Make us believe in the graft fight
June 26, 2007
For the first time in the NRM’s 21 years in power, two senior former ministers have been arraigned in court on corruption and abuse of office charges. This unprecedented move seems to have convinced most countrymen that President Yoweri Museveni’s government means business after all.
The corruption fight was long overdue. Until recently, on most measures, Mr Museveni has done little to crack the whip. The president’s recent pronouncements in his state of the nation address about ‘zero tolerance to corruption’ and his missive about the Restrain Relatives Resistance Movement (RRRM) (DM, June 23) need to be put in perspective.
Has the president had a soul searching and personal reflection and is he about to make a u-turn and pursue his early political philosophy that encouraged social justice.If indeed Mr Museveni is serious that now is the time to stamp out graft in his big government and in all political and socio-economic aspects of our life then that puts public opinion on his side.
While some sections of the public are excited over the new-found government commitment to prosecute thieving public servants, others are apprehensive because the president has opted to retain a big government.
Big governments (69 cabinet and junior ministers for Uganda) are normally a fertile ground for corruption. Because the citizens have to endure a huge non functional bureaucracy, the officials that run state affairs turn into small gods who have to be praised and ‘tipped’ before delivering.
Their stories are woven around big contracts and colossal amount of money trapped in either government ministries or state enterprises. The same corrupt officials by trying to shield their ill-gotten wealth - intimidate and make the work of investigators and the media extremely difficult. In the end, the bigger the size of the government the more corrupt.
The president needs to borrow a leaf from the showy newly–elected president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has put together a manageable government of only 25 ministers, half of whom are women. By working with a small unit of people the oversight role of the leader becomes much easier.
The legal regime governing the conduct of public servants is quite elaborate. The problem is the government’s reluctance or selective enforcement of such laws. The Leadership Code Act, the Commissions of Inquiry and the Inspector General of Government Acts are laws that have been enacted to deal with the vices of corruption and abuse of office.
The Commission of Inquiry Act generally provides for the powers of the president to appoint one or more commissioners and authorising those commissioners, or any quorum of them mentioned in the commission, to inquire into the conduct of any officer in the public service of Uganda.
We have already had a number of such commissions to investigate. Reports and recommendations have been made but no decisive action has been taken against the culprits.
That is why the public which has been smitten by the recent crack-down on suspected corrupt officials are at the same time disappointed by government’s selective approach to punish those who are indicted for abuse of office. If government is determined to eliminate corruption and create a zero tolerance regime then it must prosecute all the investigated cases.
Similarly, the Leadership Code and Inspector General of Government Acts provide for a minimum standard of behaviour and conduct of leaders. People who hold public office are barred from putting themselves in positions in which their personal interests conflict with their duties and responsibilities.
Corruption and abuse of office according to the law takes many forms and it is not only about stealing public money. You have heard about the sex for good grades scandals in institutions of higher learning – that is corruption.
The doctors who will not attend to patients until their hands are ‘oiled’, the police guys and their ‘kitu kidogo’ syndrome, a legal system which is fast in handling cases of the rich but terribly slow for the poor are among the many manifestations of corruption . Government should not apply double standards when dealing with a problem that threatens our very existence.
Next : The role of the Inspectorate of Government and the powers of the IGG .
The writer is a Journalist/Advocatemsserwanga@gmail.commsserwanga.blogspot.com0772 43 46 77.M. Sserwanga