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COVID-19 exposes true cost of corruption

Transparency International reveals that persistent corruption is undermining health care

| PATRICIA AKANKWATSA | The 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released on Jan 28, by Transparency International reveals that persistent corruption is undermining health care systems and contributing to democratic backsliding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries that perform well on the index invest more in health care, are better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law.

“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International said in the report.

She also said that Corruption poses a critical threat to citizens’ lives and livelihoods, especially when combined with a public health emergency. Clean public sectors correlate with greater investment in health care.

“The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption at home and abroad,” she added.

Transparency International’s analysis says corruption has diverted funds from much needed investment in health care, leaving some communities without doctors, equipment and also clinics and hospitals.

The Danish Ambassador of Uganda, Petersen Nicolaj at launch said that corruption is the antithesis of good governance. And this has become particularly acute during the COVID 19 pandemic.

“In countries with lower levels of corruption, it is more likely that public finances earmarked for health care reach their intended beneficiaries, he said adding that countries with higher levels of corruption have been less able to respond effectively to the global health emergency. In these cases, too often citizens have paid the hefty price for corruption and sub-optimal governance”.

According to the report, Uganda continues to perform a little poorer compared to her committed neighbours such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. Uganda has dropped by position and score from  28/100 CPI 2019 to 27/100 with a current position of 142/180 countries from the previous 137/180 countries.

Nicolaj says that corruption in Uganda is still a concerning issue at the national and local level. That it is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the country’s development.

“Throughout 2020, as in so many other countries, COVID-19 has exposed the true cost of corruption. From reports of irregularities in the procurement of food, or personal protective equipment or even medical supplies such as oxygen cylinders. These reports fuel concerns over the transparency and accountability of the use of public funds”, he added.

Uganda received donations for several agencies including the U.S government, USAID and International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Ireland, Denmark as well as those locally obtained. The government released funds to the tune of over Shs. 8 trillion to fight COVID-19 but there is no clear accountability of how these funds were spent.

“We will only be able to effectively eliminate COVID-19 if we ensure the funds are actually spent on what they were intended for, and we hence urge the government to release a full account of the funds and how they have been utilized”, Nicolaj said.

While speaking at the launch, Paul Banoba the Africa regional advisor at Transparency International said that to curb corruption, governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of money in politics and ensure civil society input in political decision-making.

“These efforts go hand in hand with an independent and robust media which can inform the public, and help hold duty bearers to account in the public interest. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation, transparent decision making and impartial budget allocation,” he said.

Roselyn Karugonjo the chairperson of the Leadership Code Tribunal said that Uganda can fight corruption if awareness is raised and the laws are strengthened.

“We have very good laws but there is a way corruption has become a part of our culture, the selfishness and greed. We need to get rid of this through awareness,” she said.

Cissy Kagaba the Executive Director of Anti-corruption coalition says that most of the corruption happens because of poor planning.

“We have very intelligent people in these entities but I don’t understand why they don’t plan properly and end up having supplementary budget after supplementary budget. Look at COVID-19, we have had as many supplementary budgets as I can remember”, she said.

Peter Wandera the Executive Director of Transparency International said that Uganda has challenges, but it also has many opportunities to address corruption and improve governance of the public sector.

“There is need to strengthen oversight institutions to ensure resources reach those most in need. Anti-corruption authorities and oversight institutions must have sufficient funds, resources and independence to perform their duties,” he said.

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