By Haggai Matsiko
Scourge leaves country with Shs 2.6 trillion swindled
The low key start on Oct.22 of criminal proceedings against three cabinet ministers; Sam Kutesa, Mwesigwa Rukutana, and John Nasasira, who are confidantes of President Yoweri Museveni, is the latest sign that the fight against corruption has shifted.
On such occasions in the past, the Commercial Court in Kampala, where the trial is taking place would be chocking with media cameras, anti-riot police, excited observers, the diplomatic corps, and supporters of the accused jostling to show solidarity. Not this time.
Several events appear to have caused the loss of interest in the case in which Kutesa, Nasasira, and Rukutana, who had resigned to allow investigations, are alleged to have stolen Shs 14 billion when they organised the 2007 CHOGM in Kampala.
First, Museveni re-appointed them back into cabinet and the courts acquitted three other high profile figures; former minister Jim Muhwezi, his deputy, Kamugisha, and former State House employee, Alice Kaboyo, who were on trial for allegedly embezzling GAVI Funds. Their co-accused, former Health Minister Mike Mukula is also likely to go scot-free.
These events have led some to conclude that President Yoweri Museveni is lucky that he is just a politician. If he was a medical doctor and Uganda was his patient, the country would have choked to death because of corruption.
But anti-corruption crusader Godber Tumushabe, who is the executive director of the NGO, Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), is focusing on a new development; the recent wave of arrests of technocrats from various government departments.
By shifting the corruption fight from the politicians to the technocrats, President Yoweri Museveni appears to have hit on a game changer; shifted focus from the politics to something that has been lacking all along; the evidence.
Tumushabe says this move is consistent with President Museveni’s message. According to him, the government is on the right track but it is just not doing enough.
“I think the President has hinted that that is where he will be going (dealing with corrupt technocrats), and in my view he needs to be congratulated on that,” he told The Independent.
Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the NGO, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) says despite the tide of arrests, interrogations and several other anti-corruption moves, many Ugandans remain pessimistic about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption. She remains unconvinced.
“It is the same cycle, there is nothing new, usually they arrest them and release them claiming there is no sufficient evidence against them,” she told The Independent, “If you look at the various accountability reports, the technocrats have always been implicated, it is just that we have not been following up, we have been pushing things under the carpet .”
There, however, appears to be some change. Previously, it was parliament that independently exposed corruption scandals and pushed for action and in most cases collided with the President.
The Ninth parliament, for example, made its name during a two-day heated debate that culminated into resolutions to censure four of Museveni’s inner-core leadership, including Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Foreign Affairs Minister, Sam Kutesa, and Internal Affairs Hillary Onek over corruption related oil deals.
The MPs also pressured three ministers; Kabakumba Masiko, after a graft scandal in which she was accused of illegal usage of a mast belonging to the public’s broadcasting corporation; and Syda Bbumba and Kiddu Makubuya over fraudulent payment of Shs. 169 billion to city businessman, Hassan Basajjabalaba.
Back then, as the MPs gathered signatures to censure Mbabazi, the President accused MPs of aiming for him.
This time, however, the President appears to be leading the hunt which has also shifted to the technocrats. As a result, the CID sometimes on the directive of the President or in his knowledge, have overshadowed the Inspectorate of Government and other arms of government in investigating and unearthing scandals. The police investigations got limelight when they exposed a scandal that saw Kabakumba resign. The trend of the police crackdown reveals a campaign against the technocrats with several of them being arrested as opposed to the past when it was the politicians in trouble.
In the last four months, forensic police have combed the Office of the Prime Minister, interrogating and arresting the Principal Accountant Godfrey Kazinda who is accused of misappropriating billions of shillings. Martin Owor, the commissioner for relief and disaster preparedness and Beatrice Kezabu assistant resettlement officer in the same office have also been implicated and taken to court.
