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PACs paper tiger:

By Kyle Beaulieu

Bukenya, CHOGM looters wont be punished

The much-hyped, soon-to-be-released official report from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will only be that: a report. Parliament can only make recommendations; a court has to make the verdict. Justice will be left to the judiciary and the dedication of the ruling government. History of NRM impunity, the state of the judiciary, and the upcoming elections give a glimpse into the unlikely future of justice being served.

Vice-President Bukenya appeared before PAC this week where he attempted to shift culpability, pleaded ignorance, cited time constraints, and attacked journalists. He got very emotional and rebuked most accusations as personal.

President Museveni appeared before PAC last week to defend himself against charges and give his viewpoint on the CHOGM scandal. He vowed to take action against all those who will be implicated in the PAC report. However, history shows his declaration may be all bark and no bite.

Unofficial drafts of the report swirling in the media suggest that senior cabinet members including VC Gilbert Bukenya, Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, Security minister Amama Mbabazi, and others be prosecuted for a number of corruption charges from swindling money to influence peddling.

Such charges of corruption and cronyism in Uganda are not new. According to the World Bank, 250 million dollars are lost to corrupt officials annually in Uganda. Although President Museveni claims there is nobody who is above the law and that he has been fighting corruption for over twenty-years,  since he came to power, top officials have been implicated for stealing billions of dollars and have not been held accountable, most have not even been held in trial.

From the top to the bottom, officials have been accused of bribery, embezzlement, and political corruption. However, President Museveni and the NRM have generally dismissed these accusations as political. Indeed, President Museveni in his interview and Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Nsaba Buturo, in an interview with The Independent, again dismissed most as political.

Despite the evidence, the majority of high-level corruption cases have not even been tried in court to determine if they are indeed political. Those at the suckle of power have had ample evidence gathered against them, some have even admitted unscrupulous acts; yet, they remain unpunished by the judiciary.

Unpunished Corruption Cases

1998 Uganda Commercial Bank Scandal

According to allegations, Salim Saleh illegally tried to become the majority stakeholder in the former Uganda Commerical Bank (UBC) in 1998 while serving as senior presidential advisor on defense and security. Greenland Investments, with whom Saleh was a majority stakeholder, attempted to purchase the UBC shares illegally via the Malaysian company, Westmont Land. Saleh admitted to being involved in the scandal. However, he was never prosecuted. Instead, the managing director of Greenland at the time, Dr. Sulaiman Kiggundu, was prosecuted and sent to jail.

1998 Helicopter Scandal

In 1998, when Salim Saleh was Minister of State for Defense, he individually helped procure two helicopters for the UPDF from the Republic of Belarus. Saleh allegedly sought a bribe and received approximately US$800,000, which he admitted receiving to President Museveni. The helicopters cost the government of Uganda US$10 million and turned out to be absolute junk.

In 2003, the Ugandan Cabinet recommended that all top army commanders, businessmen, and civil servants involved in the deal be prosecuted. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Richard Butera, accepted the recommendations, but decided to carry out his own investigation before prosecuting the suspects. In 2005, he dropped the majority of charges citing a lack of evidence. The only person to be charged was Emmanuel Katto, who was the supplier that gave the bribe; he was momentarily held and eventually released. The authorities “manipulated and suppressed” the evidence by having Saleh serve as a witness against Katto, according to Prof. Kakonge of the Anti-Corruption Coalition.

Valley Dam Scandal

Dr. Specioza Kazibwe was Uganda’s Vice-President and Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries from 1994 to 2003. She is championed as an advocate against corruption despite the fact that her role in the Karamoja Valley Dam development fund scandal has never been made clear. Beginning in 1999 there were accusations that she was mismanaging the fund. In the end, Ush 4 Billion ($2 million) was lost from the World Bank funded project.

The Sixth Parliament, in 2003, nearly censured Dr. Kazibwe over this scandal. Dr. Kazibwe’s role in and economic benefits from the Valley Dam project has never been made absolutely clear; she just accused her predecessor and other members of the government. She is now President Museveni’s advisor on microfinance and is being accused of squandering Shs 300 million meant for people with disabilities in the eastern region.

Ghost Soldiers

Ghost soldiers have been a problem for the Ugandan army ever since October 1990 when they were first reported. In 2003, a three-man commission headed by Amama Mbabazi, and subsequent investigations, found over 24,000 fictitious names on the army payroll, resulting in a loss of Shs 600 million in 13 years.

After almost seven years, nothing substantial has been done to prosecute those responsible for ghost soldiers. Very public investigations have been led by Lt. Gen. David Tinyefuza, who ordered General Kazini (RIP) and 25 others to be sent to General Court Martial; however, the only major conviction was of Gen. Kazini. He was convicted alongside Lt. Col. Dura Mawa Muhindo and Capt. Micheal Baryaguma for a loss of Shs 61 million—barely 10 percent of the total ghost soldier money.

