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IGG must work with, protect whistleblowers

By Irene Mulyagonja Kakooza

Economic expediency cannot take precedence over the enforcement of principles in the Constitution

The Inspectorate of Government (IG) has been under criticism in various news articles which I believe are partly due to a failure to understand the mandate of the institution.  This calls for efforts to help the public understand the intricacies involved in implementing the constitutional mandate of the Inspectorate of Government (IG).

In his article in the Observer Newspaper of April 19, “UDBL: How the bad guys derailed the IGG”, Muteekani Katunzi implies that the Inspectorate of Government is used by some individuals to fight personal battles as well as run away from the operation of the law on the pretext of being whistleblowers.

In his appearance on a TV talk show on NTV, Andrew Mwenda called for the disbanding of IG because he was dissatisfied with findings and recommendations in the report, based on a whistleblower’s complaint, on alleged mismanagement and corruption at NSSF.  In his subsequent article in the Independent of May 9-15, “Holding the IGG to account; How the ombudsman has been misusing her office thereby undermining its stature and prestige; and what can be done about it,” Mwenda reiterates the message.

The Whistle Blowers Protection Act of 2010 provides for the procedures by which individuals may disclose information that relates to irregular, illegal or corrupt practices and the protection against victimisation of such persons. The Act defines a “whistleblower” as a person, who makes a disclosure of impropriety under the Act to the IG, Uganda Police and the DPP, among others.

Section 3 of the Act categorises those who can make disclosures of impropriety as: employees in the public or private sector in respect of their employers or other employees, and persons against other persons or against a private or public institution. Section 9 (1) prohibits victimisation of such persons. On the other hand a person who intentionally makes a false disclosure commits an offence under section 17 of the Act.  In fulfilling its mandate to fight corruption and promoting the rule of law, IG relies heavily on whistleblowers. Complaints are assessed to ascertain whether they fall within the jurisdiction of the Inspectorate and whether they are in good faith. Where complaints are received from whistleblowers the Inspectorate has an obligation to protect them and has done so before.

In 2011, the IGG called for the suspension of the Board of Micro Finance Support Centre (MFSCL) for victimising whistleblowers about misappropriation of funds at MFSCL. The case against Ms Patricia Ojangole, the CEO of Uganda Development Bank Ltd (UDBL) is therefore not the first of its kind, though she seems to be the first prosecuted by IG. The IG only carried out its duty under the Act and we leave it to the court to speak for itself as to whether the charge was justified or not.

In his article, Katunzi also implies that the IG refused to investigate a complaint about the loss of Shs54 billion or Shs22 billion in UDBL and instead chose to investigate trivial matters such as victimising whistle blowers. However, the loss of UDBL funds was reported to CIID by Dr Samuel Sejjaaka, Board Chairman, in September 2012 and not to IG; CIID is investigating the matter.

In addition, the forensic audit referred to by Katunzi, which confirmed the loss of Shs54 billion or Shs22 billion in UDBL was released in March 2013, not 2012. By that time the IG had already commenced investigations into complaints related to the dismissal of staff and alleged irregular/illegal loan offer of US$ 11.5 million, lodged in December 2012 and January 2013. The IG is yet to issue a report about these complaints but its preparation is in its final stages. The IGG therefore could not be “derailed” from considering matters that IG was not investigating.

In his ‘Holding the IGG to account,’ Mwenda infers that the current IGG does not have “a strategic mind” and needs to understand the political economy of Uganda’s corruption complaints.

Mwenda argues that the powers of institutions such as the IG to “cancel or subvert” government processes actually create avenues for corruption and fighting personal vendettas. Further that the broad powers of the IG create opportunities for staff members of IG to extort bribes from the accused. He advises the IGG to learn to refer most complaints filed to disciplinary committees, audit committees or boards. In his view this would deter disgruntled employees from using the IG to fight personal vendettas.

The IG receives about 1000 new complaints annually and a significant number is referred to other institutions. In 2012, the IG received 975 new complaints and 338 of them were referred to other institutions. In 2013, 2,876 complaints were received by IG and 327 of them were referred to other institutions. The IG accounts to Parliament and to H.E the President in reports that are published twice every year.

The NSSF case

The fact that some staff members of the IG extort or attempt to extort bribes from persons investigated is not lost on the IGG. In the recently concluded NSSF investigation, a staff member was arrested for that with the help of some of those investigated. Prosecution of the culprits, who include a former member of staff and a politician, are underway.

In another article, Independent, May 16-22, “NSSF management crisis”, categorises the findings of the IGG in the NSSF Report. In Mwenda’s view the improper sale of Namirembe land and inconsiderate use of a telephone were “minor” and investigation a waste of government funds because IG did not find evidence to prosecute for corruption. He faults the recommendations to the Minister of Finance to reprimand and sanction former NSSF MD, Richard Byarugaba, implying that findings in the IG report were meant to frustrate Byarugaba’s return to NSSF in spite of the fact that the complaint was lodged by a disgruntled former employee of NSSF. He then states what he had all along wanted to state: “… basing on the fund’s achievements in the last three years, Byarugaba deserved another term at the helm.”

Mwenda seems to imply that the end justifies the means. This unfortunately cannot apply to one with the constitutional mandate to enforce strict adherence to the law and principles of natural justice in administration, and promote fair, efficient and good governance in public office. The loss of Shs5,000, which may be the contribution due from a low income earner for one month, is not excusable; neither is the loss of Shs1.5 million on account of a telephone bill due to calls made by a senior manager to his spouse over a period of only two weeks, while on a trip abroad.

Using the same paradigm, the apparently compromised sale of valuable property in a prime location in Kampala, at the same price it was bought four years before (Shs650 million), takes on enormous proportions. Though all this may not amount to corruption, any loss to the fund cannot be justified as “minor” to the IGG.

The managers and the board of NSSF hold the fund in trust; they are stewards meant to grow it and manage it efficiently for contributors. Both small and big losses should be forestalled. Turning a blind eye to loss cannot be perceived as having a “strategic mind;” economic expediency cannot take precedence over the enforcement of principles agreed upon in the Constitution of Uganda.

IG’s three hats

Neither can the enforcement of constitutional principles be abetted for fear of “undermining the stature and prestige” of IG. The enforcement of rights and law has always bowed down to stature and prestige; the oath taken by the Inspectors General of Government and Judges emphasises that they must “do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Uganda without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

Notwithstanding my observations above, the common factors linking Katunzi and Mwenda’s views are the absence of clarity about the role of the IG in the governance framework in Uganda and the resultant criticism of the IG’s use of whistleblowers who are alleged to use the IG for “settling personal vendettas.”

The IG derives its mandate and powers from Article 225 (1), special powers from Article 230 of the Constitution of Uganda, amplified by section 8 of the Inspectorate of Government Act. The remit of the IGG is therefore threefold: (i) to be the national Ombudsman (ii) to head the anti-corruption agency and (iii) head the institution enforcing good conduct and integrity of leaders in public offices under the Leadership Code Act; a very broad mandate.

However, focus has often been given to anti-corruption work and most Ugandans, like Mwenda, understand IG as an agency that investigates and prosecutes the corrupt. Unfortunately, the ombudsman, anticorruption agency and ethics agency are all rolled into one institution. The IGG therefore wears three hats; while sitting at the same desk she/he has to keep doffing one hat and donning the other; the result of actions and decisions taken is sometimes confusing to observers.

Irene Mulyagonja Kakooza is the Inspector General of Government

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