In the ministry of Education where some Shs 375 billion was misappropriated, the detectives have interrogated the commissioner for secondary education, John Mary Agaba. Police also interrogated John Baptist Ssemakula, the former assistant commissioner for personnel and Florence Malinga, and the former commissioner in charge of planning over sectarianism and nepotism allegations that the permanent secretary, Francis Lubanga, replaces civil servants with his relatives.
At the close of July, police arrested three ministry officials, Bosco Agaba, a program officer with the Malaria Control Program (MCP), over causing financial loss and embezzlement of government funds. This followed the arrest of Mary Byangire and Ms Connie Balayo over the same allegations.
In all these arrests, the ministry of Public Service takes the trophy. Police has interdicted Christopher Obey, the principal accountant of the ministry, who like Kazinda is at the centre of misappropriation of about the about Shs150 billion up from 63 billion that was first reported.
Obey was interdicted together with the Permanent Secretary Jimmy Lwamafa, the Commissioner Pensions, Steven Kiwanuka-Kunsa and the Head of I.T Richard Lubega. Peter Ssejabi, the head of the East African Community Beneficiaries Association (ECOBA) was also interdicted. Majority of these are still facing charges, but they are out on bail as police pursue officials at the ministry of Finance and at Bank of Uganda.
Wherever the detectives have been, some implicated officials involved have fainted, abandoned their offices, and several have been seen running to hide away from lenses of journalists when they are not abusing them.
We want results
Even the President’s talk and approach to dealing with corruption seems to have changed.
At a function at the Uganda Military Academy, Kabamba where he passed 400 cadet officers in August, President Museveni reduced Uganda’s problems to two; politicians and civil servants because of their corruption.
Earlier on at State House, he had vowed to see to it that properties of corrupt officials are confiscated. Stumping out corruption has dotted his speeches at various functions, including the jubilee celebration speeches. It has also emerged that silently, the President has used some unusual means to gather is evidence.
In September, it emerged that the President had secretly directed investigators to install concealed cameras in the room where government officials processing procurement bids for the country’s biggest project, the Karuma Hydro Power dam. The project has stalled over allegations of corruption.
In another case, the President also directed a special team to investigate the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control even after he had directed the Criminal Investigations Department and the Police to investigate the department.
The President’s sleuth moves appear to be based on what he introduced in the Health sector three years ago when he appointed Dr Dianna Atwine’s Medicines and Health Services Delivery Monitoring Unit.
President Museveni makes such appointments claiming that he aims to have clean people in his government and get rid of the corrupt. He has called on his trusted Balokole (born-again Christians) like Uganda Revenue Authority’s Allen Kagina to look out for similar trustable cadres like Jennifer Musisi and Christine Ondoa who he has appointed to head Kampala City Council Authority and Ministry of Health respectively.
Although some cadres have not disappointed, a few critics like Cissy Kagaba, remain unconvinced.
Kagaba says that the President’s recent actions are just gymnastics that consume tax payer’s money without returning value.
“What we want are results, after these people are secretly investigated, is money returned, are their properties attached?” she asks.
Kassiano Wadri, the chairman of parliament’s anti-corruption arm, the Public Accounts Committee, is also unhappy that only technocrats are being targeted.
“The attempts that have been made are just a tip of what needs to be done,” Wadri says, “the big men are still untouched, these small technocrats are not stealing the money alone, they are just a conduit, and there is a big syndicate”
He adds that the institutional leaders who supervise these technocrats must take responsibility and resign.
“We have seen several big wigs implicated in the past, what happened?” Wadri asks, “there was a technicality that the IGG is not fully constituted; now these people are still reporting to the commercial court but they still occupy public offices.”
For him, because the big politicians have been let off the hook, pursuing the small technocrats is not very significant.
“This is sacrificing the small guys, these people did not eat the money alone,” Wadri says, “politicians benefited and these politicians who benefited yet they were supposed to supervise the small guys should be held accountable but they are still in office.”
The argument was made when former National Social Security Fund (NSSF) managing director David Jamwa and his deputy Prof. Mondo Kagonyera were fired over the Temangalo scandal, but then-security minister Amama Mbabazi, former finance Minister Ezra Suruma and city businessman Amos Nzeyi all walked scot-free.
