Can Lt. Col. Nakalema do it?
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | For almost two years now since she was appointed to head the State House Anti-Corruption Unit, Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema has been a busy woman crisscrossing the country in her fight against corrupt public officials.
Nakalema, who was handpicked by President Yoweri Museveni in December 2018 to head a new anti-corruption unit in State House, prefers commando-style sting operations where she arrests errant government officials almost red-handed.
By her own account, her method is paying off. She recently said the unit has recorded a marked improvement in the number of corruption cases being reported per day. Where in the past the unit used to record 180-200 cases per day, now it records 270-300 cases every day. Many of the cases involve land grabbing, abuse of office and fraudulent transactions.
She said the unit has recovered over Shs 250 billion and arraigned in courts of law at least 225 people who have allegedly been involved in corrupt practices. About half of these public officers have been indicted from public service while 19 have been convicted and sentenced by courts of law.
She says when her unit receives information about the corrupt; her team acts rapidly and investigates the cases in the shortest time possible. She says this is done to restore confidence in the public so they get encouraged to report more cases.
But Nakalema’s achievements came under scrutiny recently following an induction training of members of yet another team of anti-corruption fighters— the Leadership Code Tribunal.
The Tribunal, the newest in a slew of government agencies President Museveni has been creating to fight corruption in public offices, was appointed on the advice of the Judiciary Service Commission and with the approval of Parliament.
It is mandated to act as a court to specifically try public officials who breach the Leadership Code by mainly not declaring their assets and wealth periodically as required by law. It is chaired by Dr. Roselyn Karugonjo and deputized by Asuman Kiyingi while its other members include; Jane Arume, Didas Bakunzi and Joyce Nalunga.
Nakalema told the Tribunal not to delay investigations as it hurts the public and gives a chance to the culprits to intimidate and scare witnesses away from giving information vital to pin them.
She said all anti-corruption agencies must seek to restore hope in the public and let them know something is being done to deal with errant leaders who swindle government funds. She said exposing the corrupt individuals in government institutions and agencies is one of the strategies that should be applied by all anti-corruption agencies.
She also described how her unit links up with the other anti-corruption agencies in government and pledged to assist the Tribunal to quickly handle the “hard to reach leaders” that are popularly known as “the untouchables.”
“I am a soldier and I don’t fear anyone,” Nakalema told the Leadership Code Tribunal members, “I swore to die on duty because I don’t fear any of those you think are untouchable, refer them to us.” “We shall touch them on your behalf.”
It was not the first time Nakalema was saying there are no untouchables in her fight against corruption in Uganda. While appearing on a local television talk show in January, this year, Nakalema said as long as there is enough evidence to pin an individual, her team will go after them without favour.
Nakalema says her unit’s mandate is to coordinate and collaborate with the dozens of government anti-corruption institutions. On the unit’s social media platforms where she regularly engages with the public, she says serving the average Ugandan is her target.
“We reach out to them whenever they reach out to us,” she says. She says she is aware that the campaign against corruption can succeed only if the ordinary Ugandans are involved.