Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Why thieves in govt are not afraid of prison

One of President Yoweri Museveni’s flamboyant and trusted senior army officers General James Kazini is in the coolers at Luzira Prison after he was last week convicted by a military tribunal for creating ghost soldiers in the army and pocketing Shs60m as a result.

For all his shortcomings, Kazini is one of the few senior military officers, who to a great extent, respects media freedoms. I happen to have covered the Allied Democratic Forces, (ADF) rebellion in the Rwenzori region in the mid 90s and Afande Kazini was very helpful; always offering protection and ensuring that journalists got first-hand information and told the story as they saw it.

That said though, there is no denying that the ghost soldiers scandal went to the root of the very strength of the national army, the UPDF, where many artificial brigades, some consisting of one commander and a handful of his escorts compromised national security.

The scandal could also partly explain why the army performed so poorly at the peak of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in northern Uganda where commanders were more interested in stealing public funds than protecting the thousands of people that lost their lives at the hands of Kony’s gangsters.

But let’s put Gen. Kazini’s conviction and subsequent sentence to three years in jail in perspective. The General was convicted for causing financial loss of Shs60m, a sum that can be considered to be pocket change since conservative estimates indicate that the country/taxpayers could have lost well up to Shs15b in the ghost soldiers scam in a period of three years.

In fact impeccable sources say that Kazini is just a small fish in the pond. Many other senior and junior officers who served under his command benefited more from the scam and are filthy rich to the extent that they can no longer serve the army and the country diligently.

This is where the issue of selective justice takes centre stage. Why do we have so many public officials plundering the country and continuing to enjoy their loot with no one in authority raising the red flag? It’s clear the corrupt don’t ‘eat’ alone -they share their loot in orgainised rackets that at times receive state protection.

That’s why corruption is so widespread and appears to be institutionalised. The thieves in government are no longer afraid of spending months, years and even decades in prison as long as their investments appreciate in value. They are sure that after serving their terms in Luzira they will bounce back and continue life as usual.

The legal regime that has been put in place to fight corruption, a vice that threatens our very existence, is quite elaborate but lacks one element and that’s restitution. The law as it should be, punishes the thieving bureaucrats but is not adequate to allow for recovery of the stolen money and property.

Elsewhere in the world, this lacuna (gap) in the law has had to be bridged for the anti-corruption movement to realise real progress and register tangible results. This is the reason why our anti-graft laws need to be amended to deal with all manners of tricks employed by our leaders to steal public funds while the majority of the people languish in dire poverty.

Even a primary school pupil knows that no smart thief in government will, say, bank Shs15b on their personal counts in a local bank. They will instead transfer the stolen funds to banks in the big foreign capitals. In such a situation the efficacy of the law should allow authorities to track money stacked in foreign accounts operated by our corrupt politicians and have it returned to finance public services like the failing health system and public transport sector.

It’s also obvious that your typical public servant will want to invest his/her ill-gotten riches by buying a mansion in Kololo or land in Nyabushozi (some actually buy entire villages/sub-counties). But these chaps are clever too.

They will not register their interests in their names but in those of a distant cousin or second wife or one of their bastards. The law, once again, should be refined to effectively deal with this arrangement/organised criminal syndicates which are used to steal the country’s resources.

The Executive in conjunction with Parliament should urgently amend and strengthen our anti-corruption laws to punish individual thieves, while at the same time endeavour to recover stolen public money and property. The recovered stolen funds should then be put in a national fund to service the public good for the benefit of all.

The writer is a journalist/advocate,

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