Govt Is Failing To Fight Corruption, a Cancer Killing Ugandans

The writer, Mr Samuel Olara

At every budget presentation, the sitting minister for finance lists government’s priorities and how they will be funded and achieved.

Most of the priorities or promises are often recycled and will never be actualised. One of those priorities is the fight against corruption.

Last year, government vowed to improve the effectiveness of the public sector in the delivery of services. To achieve that, Finance minister Matia Kasaija said government would strengthen public financial management, budget transparency and accountability to fight corruption and introduce performance contracting of accounting officers.

This year, Kasaija said government will improve public sector efficiency and eliminate corruption by, among other things, “enhancing accountability for results by accounting officers in their performance contract.”

This is lip service and it is beginning to sound like a scratched nynol record. Don’t be suprised to hear the same statements contained in next year’s budget speech.

Generally speaking, corruption in Uganda now constitutes an essential means of consolidating the present government in power. Political leaders therefore have very little commitment to act to curb practices that could affect the status quo.

Corruption has been cemented as an acceptable way of life, it can’t get any worse. There is no longer any sense of moral shame or guilt or public outcry. If you don’t take a bribe or steal from national coffers, you are a fool.  Honest people are now labelled fools. Even in hospitals, people die because doctors steal drugs meant for patients and instead sell them in their private clinics.

The biggest problem has always been the inadequate or literally absent political will to fight corruption. Corruption has therefore gone beyond individuals; it has become institutionalised and is being promoted as a brand without any iota of shame

Uganda’s political class and elite flourish in the corruption industry, because they have captured the state and handed it over to their only functioning institution, the presidency.

Politicians and political decision-makers, who are entitled to formulate, establish and implement the laws in the name of the people, are themselves corrupt. In this respect, policy formulation and legislation is tailored to benefit the interests of corrupt politicians and legislators.

Corruption at all levels of government is therefore allowed to continue because it has become the oiling machine that maintains these corrupt officials and their single functioning institution.

Rural communities think that they are being favoured and get excited when they are given residues from this oiling machine, they do not know that they have the right to demand services, from their taxes.

To the Acholi generations of our fathers, for example, it was shameful to steal. It was considered a crime and a taboo to steal anything in the community that belongs to the community or thy neighbour. A thief was a disgrace to his clan, villiage and relations. Stealing tarnished the reputation and integrity of the family of the thief and all its relations.  That generation strove very much to protect the ‘good name,’ integrity and image of their families.

Even an irrefutable family will not want their offspring to be accused of stealing, because criminal acts bring disgrace to the parents, and when people were being considered for positions of leadership, only people of good standing with impeccable qualities were considered.  Leaders had the authority to determine the direction of social development for the betterment of the entire Acholi communities.

But in all Uganda’s societies today, theft is the most glorified status in society.  There is a brazen display of wealth by public officials or well-connected individuals, whose source they are not even able to explain. Many of these officials, before being elected or appointed into the offices they hold, had very little or modest income. But now, they are owners of many mansions and businesses around their region or in Kampala and probably operate fleets of buses or taxi services or hospitality establishments like hotels.

Obsession with materialism, compulsion for a shortcut to affluence, glorification and approbation (of ill-gotten wealth) by the general public, are among the reasons for the persistence of corruption in Uganda. It has been noted that one of the popular, but unfortunate indices of good life in Uganda is flamboyant affluence and conspicuous consumption. Because of this, people get into dubious activities, including committing ritual sacrifices and murder to make quick money.

In his famous book “Syndromes of Corruption”, American Political Scientist Michael Johnston (2005) classifies countries like Uganda under the category of “Official Moguls”, a concept and practice of “those in positions of power forming a clique to squeeze from the week in society”.  Johnston asserts that in these types of corrupt societies, “powerful politicians and their favourites often hold all the cards,” essentially, these few individuals take over and own everything.”

So without good systems of governance, there can be no accountability. Good governance plays a critical role in ensuring collaborative, peaceful, coexistence and progressive process of democratic culture and socialization.

Experience has taught us in Uganda that there is a critical link between corruption and leadership. Again, the experience in Uganda is the top down approach. In every direction and segment of society, the scale, manner and impunity of corruption of the “average Joe” is directly connected to the scale, manner and impunity of the leadership in that society or senior officers in government who are connected to that society.

Leaders therefore, have a lot of role to play in eradicating corruption by shunning it so that the average man in the village too can begin to act with integrity and avoid this.  We need to stop corruption by preventing it from happening in the first place.