With the Pensions scam and the Katosi Road scandal as high pro- file corruption cases that come to mind, Irene Mulyagonja, the Inspector General of Government, recently told her staff to ‘tighten their belts’ as Uganda now faces a new form of corruption that
requires innovative strategies to deal with it.
Speaking in Kampala on Aug.5 at the anti-corruption agency’s annual general meeting which was also used to launch the 2015/16—2019/20 investment strategic plan, Mulyagonja said although in the past corruption has been limited to favours and bribes to a few public officials; it now covers ‘grand syndicated corruption’ where controls put in place by the government are deliberately evaded in a systematic way using networks of corrupt government officials and the private sector.
A case in point is the Katosi Road scandal which involved the fraudulent award of a contract for road construction amounting to Shs 161 billion of which Shs 24.8 billion was advanced to an unapproved subcontractor on the basis of forged guarantees.
The IG investigations disclosed a network involving the Ministry of Works and Transport, the executives of the Uganda National Roads Authority, a private banker, an insurance firm, two private companies from the USA and China and a local businessman as a front for one of the US-based company.
Similarly, the Pensions scandal involved the fraudulent creation of pension claimants, causing a loss of Shs 169 billion, estimated to be much more if all fraudulent claims are uncovered.
The con was perpetrated by the Accounts Department of the Ministry of Public Service, which was mandated to verify and approve such payments, but involved officials from the Ministry of Finance, the Secretary General of the East African Community Beneficiaries Association, and the money was channeled through a private bank, with the complicity of its employees.
According to the Inspectorate of Government, the prosecution of this case almost failed owing to its complexity and the infiltration of the investigation team, leading to the dismissal of the case. However, fresh charges have since been instituted against the individuals involved.
Such cases have prompted the institution to re-examine its approach in dealing with the ever-changing face of corruption in the country.
According to the new strategy, Uganda has made significant achievements in the fight against corruption through establishment of comprehensive legal, administrative and institutional frameworks to fight the vice. Still, corruption continues to be a major concern in the country.
“We want to put up better mechanisms of investigating efficiently and effectively those big cases,” Mulyagonja said, “We have already set up the directorate of special investigations which has been beefed up with very seasoned investigators.”
Without going into the specifics of each case, Mulyagonja said already, four high profile cases are being investigated by her institution including; cases against UNRA, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Local Government and the Rural Electrification
The IGG said the new blueprint for fighting corruption launched under the theme, “Promoting Excellence in Public Office,” was in response to demands by the public which is clamouring for change in which public affairs are managed in the country.
The IGG confessed that for a long time her institution had relied on receiving complaints and reactive measures (investigation and prosecutions as means of detecting and eliminating corruption. However, this had been successful up to a point.
It is the reason the IG intends to focus on strengthening systems and policies that detect and prevent corruption incidences before they occur or become more widespread.
Unlike the past few years where despite the IG has had to walk alongside and not
according to its strategic plans, this time, the blue print will be implemented to the letter.
The Inspectorate of Government’s plan therefore, has been developed to strengthen systems, introduce effectiveness and efficiency in combating corruption and translating into action the Government of Uganda policy on “zero tolerance to corruption.”
In order to respond to the public demands, the strategic plan has five strategic objectives including; improving efficiency and effectiveness in preventing, detecting and eliminating corruption; leveraging the ombudsman role to embed adherence to rule of law and principles of natural justice in administration; strengthening organizational capacity to build an efficient performance driven culture to enhance public awareness about the IG as well as enhancing strategic partnerships.
It is also the reason as to why this time the IG intends to focus on high quality service delivery by focusing on processes and systems—informed by the organizational development assessment in 2015/16 and a paper for its implementation.
For instance, a key innovation developed by the IG is the development of an online declaration system which will be launched on Aug. 16 which will require public officials under the Leadership Code to declare their income, assets and liabilities.
Mulyagonja said 50 MPs in the new Parliament have been targeted but all public officials will use the platform at the start of 2017.
“We want to focus on big fish cases and have them prosecuted effectively, efficiently and sufficiently.”
According to Transparency International, a global civil society organisation that champions the fight against corruption, an effective income and asset declaration regime can help prevent abuse of power, reduce corruption and increase public accountability, public trust in institutions and government legitimacy.
In countries where wealth disclosure is combined with content verification and public access to declarations are significantly associated with lower perceived levels of corruption.
Several countries have adopted laws and rules that require public officials to declare their wealth and assets either upon entry or promotion into a position that has the potential for illicit enrichment.
Such measures have a preventive function, as they can help anticipate potential conflicts of interest before misconduct occurs. They also have an investigative function, as they provide valuable information that may help uncover misconduct and illicit enrichment after it takes place.
In Uganda, under the 2002 Leadership Code Act, all public servants are required to declare their wealth to the Inspector General of Government.
The ombudsman should be able to monitor the wealth of public officials as a way of curbing corruption in public offices. The failure to declare or falsely declare of one’s wealth may lead to dismissal from the public office one is holding, besides facing other penalties.
Leaders who include the President, the Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker, deputy Speaker, judges of courts of judicature, magistrates, presidential advisors, ambassadors, Resident District Commissioners, Chief Administrative Officers, MPs, among others are required by law to declare their wealth, that of their children and spouses once every two years to the IGG. Any leader who knowingly or otherwise gives false or insufficient declarations breaches the code.
Mulyagonja said this will be done by conducting periodical surveys and risk assessments, improving whistle blower interventions like reporting likely pilferage or wastage of funds before they occur so that they can be stopped.
Other interventions, she said would include; carrying out system studies in areas that have high levels of maladministration that can result in corruption, carrying out risk assessments of specific sectors or officers in particular sectors.
In order to implement most of its strategic plan, the IG intends to work with its sister agencies in the accountability sector including the Office of the Auditor General, the Procurement of Public and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and the Local Governments.
Mulyagonja said the IG intends to implement the strategic plan to the letter to ensure that services are delivered in a manner that keeps officials in public service on their toes to make sure that the country has rule of law in public offices and that services are delivered in a manner that would make Uganda the envy of other nations in the region.
Father Simon Lokodo, the minister of state for Ethics and Integrity said zero-tolerance to corruption means hostility to corruption, preventing, combating it and punishing the corrupt. “It also means mobilizing the citizens to reject it.”
Recalling what the Malaysian Minister for transformation told the ministers at a recent Cabinet retreat at the Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi, Lokodo said he intends to present a paper to the Cabinet so that anti-corruption agencies are given all the support they need in fighting corruption.
“As a start, the government can do so by enhancing their budgets.”
“We cannot afford to glorify the corrupt. To promote good governance and accountability not just of finance but above all in integrity in service delivery.”
Kirunda Kivejinja, the second Prime Minister and Minister of East African Affairs said the government’s agenda on fighting corruption is now very high and it is the reason the government will make sure adequate financial resources are committed in fighting the vice.
“President Museveni has often said Uganda faces two major challenges — corruption and delay in decision making in government and therefore agencies need to deter, disrupt and prevent these practices.”
“The government intends to support the IG with the requisite infrastructure—financial and human resources—to implement its mandate.” Kivejinja said the lack of integrity and not money or infrastructure continues to deny Uganda from achieving full economic growth potential.
“As government, we need to promote and build a society that believes in integrity as a key pillar of their nation.”
Peter Wandera, the executive director of Transparency International Uganda told The Independent on the sidelines of the meeting that the IG’s strategic plan looks robust since it builds on the previous plans but also it has introduced new areas in a way of feeling gaps.
“These are all good things because it shows that the IG has reflected on its past challenges and is now trying to fill in the gaps.”