Retired Justice John Bosco Katutsi, then of the Commercial Court, lamented that in Uganda it was only the small fish that were caught as crocodiles and big fish were left to swim freely.
But Tumushabe says “the size of the fish does not matter, whether small or big they must be caught”.
“So I think we need to applaud the government when they catch the small and tell them that it is not enough and that the solution is in catching both the small and the big.”
Tumushabe adds that the challenge is that President Museveni has been reluctant to tackle the big fish.
Cost of corruption
Corruption has become such a problem that the media reports a major case of graft almost every day. International graft watch organisations such as Transparency International have also named Uganda to be regional champion in corruption.
In an often quoted report, the World Bank reported that Uganda loses Shs 500 billion in corruption deals every year or five trillion a decade.
A quick research by The Independent revealed that tax payers have lost Shs 2.6 trillion or more than a quarter of the 10 trillion national budgets since 1996 in major corruption scandals reported in the media. Many cases go either undetected or unreported. They all have serious implications, not only because it discourages foreign investment but also affects the government’s delivery of services.
Commentators argue that the 20-year long war against Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony ravaged northern Uganda, lived hundreds of thousands either dead or scarred for life because army officials lined their pockets with the over Shs 30 billion instead of recruiting soldiers. This is what is known as the “ghost soldiers” scam.
After being cited as Africa’s model in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the prevalence rate stagnated and has started rising since ministry of Health officials swindled the money and the Global Fund cut-off funding.
Between 70,000 and 100,000 Ugandan children die annually of malaria because the medicines and mosquito nets are stolen, funds meant to deliver health services are embezzled by politicians and technocrats who walk scot-free to drive the latest cars and build mansions.
Recently, over 60,000 Ugandans could not access their pension on time and others will not get it in the near future because some civil servants pocketed a mind-boggling Shs 150 billion of their pension.
And while it was joy as people sung `Yoga Yoga’ (congratulations), the official anthem to mark 50 years of independence, it was not lost one many Ugandans that they do not have a national ID because the equipment and the money to produce identity cards was stolen.
Even President Museveni must have noticed that this state of affairs is a sharp contrast the vision he had in the 10-point programme of 1986 in which he attacked past leaders and prioritised the elimination of corruption.
Due to massive graft, donors too have put pressure on the government to act. In the past, however, when the Norwegian, British, Irish and Netherlands governments have cut aid to Uganda, Museveni has lambasted them for interfering with domestic politics and attempting to stifle development and the emergence of a middle-class.
When MPs moved to censure some of his cabinet ministers last year, Museveni told Ugandans that corruption was not as dangerous as its campaigners purport. He argued again, that those who steal public money invest it in Uganda and create jobs.
It is this attitude of Museveni’s that ticks off Cissy Kagaba.
“There is no way a leader can justify corruption,” she told The Independent, “When we talk about political will, we refer to the laws, which the government has put in place but such statements and actions of the leaders are in contradiction with the laws.”
Unfortunately, Museveni has a history of siding with the corrupt.
In the first major corruption scandal to rock the country, Gen. Salim Saleh, the president’s brother is on record to have received US$800,000 `bribe’ to help city businessman, Emma Kato win a deal in which the country lost US$13 million on three Junk helicopters. He reportedly confessed to the President and was never charged.
When former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was jailed over his role in the Chogm scandal, Museveni criticized the process and pronounced him “innocent” and directed that he is released. Since then all the high profile cases involving top politicians have slipped through the IGG’s and the Directorate of Public Prosecution’s fingers with witnesses either withdrawing or telling court their previous position was unfounded.
Tumushabe warns that unless the President disengages himself from all the ministers who have headed offices where the public has lost lots of money, there is no narrative that can be convincing.
He told The Independent that although netting the technocrats is a positive step, the political heads of these institutions need to take even more responsibility because corruption at the level of political leadership is the worst.
“Unless you clean up the political leadership,” Tumushabe says, “the message that you are dealing with technocrats alone cannot be convincing.”