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Museveni, Mbabazi, Muhwezi: Top most corrupt Ugandans?

By Matsiko wa Mucoori, Rukiya Makuma  & Mubatsi Asinja Habati 

  • 80% of perceived corrupt officials are NRM

When the NRA rebels took power on January 26, 1986, President Museveni launched a working document called The Ten-Point Programme. The document contained 10 priority areas that the new leadership committed itself to put right. Among them was the elimination of all forms of corruption. This was listed as No. 7 on the priority list, according to President Museveni’s Sowing the Mustard Seed on page 221. Today, 24 years later, the vice the NRM vowed to eliminate has come to haunt its top leadership. They are now perceived as more of corruption villains than the aspiring anti-graft heroes they looked like in 1986.

Last December the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), a grouping of over 60 civil society organisations involved in fighting corruption, conducted a countrywide survey on who the public perceive as the most corrupt Ugandans. The results were published in the Book of Fame and Shame on the ACCU’s website. The findings involving 1,775 respondents across all regions of Uganda were amazing. Out of the list of nine people Ugandans perceive as most corrupt, eight are NRM top leaders. President Museveni is second to Security Minister Amama Mbabazi who tops the list. Former Minister of Health Jim Muhwezi is perceived as the third most corrupt Ugandan. He is followed by Minister of Trade and Tourism Kahinda Otafiire, Former Finance Minister Ezra Suruma, suspended National Social Security Fund MD David Jamwa, former State Minister for Health Mike Mukula, Transport Minister John Nasasira in that order.

How the public ranked them

Amama Mbabazi

He is the Minister for Security.  A total of 154 respondents perceived Mbabazi to be corrupt. This perception is based on his battle with members of the Parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises over the ‘Temangalo’ scandal in which he and his business partner Amos Nzeeyi were accused of forcing the National Social Security Fund to buy their land at about Shs11 billion through their company, Arma Ltd. Save for the minority report, the investigating Committee’s majority report recommended the censure of Mbabazi and Dr Ezra Suruma, the then Finance Minister for corruption. The report pinned the two ministers on conflict of interest and influence peddling. Mbabazi insisted he was innocent since it was a private business deal.

However reports were awash in the press about Mbabazi’s night meetings with some MPs to dissuade them from holding him culpable in the Temangalo land deal. Subsequently, Parliament declined to discuss the majority report claiming it did not have powers to enforce the Leadership Code Act. This came after President Museveni met NRM MPs at State House and reportedly told them to exonerate Mbabazi. To date, Mbabazi’s guilt or innocence is yet to be established. But basing on these incidents, the public perceive Mbabazi as among the top most corrupt Ugandans.

Yoweri Museveni

He is the President of Uganda. He had a split vote of the ‘famed and shamed’. One section of the public praised him as a strong freedom fighter and anti-corruption proponent since January 1986. They say he has restored rule of law, peace, respect for human rights and economic growth that have seen Uganda register enormous success.

He put in place an elaborate legal and institutional framework to fight corruption. Museveni has also set up commissions of inquiry to investigate various cases of corruption. The President has made public pronouncements of zero tolerance to corruption and ordered interdiction of some public servants suspected of corruption.

However, despite all these mechanisms, corruption has remained widespread across all sectors and departments of government. Other respondents interviewed in the ACCU survey cited the escalating corruption and impunity at the national level such the Temangalo-NSSF scandal, CHOGM, Global and GAVI Fund money. The President’s reluctance to deal with his corrupt ministers is perceived as an act of abetting corruption. The respondents cited the reappointment of Jim Muhwezi and Sam Kuteesa who had been censured from cabinet by parliament for corruption and abuse of office. Museveni reappointed them to even more powerful ministries. They further cited Museveni’s support for Mbabazi during the NSSF-Temangalo scandal even when it appeared evident that Mbabazi had influenced the deal to his favour.

Jim Muhwezi

The grounds for his real or perceived corruption are diverse. Muhwezi was censured by Parliament in the late 1990s for abuse of office. He was again at the centre of the mismanagement of the Global Fund money to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria as well as abuse of money for Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI). According to the ACCU’s Book of Fame and Shame, on August 17, 2001, Muhwezi introduced Rugasira/Tusubira & Co. Advocates to the National Medical Stores (NMS) to be contracted to collect a debt from the Health Ministry and Mulago Hospital on behalf of NMS. Ironically, the debt had already been paid. However, the law firm was paid a commission of Shs148 million from the debt they never collected.

