By Agather Atuhaire
To have your cabinet short of 10 ministers in less than one year because of corruption related issues is something to be worried about.
The Public Accounts Committee report on the compensation of Basajjabalaba’s Haba group and col. Mugyeni’s Rhino group has led to the resignation of two ministers; Syda Bbumba from Gender and Khiddu Makubuya from General Duties in the Prime Minister’s office. The Independent’s Agather Atuhaire talked to PAC chairman Kassiano Wadri about where the report and the resignations leave the fight against corruption.
Congratulations upon the successful report. How does it make you feel that you compiled a report which led to the exit of two top ministers from cabinet?
I have nothing personally to be proud of because that success is not through my single efforts. It was the hard work of the committee members, the entire parliament and my staff. But I feel relieved, we did not think we would get to the root cause of this issue, especially since it involved President Yoweri Museveni, but we did.
This has also given us as parliament confidence that our efforts will not be in vain. That is an indication that there is hope of success even in our next struggles because this is just the beginning. There is unbelievable rot in this government and every one must be accountable.
We are not in this parliament for ourselves; we are here to represent all Ugandans.
Would you attribute the resignation of the two ministers entirely on your report?
Not really. I would attribute it to the entire house. The evidence against these two ministers was over-whelming. I am happy that they saved parliament’s time and saved themselves from humiliation by not waiting for a censure motion. There was no way they could survive but like I said the whole parliament played a big role.
Everyone knows President Museveni was central in these compensations because of the reports about the various letters he wrote and how some of your witnesses said they were working on his directives. Why did you exonerate the President, why didn’t you put his name in your recommendations?
No one exonerated the President. In fact I, as an opposition member, would be interested in implicating President Museveni but there was no evidence against him. Those letters were just any administrative letters anybody could write.
The President did not mention any amount of money in any of the directives. He simply sought legal advise but the Attorney General did not advise him. He even directed that an inter-ministerial committee be instituted to authenticate Basajjabalaba’s claims but these officials chose to act on their own.
If there is any other thing that the President did to influence the two ministers to do what they did, we were not informed about it. I asked these ministers and the onus was on them to tell us if there was any phone call they received from the President telling them to give Basajjabalaba those huge amounts of money but they said there was none. How was I supposed to incriminate him?
The only thing I told Museveni personally was that he is not allowing state institutions to perform. I find the President as a player and a referee at the same time, which does not make sense. But in this particular issue, there was no evidence against him.
What does the resignation of the two ministers mean for PAC, for Parliament and the entire fight against corruption?
What these resignations mean is that it is not as impossible as people thought to remove these people from their positions once you have concrete evidence.
And it also sends a very bad signal to the NRM government. It means that for over two decades, this government has been in bed with corrupt officials and was too inefficient to discover that, or take appropriate action against them.
When we were interrogating these people, we would not look at Bbumba as a person or Makubuya as a person, but the whole government that they represent.
The President himself should be worried. I can assure you if this happened in developed countries, the whole government would resign. Otherwise to have your cabinet short of 10 ministers in less than one year because of corruption related issues is something to be worried about.
What is the next step for your committee and the entire House as far as the fight against corruption is concerned?
There is still a lot to be done. If you look at the Auditor General’s report for the year ending 2010, you will not believe what we are still up against. You will be shocked when you see the report about the Burundi compensation where we have so far discovered that over $14 million was squandered and the Dura Cement compensation where government forked out over $16 million.
We also want to check all the ministries, the money they are allocated and how they utilise it. We have to make sure that Ugandans get value for money.
Does that mean we are going to witness more resignations?
It may be resignations it maybe prosecution. We are not interested in any resignations; our only job is to ensure accountability. We are not here to witch-hunt any one. We work on facts and evidence.
It is obvious the kind of work you do which involves putting top individuals on the spot is not easy. What challenges have you faced so far as a committee ensuring accountability of the tax payer’s money?
The volume of work is very big. PAC has a lot to do; there is a lot to uncover in the face of other parliamentary responsibilities. If one is not careful, one can easily forget about their constituencies.
What makes the work even more hectic is working with uncooperative people. Some witnesses are very hostile, they think we are witch-hunting them when we are only doing what we are supposed to do. Others threaten us.
But most importantly my committee is not adequately resourced. We are not facilitated to go to the field and it is necessary if we are to determine value for money. But I have already raised this issue with the Parliamentary Commission.
Various MPs raised questions about how corruption is going to be dealt with if the fight does not start from the top. Another political analyst has told me that unless the whole government changes, it will be hard to fight corruption in Uganda. In your view, do you think corruption can be eradicated?
Corruption can be eradicated if we can all in unison walk the talk. If we were all committed to fighting it and if there were no people benefiting from it, we would successfully fight it. But as long as we still have people who glorify it, it’ll be very hard to fight it. Look at our immediate neighbors- Rwanda, when you are caught in any corruption act, you do not only lose your job, but you are also imprisoned.
In China you face a firing squad. So, for us to fight corruption the President must have biting teeth and if he himself is not corrupt, he should stay clear.
You have been in parliament since 2001. How do you rank the ninth parliament so far as far as fighting corruption is concerned?
In all the three parliaments I have served in, the ninth parliament has excelled and I rank it exceptionally high. There is unity of purpose in this parliament. I have never seen a House which ignores party, tribal and regional affiliations for one cause. But in the ninth parliament, the fight against corruption has become our unifying factor.
Most Ugandans were disappointed by reports that MPs have been given Shs 103m to buy cars. They argue you would not have been the ones accepting those huge sums of money having pretended to appreciate the economic difficulty they are going through-especially the teachers. Some have even said it is the President’s way for wooing you and you have fallen for it. What do you say about that?
The President does not give money to any sector. It is parliament that approves allocations. That money was voted for by parliament under the Parliamentary Commission. What people need to understand is that this money is not a favour. This money is an entitlement. Just like ministers, RDCs and CAOs are entitled to cars, so are MPs.
Why haven’t people made noise about cars of these other officials yet they are the most expensive because I can assure you, Shs 100 million can never buy a new car. The issue people should be concerned about is the size of parliament.
These cars will definitely cost the country a fortune because this parliament is too large. And the same people making noise about the money for cars are the same people clamoring for new districts and new constituencies every day.
If they think we shouldn’t get the cars personally, let government buy them and give each MP a driver and facilitate the car to take the MP everywhere he has work and we leave them behind at the end of five years and am telling you that one would be more expensive.
I haven’t received this money yet, but if I get it, I’ll receive it because I need the car to do my job.