Is the Nakalema Anti-Corruption Unit driven by media frenzy or is it getting good results?
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | On April 06, the State House Anti-Corruption Unit sent out an unusual press statement. It announced that it had carried out a special investigation on Post Bank Uganda. That meant there had been a swoop.
“The matter under investigation is for abuse of office and a number of senior bank personnel are under investigation. Bank operations remain uninterrupted,” said the statement signed by Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema; the head of the unit.
While the statement to the press was unusual, the operation was typical: Make an unexpected swoop, interrogate suspects, arrest culprits.
Also unusual was the way the Unit cited the law under which it entered into Post Bank; Article 99 (4) of the Constitution of Uganda – “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the functions conferred on the President by clause (1) of this article may be exercised by the President either directly or through officers subordinate to the President”.
It was an acknowledgement that the Unit’s style is unconventional – without much locus in the either typical corruption investigation or prosecution. In the case of Post Bank that mandate is with Bank of Uganda.
So Nakalema made a point of saying BoU and the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, and the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Directorate (CIID) are in the loop. But the question remains: If that is their mandate, why did they not act? Why did Nakalema have to step in? And Post Bank is not the only case begging this question.
Since President Yoweri Museveni launched it in December last year, Nakalema’s unit has instilled panic among public officials. The former personal assistant to President Museveni has raided districts; swooping on Residential District Commissioners (RDCs), Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), engineers, town clerks. She has swooped on tax officials, district administrators and Lands ministry technocrats. Her unit appears to be making gains and Ugandans; ever wary of bureaucratic lethargy in anti-corruption cases, are applauding.
Unlike the Inspectorate of Government, which has been criticised for apparent lethargy, Nakalema’s unit reportedly acts fast on whistleblower calls from concerned citizens about corrupt leaders. It arrests first and investigates later.
This could have been what President Museveni demanded during the State of the Nation Address in June 2018 when he said the Inspector General of Government (IGG) was not as effective. The IGG investigates, arrests, and prosecutes. It takes time. Nakalema’s unit is militaristic; conducting commando-like raids.
From its first operation in the Wakiso land offices on December 20, 2018 up to the end of March, the unit has arrested close to 40 people after tip offs. That is an average of 10 arrests made per month. The IGG office makes an average of three arrests in a month according to informed sources.
But it appears too early to make a proper critique of the unit. How many of those arrested end up in jail? Can the unit maintain the momentum? At what financial cost? And there are allegations that Nakalema’s unit does not have clean hands.
Nakalema’s unit typically starts with a public meeting in an area. The unit’s counsel interrogates technocrats like engineers, internal auditors and chief financial officers as members of the public look on. Nakalema chips in when progress is slow.
The public questioning could be about misappropriation of funds for schools, or using money meant for the district health department for road or even a delay to install lightning arrestors as was the case in Bataebwol Primary School in Dokolo district. Officials who fumble or are accused by members of the public are grilled further. Some are arrested. In January and February, Nakalema and her ‘small army’ carried out operations in Tororo, Arua, Gulu, Jinja, Kiruhura, Mbarara. In mid-March, the unit visited Amolatar and Dokolo districts in the Lango sub-region.
In terms of making arrests and practically waging war on corruption, some observers say Nakalema’s outfit is doing very well.
In one of their impromptu raids recently, the unit arrested Nicholas Kamukama, the deputy RDC of Kiruhura district, and Kangume Kosea, a district councilor for allegedly soliciting a bribe to aid the illegal operation of an unlicensed money lending company. The police are set to charge the two with bribery and extortion.
A few days before the Kiruhura raid, the unit arrested Ruth Etibot Achimo, Soroti University secretary, amid accusations of misappropriating Shs1.6billion meant for payment of employee allowances, rent, retainer fees and inland travel disbursement. Achimo was arraigned before the Anti-Corruption Court on March 29 on charges of corruption, diversion of public resources and false accounting.