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Giving the corruption law some teeth

By Rukiya Makuma

A private member’s bill seeks to hit the corrupt in their softest spot, their loot

The young, vibrant Member of Parliament for Makindye East, John Simbwa, has plucked the courage and taken on a fight that many proclaim cannot be won – against the corrupt. Simbwa’s private member’s bill, the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2012, seeks to give teeth to existing legislation by making it possible to power to seize the property, assets and bank accounts of those convicted of corruption.

“The Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2012” will aim to amend certain provisions of the Anti-Corruption Act 2009 which have been found to be inadequate and to incorporate new legal provisions aimed at recovering the benefits derived from corruption,” Simbwa said recently.

If passed, the law will be the sixth legal framework to fight corruption, embezzlement, abuse of office of office and causing financial loss among other intents.

Though government has over the last decade formulated a wide range of policies, action plans, strategies, laws and established institutions with elaborate and promising mandates to fight corruption, the practice seems to only grow in Uganda.

The country continues to rank among the most corrupt in the world for the past 20 years, in 2011 ranked among the top 40 most corrupt countries in the world by the Transparency International Perception Index. But Simbwa believes we should not quit, not yet.  “We need to handle corruption with an iron hand, because it is tainting the country, and we can win if we are determined,” he said.

If enacted into law the bill will clearly spell out procedures for confiscating benefits derived or accrued from corruption and related crimes, including in cases where he loot is discovered after offenders have died or are otherwise unable to answer for their crimes.

Advocates of the bill say it will provide even for cases where property acquired through corruption tendencies is proven to be registered in the names of children, spouses, relatives or friends.

Simbwa is championing a cause with many believers in the Ninth Parliament. Through the African Parliamentarian Network Against Corruption Uganda (APNAC-U), a coalition under which MPs have pledged to have no tolerance for the vice blamed for the deterioration of public services as officers in charge divert resources from their intended purposes to personal enrichment. World Bank estimates show that Uganda loses an estimated US$300 million (Shs 500 billion) annually to corruption.

The bill has received a positive reception.

The Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition, Cissy Kagaba, says that as an organization that wants to see corruption curbed, they welcomed the bill as it would help tighten the noose around the necks of corrupt officials. Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga, who chairs APNAC-U, said any effort to strengthen the fight against corruption was welcome, but that plans were in the pipeline to come out with a completely new law whose provisions will be so tough they will deter any persons tempted to engaging in corrupt practices.   There is strong motivation in Parliament currently to tighten the noose on the corrupt.   MPs condemned the way in which the Directorate of Public Prosecutions let the former Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko to go scot-free even in the face of police evidence that she was a prime suspect in the theft of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation radio masts after the equipment was found at her Masindi-based King’s Broadcasting Services radio station.   Only Godfrey Luggya, the UBC engineer and Harrison Busingye Magezi, the manager of KBS, were charged.

Also shocking was the conviction of Alice Kaboyo by the Anti-Corruption Court. A former private secretary to President Museveni who was accused of fraudulently misappropriating Shs 524 million meant for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, Kaboyo was accused in 2007, alongside former ministers Alex Kamugisha, Jim Muhwezi and Mike Mukula, of allegedly misappropriating Shs 1.6 billion. Having pleaded guilty, Kaboyo was sentenced to a fine of Shs 20 million or a sentence of 2 years in prison.

Other corruption scandals that have rocked the country include the National ID project, the oil bribery allegations, businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba’s pay-out, and the missing local council bicycles.

Kagaba condemned selective application of the law, especially to favour people in powerful positions, corruption can only be addressed by requiring every person implicated or under investigation, to step out of office until their cases are concluded.

It will be interesting to see how legal amendment can deal with the routine circumvention of due process engineered by the ruling party through the NRM Caucus every time a well-connected politician faces allegations of corruption.   This level of interference, according to Mbale Municipality MP Jack Wamai Wamanga, is one of the biggest obstacles to the fight against corruption.   Can the amendments further clarify the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislature when dealing with accusations against the powerful and well-connected?

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