THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda
Why do many people believe corruption is out of control despite many prosecutions?
In October, the Anticorruption Court convicted the main culprits in the theft of pension money. The three men were top officials of the ministry of public service; including the permanent secretary and the principle accountants. The story made headlines for two days and died away. Indeed, every day, there is news of public officials in Uganda being arrested, charged, and prosecuted or being convicted of corruption. But they don’t make big news. Yet the media – both traditional and social media – get obsessed with considerably minor stories and cover them for weeks on end.
Over the last five years, few public officials who have been embroiled in corruption have not ended in court and better still in prison. These include a former vice president, top ministers including those closest to the president, business persons etc. Over this same period about six permanent secretaries have been indicted and charged in courts of law with corruption. In fact, if you keep your eye especially on New Vision, there are almost daily stories of local officials in districts being prosecuted or convicted for corruption.
Statistically, therefore, it can be seen that the government of Uganda is fighting corruption. I have not done a statistical audit to establish how many public officials get charged with corruption, how many are tried in courts of law, and what percentage gets convicted. But soon I will assemble comparative data within Uganda over time i.e. comparing the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s and between Uganda and other poor countries.
I suspect there are increasingly more arrests and trials of the corrupt today than ever before. If my suspicion is right, why do many people believe that corruption is running out of control at the time when the Anti-Corruption Court has been most effective in prosecution?
One reason could be that corruption has grown just as its prosecution has intensified. If this were true, it would suggest that the returns from corruption are very high and, therefore, many thieves do not mind spending five years in jail for it.
The other reason is that there is great fatigue with the Yoweri Museveni administration most especially among the educated strata of society. Again I do not have scientific data and this is based entirely on my anecdotal evidence gleaned from reading social media and following traditional media reports. Anyone who tries to defend Museveni and his government only invites derision and hostility. I have watched in silent wonderment at why the Museveni administration does not feel it vital to develop a communications strategy to improve its public image.
But the most important thing is that Museveni personally (and his government generally) has treated corruption as a criminal and legal rather than a political problem. If you follow the President closely, he keeps saying that he (and his government and political party) first fought extra judicial killings. He says that was easy to deal with. However, he argues that corruption is more complicated because now you need more professional people such as accountants and auditors to detect and prosecute it. And I think the weakness of the Museveni approach lies here.