Kahinda Otafiire

Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire is the Minister of Trade and Industry. Last year, he had a face-off with former IGG Faith Mwondha over the redevelopment of the Naguru-Nakawa Estate by Opec Prime Properties. According to the IGG, the US $300m (about Shs600 billion) project was fraudulently allocated to Opec by Otafiire’s Ministry of Local Government. Mwondha wanted disciplinary action taken against Otafiire, his predecessor Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere and former state minister for local government Richard Nduhuura, now minister of state for health. However there is a section of Ugandans who exonerate Otafiire of any wrong doing in the Naguru deal.

Ezra Suruma

The former Finance Minister was implicated in the Temangalo saga as the minister supervising the NSSF. Suruma was accused of having forced the now suspended NSSF boss Jamwa to purchase the controversial land belonging to Mbabazi and Nzeyi. The public still perceives Suruma’s involvement in the scandal as an act of corruption. Respondents blamed him for influence peddling that resulted in a fraudulent deal.

David Chandi Jamwa

The former Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) is implicated in the Temangalo land purchase scandal which resulted in his current suspension. Jamwa is implicated in the forensic audit on the management of the workers’ savings. The audit reveals that he spent US$8,271 of workers’ savings in casinos in Las Vegas, US$8,488 on clothes, US$9,981 on jewelry and US$244 in a gun shop.

The report further says Jamwa paid himself Shs259 million in housing allowance advances and Shs148 million in salary advances in the less than two years he headed NSSF. His deputy, Mondo Kagonyera, received Shs206 million in housing advances and salary advances of Sh30 million. By the time they were suspended in early December 2008, both officials owed NSSF Shs355 million. Although Jamwa claims to have been pressured by Suruma and Mbabazi and Nzeyi, he defended the deal arguing that the money spent (Shs24 million) per acre was lower than the market price of land in the area.

Mike Mukula

The former Minister of State for Health was jointly charged with his senior minister Muhwezi for mismanagement of GAVI funds. Mukula is also the NRM Vice Chairperson for Eastern Region. He is accused of embezzlement although he has since publicly claimed the accusations are baseless. Although the Director of Public Prosecutions has since dropped some of the charges against Mukula, Ugandans interviewed during the survey perceive his involvement in the GAVI scandal and subsequent arrest as acts of corruption. He is charged together with fellow former state minister for health Alex Kamugisha, Muhwezi and Alice Kaboyo, a cousin to First Lady Janet Museveni. Although none of them has been convicted in court, the public think their conduct and actions amounted to corruption.

John Nasasira

Nasasira has been the Minister of Public Works since July 1996. He takes political responsibility and is blamed by the public for the sorry state of public works in Uganda. The public view is that potholes on Uganda’s roads range from circular shapes to even shapes that cannot be described.  The state of Uganda vessels on Lake Victoria and the railway network adds on the list of his failures. In 2009/10 his ministry was allocated Shs1.3 trillion to improve the roads and transport system.

Before the November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala, his ministry was given Shs91 billion for various preparatory activities including repair roads for the summit. The manner in which the road works were contracted, how the said roads were identified and the quality of works has serious queries around them. Accountability for the funds spent on such works has also been poor. The April 2008 special audit report by the Auditor General into the CHOGM expenditure unearthed many cases of poor road works, inflated costs and fraud. As the minister, Nasasira takes political responsibility and the public held him liable for the shoddy road works and poor state of Uganda’s roads.

Methodology

The perceptions are based on information from court records, reports of the Inspectorate of Government, Auditor General, Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority, the press, research reports and policy papers, Hansards of Parliament and the National Integrity Survey reports among others. The results reflect what Ugandans think about their leaders. The people’s judgement was based on whether the named leaders were directly involved in corruption scandals or took actions that abet or encourage corruption. These are named as villains of corruption.

However, the survey also revealed officials the public perceived as anti-corruption heroes who are ranked as ‘famed.’

Is this perception a fair verdict?

