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Ssebutinde Commissions solve nothing except……

By Andrew M. Mwenda

A section of the public and critics have lately been saying Andrew Mwenda has changed. I don’t agree with them, and records of my publications going back in time bear me witness. Throughout my career, I have cherished the key cornerstones of journalism – truthful and accuracy; fairness and balance. I hereby reproduce some of the pieces I did back in time highlighting the position I have taken on contentious issues involving allegations of corruption. I hope this article and many more to come will guide the debate on whether I have changed at all.

This article was published in the Daily Monitor of Wednesday, November 6, 2002

The Lady Justice Julia Sebutinde commission of inquiry into Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has brought to the fore a number of salient issues. Like most commissions on corruption in Uganda, the investigation into URA focuses on an important, but small problem with the Tax authority. Thus although the critical problem with Uganda’s tax administration is political interference from mainly the chief executive, the: Ssebutinde investigation is focus on a public Ritual of naming and shaming individuals in order to appease the public.

Ssebutinde conducts her inquiry with ferocious zeal. She yells at the witness, insults and passes judgment on almost every one-long before writing her reports words like “you are a liar”, “all of you belong to Luzira”,  “ he is a fraudster” etc are banded around and give hungry reporters and editors good headlines. To an angry public looking for a red herring, such public executions of people’s reputation make a lot of political capital, and a handsome public-profile rent for the lady justice.

We understand judges to be impartial and fair. That someone from the bench is therefore appointed to chair a commission of inquiry should be sign that justice and fairness to all is being thought. In fact the very essence of a judge is impartiality hearing two, often quarreling sides and deciding for one or the other party.

My own insight into Ssebutinde as a chair of this was born out of an interview I had with the former director of Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Chris Bakiza, when I called him about the information of the commission of inquiry into the police chaired by a judge, he happily said he looked forward to presenting his case before this “impartial” body so that the truth could come out. This was not to be, as Ssebutide turned the inquiry into a public humiliation enterprise against police officers.

The Uganda police force has tried its best to police this country amidst poor pay, political bashing by the president and constant budget cuts. They live in mortuaries, toilets and kitchens and waking up every morning to ensure that we are safe. The public humiliation to which Ssebutinde subjected them made a lot of headlines but did not improve their budget. Instead, it provided justification for the president to appoint an army officer to head the police and militarise it. It did not improve their welfare or professional efficiency, but as the president said the changes were to make the police vote “properly” in 2006.

This brings us the URA probe. A few days ago, former URA boss, Elly  Rwakakoko was accused of taking a Shs. 55m bribe’ from hotel mogul, Karun Hirji. The source of this accusation was the Special Revenue Protection Service (SRPS), a para-military outfit organised by the president at State House to fight tax evasion, Socialised through a culture of institutional methods of work, RwaKakoko fought running battles against SRPS and State House, seeking to secure the bureaucratic autonomy of his organisation against an illegal military outfit that sought to run a parallel show. He left URA but has remained an icon of Uganda’s public service. Rwakakoko enjoys a rare reputation, as a man of great integrity and honour, and his opinion on, any matter in Uganda would be taken seriously by many.

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