The majority of officers initially suspected have been acquitted or have had charges against them dropped. Some officers, such as Maj. Gen. Gutti and Brig. Kashaka, have even been redeployed and promoted.  The Tinyefuza committee is still carrying out investigations, but, after seven years, it is very doubtful people will be held responsible for the other Shs 539 million.

Global Fund Scandal

In August 2005, the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria suspended grants worth US$367 million to Uganda after an audit by PriceWaterhouse Coopers found serious management irregularities. In response, President Museveni appointed a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate. In May 2006, the report that showed the Global Fund was grossly mismanaged by the Minister of Health, Jim Muhwezi, and his two junior ministers, Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha. None have been prosecuted.

GAVI Scandal

From 2000 to 2007, Uganda was granted over US$87 million from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) fund to support the Uganda National Immunization Plan. After accusations of misconduct, an April 2007 report by the Inspectorate of Government found that “there was gross mismanagement and abuse of immunisation funds by officials at the Ministry of Health and others who were not officials of the ministry.”

The beneficiaries of the GAVI fund included intelligence officers, NRM members, and ministers. Top ministers of Health, Jim Muhwezi, Mike Mukula, Alex Kamugisha, and presidential aide Alice Kaboyo were implicated in the report. The four were accused of misappropriating Shs 1.6 billion. However, they have yet to be prosecuted. Each were arrested in May 2007 and sent to Luzira prison, only to be released on bail.

Is the Judiciary to be blamed for Impunity?

The cases quoted in this article represent only a few cases where the leaders of this country have been connected to the loss of billions and have not faced due process. Is the impunity a failure of the judiciary? There are an estimated 40,000 cases that have been in the judicial system for over two years. The judiciary is undermanned to handle all these cases, and seven senior judges are set to retire this year, which will likely backlog the system even more.

Minister Buturo blamed the inefficiency of the judiciary for impunity. “The courts are cumbersome” and “do not have enough manpower,” he said. As a result, in his opinion, the NRM looks unserious about corruption. Buturo believes that “high profile cases should take priority, but the accused have a way of delaying through the law.” Any attempt to expedite and influence the process would be seen as political interference, in Buturo’s opinion.

Minister Latigo and Prof. Kakonge each mentioned the failure of the judiciary, but more fundamentally, they believed, those at the top are protected by Museveni. The ineptitude of the judiciary and the unwillingness of the NRM to fight corruption are connected.

It is scapegoating to blame the judiciary. The judiciary is the responsibility of the ruling government, i.e., the NRM. It is the ruling government’s job to make sure laws are properly administered. Without enforcement, people are free to act according to their whims, within the powers available to them.

In an interview with The Independent, Morris Latigo, Parliament Leader of Opposition, implied that the NRM uses the bungling judiciary for its personal benefit. “Anybody who is a political interest to the president, will always be able to wiggle out” of corruption charges against them, even in highly publicised events. Nobody has been prosecuted in past cases and “with CHOGM there will be nobody.” The scandal will be sidelined and quietly forgotten about or evidence will simply be lost.

Without trials, most accused ministers have remained in office or been dismissed only to be reappointed. Minister Buturo defended the continued presence of the accused by saying that, “one should wait for the courts of law to decide.” Uganda is not like the West, he claimed. “It is not in our culture for people to resign over stories, allegations.”

Minister Latigo and Prof. Kakonge both believe top officials suspected of corruption are kept in power for Museveni’s personal reasons, political or economical, not because of the failures of the judiciary. Minister Latigo believes that “the president knows a lot about these things and therefore has no capacity to resolve the matters and implicate himself.” He cannot do much about these major corruption cases if he himself is involved, and that’s why he only goes “after the small fish.”

Certain people within the government have become “too hot to handle for Museveni,” according to Prof. Kakonge. “They know so much about him.” If they are exposed, then he risks potentially being exposed as well. Therefore, he is happy to let cases slowly disappear in the system.Â

Role of 2011 Elections

Evidence shows top government officials have stolen billions and, yet, none have been properly tried in the judiciary. The upcoming 2011 elections make punishment for CHOGM in the near future even more unlikely. A public trial would reflect negatively on the president and the NRM.

According to Latigo, “any talk on Museveni’s acts on corruption will be taken in light of the elections and he will take them as political.” The accusations will be redirected towards the opposition and the corruption issue will be put aside.

The biggest problem according to Kakonge is that the upcoming elections make people “a bit jittery.” Thus, they will delay prosecuting those responsible for embezzling millions from CHOGM. In the end, Prof. Kakonge assumes “those who should be prosecuted will pay their way through the legal system, suppress information and buy off witnesses.”

The government will have to reverse its history, rebuild the judiciary, and ignore the upcoming elections if anyone is going to be held responsible for swindling millions of dollars from CHOGM.

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