By Haggai Matsiko
MPs targeting Museveni could cause major shocks
Apart from the Walk-to-Work protests that sparked countrywide unrest—making it Africa’s third biggest story of 2011 according to The Economist magazine—many observers agree that parliament’s fight against graft was Uganda’s biggest story.
The 9th parliament’s exposure of alleged corruption by government officials climaxed with the Oct.10 stormy debate in which Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, and Internal Affairs minister Hilary Onek were accused of taking bribes from oil exploration companies. Mbabazi and Onek who refused to step-aside to be investigated could face the wrath of parliamentary censure if the 2011 momentum is maintained.
But as 2012 starts, all eyes are on Mary Karooro Okurut, the Information and National Guidance minister, who possibly went through the Christmas season fretting and counting her last days in cabinet since members of parliament had vowed to censure her immediately the House reconvenes this year.
“The motion is complete and we are only waiting for the Christmas season to end before we start the process,” said Wilfred Niwagaba (NRM, Ndorwa East), shortly before Christmas.
The MPs had just pressured former minister in charge of Presidency Kabakumba Masiko to resign. Two other ministers, former Attorney General Kiddu Makubuya, now minister for General Duties in the Prime Minister’s Office, and former Finance Minister Syda Bumba, now minister for Gender and Social Affairs, are also on the censure list over the Shs.142 billion inflated compensation the government made to businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba.
Another case that could prove interesting in the New Year 2012 involves MPs plans to investigate President Yoweri Museveni in relation to how he acquired his Kisozi Ranch in Mpigi District. This story is not new as allegations of corruption were investigated by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2007, but Shadow minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Merdad Ssegona says if the president is serious about fighting corruption in 2012, he has to start with declaring his wealth.
He says Museveni should allow an investigation into how, as the Commander-in-chief of the army, he acquired Kisozi Farm that the army’s business arm, the National Enterprise Corporation (NEC), had bought from one Kassim Kiwanuka.
“If President Museveni is investigated and found innocent then he will be an example to his ministers and will be in position to punish his errant ministers,” Ssegona says.
The plan by the MPs to investigate the President comes at a time when most Ugandans, 65.6% according to the East African Bribery Index 2011 by Transparency international, believe corruption would increase this year, 2012.
Experts say that corruption in Uganda is getting worse because the President condones it. In the TI report, 61% said they believe Museveni’s government is not committed to the fight against corruption.
The TI index added that 68 percent of the people interviewed felt the incidence of corruption in Uganda has increased in the last one year. And more than half of the people sampled or 51.3 percent regarded Uganda as being extremely corrupt.
Ssegona says that President Museveni knows that his ministers are corrupt but he is insisting on protecting them.
“His Spokesperson Tamale Mirundi says the president has written letters warning his ministers against corruption, where are those letters?” he asks, “During the caucus meeting Museveni revealed that Kabakumba Masiko [former minister for Presidency] had told him what she had done, why should he call a caucus meeting before a minister resigns knowing that she is corrupt?”
President Museveni in his New Year Message on December 31, 2011 praised the 9th Parliament for exposing corruption but cautioned it to avoid rush convictions. Ssegona says that is not enough.
“The president is not on our [MPs] side and he calls us empty tins for fighting corruption, that in itself shows that he does not take us seriously and on top of that he is interfering with our efforts,” he told The Independent.
President Museveni on two occasions last year spoke out firmly against “thieves” in his government —during his visit to Rwanda and before PAC. But critics say that his “hot and cold” approach to corruption is unfortunate.
“You are either with the people or with the people suspected to be thieves,” Kampala Central MP, Mohammad Nsereko says of President Museveni’s behavior with the corrupt officials.
“He [Museveni] has nurtured some kind of political classroom of youths that is now saying look we are seeing a lot of corruption, it is in-house and we want to take it upon ourselves to end it,” Kiseka Ntale, a researcher at Makerere Institute of Social Research says.
Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-corruption Corruption Coalition agrees.
She says that Ugandans are tired of mere political statements. “The president has to stop claming to fight corruption with one hand and reappointing corruption culprits with the other,” she says. She advises the parliament to assert itself even more.
“The fight can only rage on if the MPs maintain their momentum and fight any attempts by the executive to interfere with their independence,” Kagaba adds.
The World Bank says that corruption costs Uganda over Shs 900 billion per annum, equivalent to the annual budgets of the government’s biggest departments.
Regionally, Uganda is the third most corrupt country in the East African region after Burundi and Kenya according to the Corruption Perception Index 2011 released by Transparency International in December 2011. Rwanda and Tanzania are “cleaner” than Uganda.
Analysts say corruption is on the increase because it is the order of the day—it is not risky to take a bribe in Uganda and the government agencies that should fight it, such as the police, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and the Anti-corruption Court instead abet.
The Uganda Police is fast comfortably claiming the number one position as East Africa’s most corrupt institution according to several reports including the TI’s.
The DPP has on several occasions been faulted for preferring cases against people without prima facie evidence. And the judiciary is corrupt according to the TI report, and the IGG is toothless and ineffective.
In 2010, the IGG handled 4,422 complaints but 3,351 were carry-overs from past years. There were only 1,042 new complaints. Of all these, only 557 were investigated and completed.
Because of the weakness of these institutions, reports indicate that the performance of the Anti-corruption Court has been below per.
In 2010 alone, of the 83 cases forwarded to the court, only 16 were convicted, 11 were withdrawn, 17 were dismissed, 9 acquitted and 30 are still ongoing.
Of these, a number of high profile cases are falling apart. Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, the former vice president, spent a week in Luzira Prison on corruption charges but was acquitted.
Dismissal of Bukenya’s case also showed it was unlikely that the trial of Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira, the Government Chief Whip, and Rukutana Mwesigwa, the junior minister for Labour in the Anti-corruption Court could result in a conviction. The cases are related and result from procurements made during the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government (CHOGM) 2007 in Kampala.
Kutesa and company have petitioned the Supreme Court and until it pronounces itself on their challenges against the IGG, they are yet to be tried.
Their petition follows that of former ministers, Jim Muhwezi, Mike Mukula, and Dr Alex Kamugisha together with the former State House aide, Alice Kaboyo, who petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the powers of the IGG to prosecute them. They are accused in the Anti-corruption Court of misappropriating Shs1.6 billion meant for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
But the court was in October 2011 forced to adjourn hearing the case pending the decision of the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court lacks quorum following the retirement of Justice Giladino Okello and the trial, which has dragged on since 2007, remains unheard.
Analysts say that the trial of most of these government big shots has been a mere political statement to show that the “NRM government does not tolerate corruption” or that that the fight against corruption can bite even at the highest offices.
Dr. John-Jean Barya, a law Professor and Political analyst at Makerere University for instance says the trials were a result of the pressure from the MPs and the public. “Some big shots like the Muhwezi group have been tried and a number of legal gymnastics have been played to ensure that there trials even never be heard again,” Barya says.
According to Sabiiti Makara, a Makerere University political science associate professor, the spirit of the MPs has shown that they are out to fight corruption.
More than anything, Gen. Elly Tumwine’s statement— “enough is enough about corruption, these ministers must resign”— during the debate on the oil sector capped the tide against corruption during 2011.
But the MPs efforts, some analysts say, may be futile if they are not backed by the high office.
Gen. Tumwiine now says that the parliamentarians need to maintain this momentum. Most importantly, he adds, the President needs to act against culprits.
Experts that The Independent talked to said the will to fight corruption and tough action against culprits are lacking. The consensus seems to be that President Museveni’s attitude is critical to eradicating corruption. Unfortunately, as 2012 starts and the allegations of corruption related to how he got his Kisozi Ranch resurface, it is unclear how he will react