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Separating fact from fiction

By Andrew M. Mwenda

We cannot fight corruption using corrupt or unfair and unjust means

On the opposite page, Nicolas Rugaba Agaba criticises me for taking the now infamous oil bribery documents to President Yoweri Museveni. He insinuates that this compromised my investigation since the President has no will to fight corruption.

Museveni was one of several people and institutions with whom I shared these documents and tried to collaborate with in the investigation. Sadly, for purposes of confidentiality, I will not disclose some of the critical offices around the world that I collaborated with. But I can reveal a few: I shared the documents with the Nation Media Group in Nairobi, emailing them to Charles Onyango-Obbo on September 28th asking we collaborate in the investigation and publish the story simultaneously in The East African and The Independent?”

The East African is our competitor. Normally we would not share our stories with them. However, I felt this was a very important issue – so important that if we ould not crack it on our own, we should not be afraid to work with our competitors.


Secondly, using informal contacts, I shared the documents with police in London and Dubai. I also had a meeting with representatives of Global Witness at my office and shared the documents with them. We agreed on a joint investigation where, if we established their validity, we would publish the story concurrently in The Independent and on their website. Global Witness is based in London and is perhaps the world’s leading organisation in investigating corruption in the oil sector.

Therefore, even if Museveni had done nothing, he would not have stopped these other people and institutions from doing something. This insulated the investigation from the failures of anyone of the parties I was working with. I also knew that involving Museveni had costs. But it also had benefits. I had to weigh the two and the benefits outweighed the costs.

Rugaba-Agaba argues that by taking the documents to Museveni, I was doing what I always preach against i.e. taking every problem to the President.  The people alleged to have received these bribes are ministers appointed directly by him. It was only fair that I give him the benefit of the doubt and he also helps me in the investigation using the infrastructure of the state. However, there was also a risk that if I went simply to the police and they botched up this high profile investigation, it could compromise my security. Throughout the investigation, I felt Museveni acted with utmost transparency and openness.

I told him that even if we do not prove the allegations, he can take a series of actions to protect the national interest. My source of these documents had told me that Tullow was paying these bribes in order to get Uganda government to accept international arbitration so that Heritage Oil does not pay the Capital Gains Tax due to URA. I recommended to the President three things to do in order to protect the national interest and he did all of them. Details of these are in my last week’s column. His subsequent actions and public pronouncements convinced me that he was being sincere.

I will partly concede to Rugaba-Agaba’s criticism that I am often unfair to Ugandan elites when I accuse them of intellectual mediocrity given our bad education system. The worst part of it is that our education system teaches students to memorise knowlege rather than to critique it. As a result, many Ugandans involved in public debate have a high propensity to be attracted to the obvious (which is often misleading) as opposed to the hidden (which is often the explanation);  the simple but stupid (which is easy to believe) as opposed to the complex (which is demands greater intellectual energy to understant); and to being sentimental about public policy issues instead of being analytical.

We need to separate our personal biases from our professional work. As a person I too have biases against some public officials whom I suspect to be corrupt. But as an editor, I cannot rely on such personal biases to accept as valid any document accusing anyone of them of taking a bribe. Does one need to go to Harvard to learn this simple principle?

Assume a judge believes Joseph Kony is a mass murderer. If he is brought before him, his judgment has to be based on the evidence adduced by the prosecution convincing court beyond reasonable doubt that Kony is guilty. The judge is supposed to acquit Kony if he is convinced that the prosecution’s case is weak and unconvincing. To follow his personal bias instead of the evidence presented in court would be abuse of office/power.

The same applies to a doctor who believes Kony deserves to die because of what he has done. If they brought a wounded Kony to him, the doctor should treat the LRA leader diligently and save his life. If the doctor deliberately neglected him and left him to die (to suit his personal desires) he would have acted unprofessionally and would deserve to be charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Throughout this debate on the oil bribery scandal, I have been frustrated by the inability of our elites to make this simple distinction. This is not caused by bad education but lack of faith in fundamental values. Many of the senior NRM functionaries have used lies, deceit, forgeries and other unjust practices to stay in power. However, we cannot employ the same practices to advance the cause of justice and clean government.

If we believe in the principles of natural justice and in building a just and fair society, we need to subject those who disregard these values to our standard, not theirs. That is what distinguishes us from them. This is why I have always defended the right of those accused of corruption to a fair and just hearing in an impartial process.

I disagreed with those who censured Jim Muhwezi when they used forged and distorted documents to accuse him of corruption. I opposed the way Julia Sebutinde conducted the investigation into the police force and later into URA by condemning the people who appeared to testify before her during the hearings without hearing their case. My articles in The Monitor since 1998 are filled with this statement and restatement of values – that we cannot fight corruption using corrupt or unfair and unjust means.

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