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Fighting corruption the wrong way

By Dicta Assimwe

IGG Bakus critics say releasing yet another report is pointless

When the Acting Inspector General of Government (IGG) Raphael Baku released a new report on Nov. 18, he ironically was the first to throw mud at it. He derogatively described his statutory biannual Report to Parliament January  June 2010 as  ritual that even parliamentarians never take seriously.

He said the MPs receive it and store copies without ever debating or even sparing one committee meeting to look at the recommendations in it.

Baku said, however, he has higher hopes in another report he had issued just three days earlier, The IGG Report on Corruption; Data Tracking Mechanisms (DTM). The DTM is a novel idea that the IGG hopes to turn into an annual report.

When journalists accused him of only investigating small local government officials when big corruption is highest in the central government, Bakus reply was typically lackadaisical. He said his office was too busy handling reported cases they had no time to for extra cases.

We are overwhelmed by the complaints we receive from ordinary people, we dont have time to initiate our own investigations, he said.

He said they received 1,040 marking a 25 percent increment from 827 of the previous reporting period. He added that local government cases were reported the most because corruption at that level directly affects the ordinary person’s livelihood.

Transparency International Uganda Executive Director Robert Lugolobi described Baku’s excuse for failing to fight big corruption as “very poor”. He said the IGG, who has a bigger work force than the regional offices that investigate the cases he compiles in his reports, should show results.

Lugolobi, who has worked at the IGG office says there is a big 200-strong workforce that could deliver an average of five or six investigated cases per person per year.

Lugolobi  is one of many anti-corruption activists who say Baku’s style is not helping in the fight against corruption. But Baku maintains that he is happy the public’s consciousness towards fighting corruption had increased given the number of cases reported to the IGG.

He said the DTM, which he launched, would ease the fight by quantifying the impact of the various measures put in place by the government to fight corruption.

Under the DTM, various indicators are aggregated to measure corruption trends. The inaugural report, which was compiled by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), states that Uganda has some of the best laws to fight corruption, scoring a whopping 99 percent but has a very poor implementation record at 49 percent.

But on the same day the IGG handed his report to Parliament, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Nandala Mafabi, who has been widely praised by the public for issuing a scathing probe into the misuse of funds during the Commonwealth Heads Of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM 2007) in Kampala, had just declared “dead” the report on which he spent seven months  compiling. He said parliament and the government had killed it and that his team would now “leave the fight (against corruption) to the voters”.

By the time Mafabi declared the report dead, some MPs had tried examining cases of individual officials but were overruled by the Speaker of Parliament Edward Sekandi who, along with other MPs from the ruling party, preferred that culpability is ascribed to “collective responsibility”.Â

They rejected demands to have the IGG use the report as a basis for investigation. Parliament’s rejection of the CHOGM report is the latest sign that any recommendations in the fight against corruption can be ignored just like in the IGG’s report to parliament.

The IGG, however, says reports from commissions of inquiry such as CHOGM were a wastage of time as they did not facilitate the process of bringing corrupt officials to book.

Baku said money spent on commissions of inquiry would be better spent on empowering existing institutions like his office. He said he failed bring officials implicated in the Chogm scandal to book because the Chogm report had only provided photocopies which he could not take to court.

Lugolobi, however, said the IGG‘s explanation need for original documents is a flimsy excuse because the IGG could have approached parliament to access these documents. He said the IGG has the powers to access any document or asset if he is investigating a case. “But he doesn’t even need the documents as investigation just needs a small piece of information which one can follow up,” Lugolobi added. He said a willing IGG would only need a phone conversation to start an investigation.

Commenting on the IGG’s reports, Lugolobi says the IGG has chosen to become a commentator on a subject he can do something about.

Lugolobi says the IGG’s continuous report writing was just providing commentary on corruption yet the constitution gives him various powers to fight corruption. “Releasing corruption a report only allows discussion of the subject in the media,” Lugolobi said, “It is like the electoral commission choosing to pray for free and fair elections when they have the powers to deliver them.”

Lugolobi, however, said the DTM report is good as it helps the IGG track corruption. He said the IGG cannot fight a problem whose magnitude he does not know.

Dr Xavier Mugisha of the EPRC who headed the team that compiled the report agrees with Baku that the DTM report was more important since it would help to improve the reporting of various institutions that fight corruption including that of the IGG. He said it questions and gives serious recommendations to government in the fight against corruption.

Dr Mugisha also says the report does not do or say anything new but the decision to have EPRC compile the report was reached after funders of the project demanded an independent institution..

Dr Mugisha said compiling of the report needed no expertise and it could have been done in the IGG’s office but that the funders of the programme, the World Bank and United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) wanted an independent institution whose findings would be more credible.

 Compiled to give indicators for tracking the extent of corruption in Uganda, the DTM uses Transparency International’s country perception index, the national service delivery survey which informs them on corruption in health, education, transport, public works and water among other services.

DTM also uses the Global Integrity Report which assesses access to information on political party funding, conflict of interest for the executive branch of government, national level judiciary and self censorship for journalists reporting on corruption. They also use Afrobarometer to measure household bribery , quality and type of information on the budget, effectiveness of audit measured by the amount in arrears and outstanding balances registered, how departments follow procurement procedures, budget monitoring and analysis and the doing business indicator.

Baku says his office has failed to investigate corruption in the central government because he has a poorly trained investigative staff and he cannot access documents from ministries. He says it is easier at local government where ordinary people who report provide documentation necessary to prosecute conclusively.

“We get our employees from universities; the challenge is how you turn a university graduate into a skilled investigator,” Baku said.

Lugolobi agrees with Baku, that the investigators do not have enough training to handle cases but adds that the institution has contributed to this failure as they have their priorities wrong. He said that the inspectorate, for example, has so many cars they do not even have where to park yet fewer resources are committed to human resource development.

Lugolobi also added that the IGG had taken the wrong approach to fighting corruption in the central government. He said that the fight against corruption was easier at local government because accounting officers are willing to hand over documents while in ministries civil servants have political wings which makes them arrogant and unwilling to release documents.

He said the IGG would better serve if he used other tools like lobbying to close gaps that allow officials to steal money than to spend time and resources investigating cases that only provide an opportunity for media to report an arrest by IGG.

 Lugolobi explained that the leadership code was a tool the IGG has not used. He said the framers of the law envisaged a scenario where a leader declared their assets and then ordinary people checked out the information to report whether a particular official had declared all his assets.

 He explained that since the law says undeclared assets can be taken over by government this would have been a useful measure. Lugolobi, however, says the IGG gets information and keeps it in his office as if it is a private business making the tool ineffective.

Baku said they only releases information of an official if they are given chances to declare their wealth and they refuse. He said that most officials always declare their wealth when the IGG writes to them. So where does that leave Bakus fight against corruption.

Give it three years, Baku says. By that time there should be a trend to show whether corruption is increasing or decreasing in Uganda. The lead technocrat on the project, Dr Mugisha, is possibly the only other person with any hope that the DTM will have a positive mark.  Most simply want the IGG to issue fewer report but show more action against big corruption.

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