By Flavia Nassaka
69% think little is being done to curb the vice
On Dec. 03, the Electoral Commission concluded nominations for those seeking to become Members of Parliament come 2016. It was a bad day on the road especially for those who use public means of transport as many taxis had been hired to ferry supporters. When I got to the stage, the few taxis available were `overloading’- forcing four passengers per seat contrary to the acceptable three.No one objected to this and in a few minutes, the driver hit the road. But it was not long before a traffic police officer flagged down the taxi.
In a familiar scene on Ugandan roads, the driver got out of the taxi and engaged in a short conversation with the female police officer. With the issue resolved, we drove on. That’s how a debate about corruption started.
A passenger lambasted the driver for giving the police woman a bribe and said that it encourages drivers to break the law knowing that they will give traffic officers little money and get away with it. But many thought it was OK for the driver to bribe. To attempt to justify the act,the taxi conductor volunteered that it is better to pay the bribe which, he said; he paid at least once a week “Do you know how much we would be paying in fines if traffic officers were refusing this money?”he said.
Possibly unknown to the taxi driver, his conductor, and some of the passengers that supported paying bribes, it is such behavior that piles up to create a culture of corruption that is now making Uganda gain notoriety.
Just two days before this incident, on Dec. 01, Transparency International; a global NGO that tracks corruption related issues in different countries, had issued a report showing that about 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have paid a bribe in the past year.
Police are most corrupt
The Transparency International report titled `People and Corruption: Africa survey 2015’ noted that those millions had to pay either to escape punishment by the police and court or they were forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately needed. The researchers spoke to 43,143 respondents across 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa between March 2014 and September 2015 to ask them about their experiences and perceptions of corruption in their country.
Only 22% of the people interviewed thought that corruption had decreased in their countries. In Uganda over 60% of the 2,400 respondents sampled thought corruption had increased over the past 12 months. 38% of the respondents in Uganda said they paid bribe in a bid to use a form of public service that should be free.
The police are seen as the most corrupt in Africa at 47%. The police are followed by business executives,who are seen as the second most corrupt group (42% say most or all business executives are corrupt).Government officials and tax officials rank as the third and fourth most corrupt groups(38% and 37% respectively).
Peter Wandera, the Executive Director of Transparency International Uganda, told The Independent on Dec.04 that the rate of corruption in institutions like police, lands, courts, health and private companies in Uganda is way above the average in Africa. He said corruption had gone down only in the Uganda Revenue Authority.
Corruption in Uganda has been getting worse, according to the global Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Uganda was ranked 127th in 2010, 143 in 2011, 130 in 2012, 140 in 2013, and 142 in 2014. In terms of CPI, the higher the corruption, the higher is the ranking.
It should be noted that the CPI does not measure actual incidents of corruption but rather the extent to which citizens think corruption takes place. Uganda’s bad perception figures could be as a result of the many stories of theft in public offices.
Wandera says Uganda has over the years passed good laws to curb corruption but failure to implement them remains a problem.
“That’s why you see that 69% of our respondents thought the government is not doing enough to fight corruption,” he said adding that some institutions that are supposed to fight corruption are corrupt themselves,” he said.
Wandera says curbing the vice comes with a lot of individual efforts and citizens also have a role to play by reporting those who solicit for bribes. But the Transparency International report shows that 35% of their respondents were scared of the consequence of reporting corrupt tendencies. It recommends that governments include clear anti-corruption measures with effective reporting mechanisms where whistleblowers are protected.
Wandera says in Uganda it is now cheaper to pay a bribe than the fines because the system is not working. He said a taxi driver may opt not to buy the mandatory Third Party insurance because they know they will bribe pay their way out if caught.
“If that option wasn’t available, they would conform to the laws established,” he said.
He said although there are reports that show amounts of money that have been mismanaged or stolen, the reports and inquiries is never known to the public and the offenders are rarely implicated.
Fighting the vice
High profile cases of corruption over time include the CHOGM saga in 2007 which became public in 2011 when high profile people including then-Vice President Gilbert Bukenya were implicated for mismanaging billions of shillings meant for the CHOGM summit, the Global Fund scandal in 2008 when money meant for malaria and tuberculosis drugs ended up in the pockets of a few, the NSSF Temangalo land purchase put then Security Minister Amama Mbabazi on spot, the Pension scandal of 2012 where Shs169 billion meant for pension was swindled, and the Kazinda scandal in Prime Minister’s Office in which billions of shillings was swindled in a syndicate involving several ministries.
John Saturday, the Director Capacity Building at Public procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) says in 2014 up to 118 procurement audits were conducted in 118 entities and found that contracts worth Shs3.1 billion were corruptibly awarded to pre-determined bidders.
In other cases of corruption, Shs11.4 billion was advanced to providers without the required Advance Payment Guarantee of Security. John Saturday said this put the government resources at risk in case the provider defaulted, that money would be lost because there will be no back up to recover the resources.He said Shs74.8 million was lost in contract awards in 2014/2015 financial year.
Saturday said the government is moving to plug avenues of corruption after realizing that it is committed in a syndicate way.
He said 104 cases were investigated in 2014/2015 and 45 companies were suspended from procurement and disposal procedures because of corruption related and fraud issues.
In July, parliament passed amendments to the Anti-corruption Act 2013 to provide for confiscating property of the people convicted, including property registered in names of relatives of the culprit.
An on-going commission of inquiry into the alleged mismanagement of resources in the roads body – Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) has, for example, exposed officials who have been colluding in corruption tendencies right from awarding of contracts to implementation of work. On this commission are officials from accountability institutions like the office of the auditor general, PPDA, and the Inspectorate of Government (IG).
John Saturday said, however, they are aware that when they plug one gap the corrupt use another. They are, therefore, strategically working together with other government entities involved in accountability especially those that can prosecute to bring offenders to book.
While implicating offenders would be easy, their biggest problem is gathering evidence to pin someone because different departments, institutions and individuals collude in very sophisticated ways. The Auditor General, John Muwanga, had earlier made similar observations while appearing on television. Muwanga said auditors mainly depend on reports provided by accountants yet some of them do not note critical issues.
Saturday said there are also other factors affecting them like lack of resources, understaffing, and grappling with a backlog of cases. He said the introduction of e-procurement would ease monitoring and award of tenders and ensure transparency.
Another way to fight corruption, according to the Transparency International report, is to tackle poverty because they go hand in hand. Poverty makes people engage in corrupt tendencies. But graft in public service places is an added burden on people who are already struggling to afford basic necessities like food and health care.
From Dec. 02 to 09 Uganda joined the world to mark the Anti-corruption Week which focuses on fighting corruption. The UN initiated it in 2010 to highlight what people can do. The theme for this year was ‘Break the Corruption Chain’.