address.
10 years ago, while celebrating 20 years of NRM, the President said the same thing
While addressing the new ministers at State House, he among others stated that he would tolerate neither corruption nor conflict of interest. According to him, the era of corruption is over.
But people who have heard this line from Museveni remain unimpressed. They ask: For how long will the president keep lamenting and renewing his enthusiasm for anti-corruption efforts?
There is actually a popular audio used by some telecom companies as a caller tune where the President is lamenting, “I am not God to say let there be no corruption.” This in essence speaks to the limitation and admission of the same. Whereas the President should be commended for initiating such commendable efforts as the commission of inquiry into graft at the Uganda National Roads Authority(UNRA), and a host of other commissions over the years which have unearthed hair raising corruption in the public sector, a little more attention has to be paid to the outcome of these investigations. By the same measure, we should interrogate what now appears a rehearsed chorus by the Fountain of Honour on his distaste for corruption and his zeal to stamp it out. Ugandans are almost getting accustomed to the President promising every now and then how he will deploy his rebel tactics to wipe out corruption and doing nothing about it in the end.
The President has a golden chance to put his anti-corruption message into action for the next five years.
Here is the source of our frustration. Uganda has a robust legal and institutional framework to mitigate corruption. Once again, the President should be credited for presiding over the growth and development of this anti-corruption infrastructure. But, we dare say without fear of contradiction, the report card of the NRM government and Museveni’s leadership reads below average.
It is unsatisfactory on the most critical aspect of leveraging this institutional and legal framework to put institutionalised corruption past us. The void of political will is the elephant in the room. Political will goes beyond laws, institutions and public proclamations.
Political will is only demonstrable by taking genuine and committed action against the culprits. The President can for instance, take action against those leaders asking for bribes from foreigners since he seems to already know who they are.
The President has a golden chance to put his anti-corruption message into action for the next five years. Obviously, the next five years will have to prove whether the President is determined or not determined to exterminate corruption. Miracles still happen. As believers we strongly believe that the era of corruption can be defeated if indeed the president wills as he has promised.
The President, while addressing the new ministers, also tasked them to embark on the transformation of the country into a middle income economy. This however, will be a tall order for the ministers considering the systemic corruption, and numerical challenges of cabinet, parliament, presidential advisors etc, all of which increase the cost of public administration, and also considering the dismal revenue base.
The logical way for Uganda to achieve a middle income economy is to dramatically exterminate corruption like the president has pledged. If this is realised, then by 2020, stories of wealth creation, roads, and power dams will make meaning to the Ugandans. We certainly pledge our full commitment to support the President in his endeavours to stamp out corruption. It affects us all to the bone marrow.
Cissy Kagaba is the executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda