Friday 16 November 2012

Uganda’s corruption is sickening, but Ugandans just groan and move on

For the last two months Uganda’s media have been awash with corruption scandals in which the taxpayers lost billions of shillings to selfish government workers. The corrupt officials did not even spare foreign aid that the rich countries give to help the most vulnerable Ugandans in the north. But the recent fraud scandals are just a tip of the grand corruption eating up the wider Uganda society.

Corruption in Uganda seems to have attacked all social, economic and political spheres. In hospitals medicines are stolen, in schools the teachers have created ghost pupils to steal the taxpayers’ money, the roads are filled with potholes as money meant to fill them has been diverted, oiling the hands of a traffic police officer after being nabbed in a traffic offence, and in government those in charge of protecting the public funds are stealing the money. The list is long.

Generally, corruption levels in Uganda have reached alarming rates. Hardly does a week end without the media reporting of a major theft of public funds for selfish individual use. The recent outright theft of public funds is in the ministry of Public Service where pensioners could have lost at least 63 billion shillings and in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) where officials there stole over 14 billion shillings. Some government officials implicated in these scandals have been briefly interdicted as investigations continue. Soon they will be tried in courts of law.

On their part, the donors who were giving money to Uganda especially those who funded activities of the OPM in Northern Uganda, have suspended aid. In response, Uganda government is now arguing it will refund the stolen aid money as the courts of law decide on the fate of the suspects. Perhaps, pledging to refund the stolen aid money is is a sign of remorse. The pledge was made by Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, whose office is the bedrock of the recent corruption scandal that has attracted the attention of parliament.

However, the government's announcement that it will refund the stolen 12 million Euros the Swedish donors had given to Uganda is one of those ridiculous suggestions. It means again tax payers' money will be used to repay stolen money as the real thieves are shielded; government of Uganda perse has no money of its own other than our taxes.

Over the past decade, corruption has been identified as a costly diversion of scarce resources and an impediment to development effectiveness according to the World Bank. Analysts note that corruption is a symptom of deeper problems in how a political leadership administers the key financial functions of state.
Transparency International, a global anti-corruption body, has in its several reports ranked Uganda as one of the worst corrupt countries in the world. This year’s bribery index report by Transparency International ranked Uganda as the most country in East Africa. According to the report, Uganda registered the highest percentage value of 40.7%, followed by Tanzania at 39.1% then Kenya at 29.5% with Burundi, Rwanda having 18.8% and 2.5%. 

Initially, corruption in Uganda was viewed as a “stage” of primitive accumulation of wealth but it has endemically become “the way Uganda civil service works”. According to a recent study by the Makerere-based Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) on corruption trends in Uganda, there is now a “public submission to corruption as being a part of normal or accepted behaviour to be copied;” This is a key challenge since most corruption is in public sector where big money is being transacted. Most corruption - the abuse of office for private gain - manifests through bribery, financial leakages, conflict of interest, embezzlement, false accounting, fraud, influence peddling, nepotism and outright theft of public assets.  

But, the sad case scenario  is where Ugandans stop at complaining about how corruption is messing up the country since provision of social services has nearly broken down. They groan about corruption but they have not got angry enough to take action. Even, the government seems to have perfected the art of reaction: when there is a corruption scandal government will launch an inquiry because of the immense public outcry, the report will be issued and then shelved; no satisfactory action will take place and Ugandans will forget the loss and move on. 

Various reports have shown that Uganda’s various anti-corruption agencies in practice are not fully protected from political interference and can be influenced by political or personal incentives, including conflicting family relationships, professional partnerships or personal loyalties, but also threats and other abuses of power.

Also, issues of low pay and poor working conditions have been cited as having a direct relationship to corruption levels. Higher pay has been proposed as a remedy, but some experts argue that increasing salaries, however justified, will not of itself remove corruption. They say what is needed are overall reforms of the public service systems, including pay reform, reorientation towards greater productivity, providing quality services and ensuring accountability and value for money.

Part of the solution to corruption lies in attitude change and education given to Ugandans. We need to  not only focus on educating the citizens in mind but also in morals. The sickening levels of corruption in Uganda remind me of the words of Theodore Roosevelt, former US President, who said: to educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.

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