By Onghwens Kisangala
Two weeks ago, Uganda was ranked third most corrupt country in the world. The Independents Onghwens Kisangala talked to Assistant Bishop of Kampala Diocese, Zac Niringiye on why corruption is soaring.
The public perception is that everyone is corrupt, is this true?
There is no question that corruption is at every level. It has become away of living. It is so pervasive that Ugandans now believe if you cannot access public services through the right channel, get it in any way.Â People who evade taxes are the people who ought to ensure that taxes are paid. Who were the beneficiaries of the tax-free goods during CHOGM? They were building hotels and other structures under the pretext of CHOGM. They knew they would never complete them in time for the meeting. Just find out who is behind this or that hotel. They are not looking for survival they are amassing wealth. Here comes the role of leadership. The culture of a society or an organisation is based on that of its leadership.
You seem to agree with the Opposition that corruption is an institutional practice recognised by government?
I had a conversation with someone in the leadership. He said: If you eliminate corruption, the economy will collapse. How will you access capital for investment? The cost of capital in this country is extremely high. He said it is a private sector driven economy. You borrow, but do you just walk into the bank and get money? You must find a way of cutting costs. As a country, we lose more money to corruption than we receive in international aid.
Is there evidence of that?
Oh yes. It is there in the PRM (Pear Review Mechanism) report. I think President Museveni knows that corruption is there.
But the President has said its okay when people steal public funds but invest them here?
Thats why I insist that he knows. Capitalism thrives on greed. Once we chose that path, we gave the most greedy chance to be the ones to develop. The hard workers get their money very slowly. The nature of a corrupt society needs to be confronted. The leadership needs transformation. You either transform leadership or have a revolution. When leaders fail to lead, the led take over. And when they do, it becomes messy.
In situations where politicians fail to provide the way forward, the Church must fill the gap. What are you doing?
I agree. The church should be better informed because its values are different. But you have got to reflect deeply on the history of churches in this country. Churches had access to public resources not because of competence or anything, but the politics of the country such that you are either Roman Catholic or Protestant. Then more recently, the Pentecostal churches have sought to gain favour and access. The Muslims are amazing because they use their minority in very remarkable ways. The other day we were talking about filling up a particular office in this country that has taken forever to be filled. There is a competent acting man who was told this position is for us Roman Catholics. You know it is the usual thing; this position is for us Baganda, us Protestants, us Muslims and so on. There are positions in this country you know that are designed for a person of one religion or another. Sadly, it is the Archbishops and Bishops who negotiate for these positions. But then you will suddenly realise you are losing out if you do not use your denominational affiliation to argue for space in the arena of distribution of resources.
Does allocation of space equal to distribution of resources?
Yes. The very way of appointing public officers has itself become so corrupted. The criterion is no longer capacity or competence. Why religious leaders cannot do much is because they are part of the system.
But if the church is part of the bad game, who will save the situation?
The people who benefit from corruption are the ones who come to church. They are the ones who put the offerings in the offertory bags and we know them. The church is not as though it is a separate part. That is why for me, we need to transform leadership. The political leadership needs transformation.Â But also the church leadership is compromised and so needs transformation too.
It sounds a hopeless situation, how did it come to this?
There are traditional cultural roots to this thinking. The local saying suggests that if the person from your clan is eating, then the rest of you benefit. What is different though is that while thieves enjoy resources in their stewardship in trust of the community, there is unequal distribution. But what has gotten lost is that we have only retained the idea that since my person is there we will all benefit. The question is who is the we? The we is just alittle clan or denomination. we have to be able to expand the we to uganda. thats why districts are becoming a popular thing because it is redefining we. Even when you get to districts, you have powerful families fighting over certain local interests. But its this we thing. It is we and the rest is them. Thats what exacerbated the problem in northern Uganda because people captured it as the problem of the north. Twenty years later, is when we realise this is a Uganda problem.
So what can just a few people do?
In the Bible we read about Elijah when he said, â€œThey have killed all the other prophets of God and I am the only one left.â€ But the spirit of God came to him and encouraged him that there were 700 others who had not succumbed to idolatry of the time. So I believe there are those 700 potential good leaders for this country, but they need to find one another.
Do you hope that 2011 elections will provide the desired transformation?
The political leadership is changed through an election process. Thatâ€™s why 2011 is a good point. But it will not happen unless citizens are informed about what kind of leaders they need to elect for that transformation to be real. It is not the person who gives you the most money, he will soon ditch you because he will have to recover his money. We must tell them so.