Ensuring Life, Health and Prosperity for Future Generations

> Uganda: Corrupt as Ever

By Salim R. Biryetega
In January 1986, as Ugandans prepared to swear in a new president, many believed they were about to enter a new era for the country, one in which abuse and misuse of public office would come to an end.

“The problems of Africa, and Uganda in particular, are caused by leaders who overstay in power, which breeds impunity, corruption and promotes patronage,” President Yoweri Museveni said in his inauguration address.

Since the famous speech twenty years ago, some progress has been made. Key institutions such as the Inspectorate of Government were created, the Directorate of Public Prosecution was given autonomy, and government accountability and transparency laws were created, strengthened and expanded.

And yet, corruption remains rampant in each and every sector of Uganda.

The president, who has never lost a motion in parliament, gets what he wants at all costs. In 2005, members of parliament were openly bribed with US$2,800 each to change a clause in the 1995 constitution that limited a president to two terms. (Museveni had already been re-elected in 1996 and 2001.) The term limit was lifted by parliament, allowing the president who once decried “leaders who overstay in power” to win a third post-constitution term in February 2006.

But political patronage is not exclusive to the presidency. Corruption touches every institution in Uganda, from the private sector to the courts to health care. According to the second national integrity survey by the Inspectorate of Government, the most tainted sector is the police force, followed by the Uganda Revenue Authority and the magistrates courts.

Henry Muguzi, spokesman for the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), said corruption has increased in Uganda, with the situation made worse by the public’s tolerance of it.

“The corrupt are still regarded in high esteem, even in churches and mosques because they are the ones who can make huge offerings,” Muguzi said.

Estimates of the scale of Uganda’s corruption problem vary, but none paint a pretty picture. Uganda’s Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) estimates that over U Sh330 billion (US$184 million) is lost every year to corruption in procurement, which accounts for 70 percent of the government’s annual budget. An estimate by the Uganda Debt Network puts the amount lost to corruption at U Sh200 billion (US$108 million) annually. Paul Onapa, spokesman for Transparency International’s Uganda chapter, believes more than half of government funds are lost to corruption. That figure that would total a staggering U Sh1.76 trillion (US$950 million).

Those losses dramatically affect Uganda’s economy, said Jasper Tumuhibise, an advocate with ACCU. Currently 51 percent of the Uganda’s national budget is funded by donors, but Tumuhibise believes the national government could sustain itself if all revenues collected were properly utilized and not lost to corruption.

But graft is only one side of Uganda’s corruption story. Sources in the Immigration Department, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, report widespread bribery in their agency. Foreigners, especially fake investors and political dissidents, can easily obtain work permits, passports and visas for the right payoff. Several top officials in the department were arrested in August 2006, and Museveni ordered an investigation. However, such anti-corruption efforts often are openly ridiculed by powerful people in the government. The minister of local government, Kahinda Otafiire, recently accused the inspector general of government, Lady Justice Faith Mwondha, of being drunk while writing a report that implicated him in scandalous land deals.

Uganda’s corruption problem directly affects its ability to deal with its most serious problems.

In 2004, the Geneva-based Global Fund awarded Uganda $367 million in grants over two years to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The grants, which amount to nearly 20 percent of the country’s annual government spending, were intended to strengthen health systems and pay for diagnostics, mosquito nets and other necessities.

But in August 2005, an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers found management irregularities serious enough to prompt the Global Fund to suspend the grants pending a government investigation and housecleaning. The revelation caused a scandal in Uganda.
An investigation commissioned by Museveni discovered that the minister of health, Jim Muhwezi, and two junior ministers had mismanaged the grants, including siphoning off for personal and political use, money meant to help dying Ugandans.

The inquiry revealed that the Ugandan agency handling the Global Fund money had doled out grants to fake organizations, inflated the cost of workshops for staff and forged accountability documents. Funds were misused for staff members to study abroad, and briefcase non-governmental organizations were formed to absorb the AIDS money, with no actual work being done.

In its report to the president at the end of the inquiry in June 2006, the commission recommended that the health ministers be held accountable for the influence peddling and favoritism that led to the project’s mismanagement, and that all those who wrongly received money refund it or face financial or legal consequences.

Museveni sacked all three health ministers, a move has been welcomed by many Ugandans, but they want to see tough action on the embezzlers of the AIDS money. People found guilty of misappropriating Global Fund grants were ordered to refund the money into a special Central Bank account. As of mid-August 2006, the account held US$540,000.

Museveni’s response to the Global Fund scandal followed up on a promise he made during an inauguration address he made in May 2006. He said he would fight rampant corruption in government, including in his own National Resistance Movement party, and also streamline the corruption-tainted Immigration Department. However, his hard line was quickly questioned when, in forming his cabinet, he tapped his younger brother, Salim Saleh, whose government service has been dogged by many corruption scandals.

Another threat to reform is a law, in place since 1989, requires nongovernmental organizations to register with the government. NGOs are subject to annual review by a board that includes government security officials. The implication is that any NGO that crosses the government can be declared illegal and evicted from the country.

Ashaba Aheebwa, Museveni’s director of ethics and integrity, attributes the rampant corruption in the public sector to poor compensation of public officials. “Many people believe that when one gets a job in government, it’s a ticket to riches,” he said.

Civil society in Uganda has not developed a culture of advocacy and lobbying, Aheebwa said, adding that until those practices gain traction and politics are abandoned, the fight against corruption will be futile.

Aheebwa said the country’s media also have culpability for the corruption problem. “The media has not played its role of educating, informing and entertaining the public, but instead it acts as an opposition political group,” he said.

Tumuhibise, of the ACCU, also believes that Ugandan news organizations are yet to appreciate that they have a duty to investigate, report and highlight corruption. “The media needs a complete turnaround on matters of corruption” he said.


1 Comment»

  Rahim Nebbwe wrote @

i entirely agree with this report. Unless there is change of goverment,corruption will continue to be part of goverment.
We need leaders who come and go.

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