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`Return Shs20m’ campaign to continue after elections

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Cissy Kagaba is the Executive Director of the Anti-corruption Coalition Uganda;  one of five Civil Society Organisations spearheading a ‘return our money’ campaign to force MPs return Shs 20 million posted on their account amidst allegations of bribery. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to her.

What is the ‘Return Our Money’ campaign about?

It came after MPs received Shs 20 million on their accounts. The procedures were flouted and the Ministry of Finance feigned ignorance. Weeks later the minister of Finance announced that the government is broke.

Have you found out the source of this money?

In court, one of the things we want the government to tell us is where this money came from. Ordinarily all government spending has to come from the Consolidated Fund through the ministry of Finance but the ministry says it does not know where this money came from. It is a bit suspicious. Why did the government tax it if it was facilitation to monitor a government programme? Taxing it means the money was an income to MPs.

Why else have you gone to court?

We thought the procedure they got this money was not clear. The parliamentary commission which is supposed to have cleared this money did not sit. We want to find out if it is the responsibility of MPs to monitor government programmes even when government has internal monitoring mechanisms.

What will court’s decision in this matter mean for the fight against corruption?

If the decision came out in our favour, we would have won the first step against impunity. It would stress the need to follow procedures and fight corruption. If the ruling goes against us, still we would have stood out because when you see something wrong you either sit back or you do something about it. Nobody wants to be dragged to court and some MPs have reacted angrily towards us.

Some MPs say they are suing you for slander because you are portraying them as being corrupt yet in their considered opinion the Shs 20 million was not a bribe.

It is everyone’s right to go to court. If they feel offended with what we say they are free to seek justice. We can battle that from court.

What does your campaign aim to achieve?

We want to see the money returned. We want to end impunity and want to see right procedures followed. We want people to hold their leaders accountable.

Where do you want this money to go if returned?

We want it back to the Consolidated Fund. You have heard the ministry of Finance saying the government does not have money which is a clear indication that government cannot provide services. If this money was taken back to the Consolidated Fund it would have helped provide some services to the people.

But Shs 6.5 billion wired on MPs accounts is too little to avert the money scarcity the Ministry of Finance is reporting.

That money can feed some 200,000 pupils in school for the whole academic year. Money is not everything but it can do the basics like buying medicines, paying more teachers, constructing more classrooms and save the children the burden of studying under trees.

What is wrong with government directing MPs to monitor its programmes and facilitating them to do that?

We want the court to interpret whether the oversight role of an MP amounts to monitoring government programmes. MPs earn a salary; monitoring NAADS should be on their salary. Many of them have not accounted for their Constituency Development Fund and when you give them more money what precedent are you setting? Are we living the talk of zero tolerance to corruption?

Some campaigners involved in the Return Our Money campaign were arrested. Why?

People circulating these messages were stationed in various places and the police picked them claiming they were committing treasonable offences, annoying the person of the President, but they were released without any charges.

So what does their arrest imply?

It implies that our government is trying to ensure that people do not get information pertaining to the levels of corruption in this country. Yet the President is always saying he wants to rid this country of corruption.

Civil society organisations have been criticised for only holding conferences and issuing statements. This time we see you moving out to actively mobilise the people. Is this the beginning of your stepping out of the comfort zone?

The civil society movement in Uganda is young. Certainly we will see more action in the coming years because we are getting better organised.

Will this campaign continue after elections?

We have taken the matter to court and it will continue. We tagged it on elections because of the timing

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