The ACCU respondents’ perception about the public officials named in the acts of corruption is not an isolated view. It looks at general perception spilling  over among other members of the public.   Mariah Ayoot, who works with a women rights NGO in Kampala, concurs that the ACCU respondents’ perception of the fore-mentioned officials was a correct and fair assessment. She says the research shows that the officials participated in the cases where they have been implicated.

Godber Tumushabe, the Executive Director of ACODE, a Kampala-based local think tank on public policy and environment, too agrees with the findings of the ACCU survey. Tumushabe says the assessment is justified and is not only based on the cases cited during the survey because there are many past corruption incidents the said officials have been implicated in. He says that considering that Muhwezi and Sam Kutesa were censured by parliament but they still occupy public offices, Muhwezi has been at the centre of the GAVI fund scandal, and given Otafiire’s alleged past dubious deals, the survey put them in their proper level. Kahinda has been accused of illegal trading in timber in DR Congo.

However, the Minister in charge of instilling Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, dismissed the ACCU’s findings as unscientific. ‘It is dangerous, wrong to make such bold statements about people of high authority basing on people’s opinions which may not be informed. It is not a reliable measure in any way. ACCU needs to move to scientific methods of gathering evidence and needs to make wider consultations before making such accusations. They need hard evidence to make such a case. In which corruption case has the President been cited, for example?’ Buturo asked.

‘It does not necessarily mean that when Hon. Jim Muhwezi is censured by parliament he is corrupt. That’s even the mistake Transparency International has always made, which perceptions maybe wrong due to lack of information. That is not fair at all,’ Buturo added.

Probably, as Buturo claims, the survey perceptions are not scientific, for despite reports of his previous involvement in seemingly corrupt incidents, Buturo was perceived by the public as non-corrupt.

Prof. Kakonge, the board chairman of Uganda Debt Network, had a contrary view. Kakonge says Muhwezi was not censured ‘out of the blue’ (without basis). ‘He and Kutesa were involved in scandals and there were accusations that led to their censure. It is true the Book of Fame and Shame is based on Ugandans’ perceptions. Perceptions can be based on facts and sometimes on impressions. If you are a responsible leader in a public office and such verdict is passed, you ought to resign because it means people no longer have confidence in you,’ says Kakonge.

He added: ‘There is a lot of scam going on in NAADS and UPE programmes but nothing much is being done about it. Because the President is the chief accounting officer for public resources in this country and all this is happening under his watch, the book I think is justified to accuse him of abetting corruption.’

This perception is not only held by the local public. Other surveys by Transparency International, another anti-corruption organisation, reflect a similar perception about Uganda. Uganda has consistently been ranked among the world’s top corrupt countries for the last 13 years. Interestingly all the 13 years have been under President Museveni’s NRM reign.

Since the survey was based on public perceptions, names of public officials who were not mentioned by the public could not be included. Therefore the names listed in the Book of Fame and Shame is very small portion of perceived corrupt public officials.

How has corruption affected Uganda?

Towards the end of 1996 when the Joseph Kony’s LRA insurgency was raging in the north, the government decided to buy two MI-24 attack helicopters as a counter-insurgency strategy. But corruption killed the deal and mission. The helicopters’ combined firepower, in military estimates, was equivalent to two battalions, (about 15000 soldiers). It was hoped they would cripple the LRA’s capacity and end the then 10-year-old insurgency. However top Defence officials, eaten up by corruption, bought defective helicopters in their pursuit of personal gain. The insurgency escalated. Consequently, between January 7 and 12, 1997, LRA rebels murdered at least 412 men, women and children in Lokung, Padibe and Palabek, in Kitgum District.

These gruesome massacres later spread to other areas in Acholi, Lango and Teso. The government started herding civilians into camps, triggering off what is now known as one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

One of the key reasons why the LRA insurgency has persisted to date is because of corruption in the national army.

In 2007 the gravity of corruption had reached such alarming levels across all sectors that even the UPDF top brass feared it could bring down the state. Disturbed by the despicable corruption in the army, President Museveni set up a commission of inquiry. The committee comprising the then Defence Minister Amama Mbabazi, Gen. David Tinyefuza and Salim Saleh. The committee found that nearly half of the entire UPDF were ghost soldiers (non-existent). Corruption had put national security in danger and the entire UPDF establishment at risk of total collapse. The committee was so shocked that it asked: ‘What would prevent a commander who has been so blinded by money as to maintain ghosts on the strength of his unit from selling his arms to Kony?’

