By Robert Shaka
It has been a tradition for the media to shy away even on policy matters affecting the operations of the UPDF and other sister security institutions. While the concerns of both the political and military leadership is understandable, we cannot discharge our responsibility to help this institution progressively upgrade its performance and evolve into even a more reliable and efficient pillar of our national defence and security.
The UPDF/NRA has a historical record and tradition in regards to its achievements in maintaining national defence and security and its robust pro-civilian relationship. This institutional value system was inculcated at the formative stage of the revolution because the leadership found this ingredient lacking in the previous military configurations whose foundation was rooted in the British colonial government strategy since the King’s African Riffles (KRA).
At the core of the UPDF challenges is maintaining its image as a pro-people institution as well as the morale of its rank and file. A lot has been said in the media that the department of records, pensions/gratuity within the UPDF, and the UPDF pensions unit within the Ministry of Public Service has a syndicate of racketeers siphoning off fallen soldiers money that would otherwise go to orphans, widows and other rightful beneficiaries.
Ironically, many active officers and men are aware there are Dracula eating away money meant for beneficiaries of fallen solders. This is not the right frame of institutional memory our gallant officers and men must have; that when or if they died or retired their children and relatives will have to walk to the moon first in order to access their pensions/gratuity.
The leadership of UPDF must not take this matter lightly as it directly impacts negatively on the cohesion of the institution but also the civilian population among which are orphans, widows, veterans, the elderly whose children have diligently served the institution over the years.
The chain of the racket starts from the records, pensions/gratuity departments of the UPDF and ends within the pensions unit in Public Service in charge of pensions for UPDF.
Both civilian and military officers in the chain have weaved a working relationship that forms the core of the racket albeit with political or administrative cover from superiors and political god-fathers.
The officers in the racket pepper what would otherwise be customer care with attempts to extract ‘cooperative relationships’ with claimants, majority of who are illiterate widows, orphans or elderly people. Failure to be ‘cooperative’ often results into deliberate denial of appropriate information by the officer concerned, adamancy or eventual misplacement of claimants files or deletion of particulars that results into delays in the process of effecting payment.
The tendency to make claimants move back and forth is also a function of the broader strategy of the racketeers. The possibility that these officers have political god-fathers is real meaning the problem might be more entrenched than the public can understand.
The institution’s response is of total disquiet with a few head knocks but that has not eliminated the problem. Because claimants are voiceless, poor and rural based; because the media is ‘not’ on their side no one is willing to go down that line.
But this is a matter of institutional corruption that can’t be ignored by a progressive and reform oriented government.
There are cases where claimants have been advised by even ‘senior’ civil servants at Ministry of Public Service to open bank accounts in the names of the dead to ease the ‘delay’ in disbursing pensioners/gratuity funds. This is falsification of identity occasioned by a civil servant to a gullible claimant. I am saying this because my own sister has been a victim of this trickery.
The reason they usually give is that the claimant has no letters of administration. Why would a file of a claimant for a deceased’s benefits ever leave the records department in Bombo before all requirements are submitted including the letters of administration before it goes to Public Service?
This advice is given in a ‘friendly’ way to entice the claimant into committing a crime. The object of the civil servant is the potential to black-mail the claimant into sharing the money at the bank. If you accept to open an account in such a manner then your file will move at supersonic speed, approvals will be obtained and your name will appear on the list of beneficiaries.
If you refuse to ‘cooperate’, then you will be ignored by everyone. Comments like ‘your file is missing’ or ‘you’re rude’ from civil servants at Public Service is common place.
Besides they tell you that you’re not authorised to know what is on the file anymore or what is due to you. Mbu, it is classified. Did Parliament of Uganda not pass the Access to Information Act?
These decays are grave and very much for an institution that is at the heart of our national defence and security. I personally urge the army leadership to investigate and inform the public what steps they have taken to remedy the situation. If the army wants to get to the core of this problem let them summon just a hundred claimants to hear their story. It is very disgusting.