Testifying before the committee, the late Chief of Military Intelligence Brig. Nobel Mayombo said: ‘If you can cast your mind back to the preparation for the UPDF operations in the Sudan…. We were tasked to establish requirements for the operation. There were a lot of discussions as to the strength of the 4 Division, but we were satisfied’¦. they could not have been more than 3000. 4 Division was a ghost Division.’

The Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima lamented: ‘It is a very disheartening phenomenon when one considers a unit (battalion) supposed to have a strength of 736 officers and men having only strength of 250 or so, like in the case of 15 Bn, 49Bn, 47 Bn etc. This means the missions supposed to be executed by 736 are left to 250 and cannot be successfully executed. In operations, our units suffer unnecessary casualties at the hands of the enemy or simply avoid the enemy.’

After considering all evidence before it, the committee concluded that corruption had eaten deep at the heart of the state security and the country was likely to plunge into anarchy.

‘The above shows the magnitude of the problem. This, coupled with the fact that commanders at very high levels are involved.., urgent and drastic measures must be taken to halt this stiff slide into anarchy and possible total collapse of UPDF,’ the committee concluded.

The damage caused by corruption is unquantifiable but what is absolutely clear is that it has led to loss of lives in the UPDF as much as it has led to appalling decline in service delivery across all sectors of the economy.

Financial implications of this ghosts saga are mind-boggling. It is estimated that out of the UPDF annual wage bill release of Shs133 billion, Shs47-88 billion goes to ghosts. This amount is enough to pay salaries of 1400 captains at Shs500,000 average per month for a whole year.

In the civil sector Uganda is said to lose about Shs500 billion to corruption per year. This amount is enough to pay for 210,000 primary school teachers in the country for a year. According to the Chairman of the Donor Economist Group, Mr Jeroen de Lange, Uganda needs 200,000 primary school teachers but it has 128,000 leaving a shortage of 72,000 teachers.

This means if there was no corruption, there would be no shortage of teachers, one of the top causes of UPE poor performance.

According to estimates of the Ministry of Education, it costs Shs8 million to build a classroom in Uganda. This means that the Shs500 billion stolen each year would build 62,500 classrooms in the country, solving the problem of UPE pupils studying under trees for lack of learning space.

The Auditor General’s special report on CHOGM shows that Shs35 billion, from only three ministries of Works and Transport, ICT and Foreign Affairs, is unaccounted for. Such money would buy drugs for 4,166 Health Centre IIIs for a year at Shs8.4 million per centre. Given that there are about 900 Health Centre IIIs in the country, this money would buy drugs for all of them for more than four years.

The above scenarios beg the question why the anti-corruption NRM of 1986 came to be bedfellows with the very devil it was condemning.

Why has NRM failed on corruption?

ACODE Director Tumushabe says the level of corruption under government is a product of regime longevity and survival. He says that if government stays long in power, it’s hard to fight corruption because there comes into existence an entrenched network of ‘connected’ people who establish areas of thieving.

He argues that as opposition grows, every regime has to pay its way to remain in power by being corrupt itself. So it becomes hard for such a regime to fight corruption.

He says corruption in Uganda extends from stealing money to buying support from people by rewarding supporters or sympathisers with new districts and expanding the cabinet.

He says even the opposition FDC, DP and UPC would not be free of corruption if they came to power as long as they suffer from the symptoms of regime longevity and survival.

‘Corruption at lower levels is a symptom of corruption from above. It cannot be fought by judiciary or the Baraazas that were introduced. In this case it’s the president who has the power to curb it by laying off all those who have been cited in corruption scandals. However in Uganda it is not the case,’ Tumushabe said.

Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo disagrees that the NRM has failed to fight corruption.

‘It is not true that the government is not fighting corruption because there are oversight committees, bodies and laws such as PAC, IGG office, PPDA, Leadership Code, etc that have been established by government to fight corruption. But the problem seems to be people guiding these bodies are in a corrupt society and sometimes it becomes hard for us to see what they do. Government needs to take more drastic and decisive measures, say, by prosecuting those implicated, to curb the vice,’ Ssekikubo says.

In defence, President Museveni and NRM often cite the various government organs that have been put in place to fight corruption. However what they have failed to explain is why corruption has remained widespread despite the said organs fighting it.

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