ISSUE/EDITION Nr 367 - 01/05/1999



The fight against corruption at a crossroads

by Fred Kirungi, Uganda, March 1999



The people of Uganda are starting to realise that corruption is present
in many aspects of daily life. And if the country is to make any progress at all,
then this problem has to be tackled and tackled quickly

Uganda's Parliament re-opened on 9 February 1999, with the censuring of a cabinet minister at the top of its agenda. Just before their Christmas break last year, 116 out of the 279 Members of Parliament signed a petition to censure Sam Kutesa, Minister of State for Finance in charge of Planning and Investment. He was accused of fraudulently acquiring shares in the privatised cargo handling section of the state-owned Uganda Airlines Corporation.

If he is censured, Kutesa will be the second minister to go down that way. In February last year, Parliament censured the Minister of State for Education in charge of Primary Education, Brig. Jim Muhwezi, for failure to explain how he had accumulated his vast wealth in a short time.

Earlier, Kirunda Kivejinja, Minister without Portfolio, had pre- empted Parliament's moves to censure him, by resigning his post. Kivejinja was accused of using his influence to divert 2000 litres of fuel belonging to the state-owned Uganda Railways Corporation. And in December last year, the Minister of State for Finance in charge of Privatisation, Matthew Rukikaire, also resigned after Parliament threatened to censure him for failing to supervise the privatisation process which has been rocked by numerous scandals.

Out of control

Going by the number of censures and forced resignations, one might conclude that Parliament is on top of the situation. On the contrary, the general perception is that corruption in government is spinning out of control, and however much it tries, Parliament will not be able to stamp it out, unless it gets strong backing strong backing from the executive, especially the President. For now, that backing is not forthcoming. In fact, the executive is turning out to be a major stumbling block in the fight against corruption.

Following leads mostly from the Press, Parliament has been investigating cases of corruption within government institutions. A number of heads of public institutions, including the head of Uganda Railways Corporation, Enos Tumusiime, and the head of the National Social Security Fund, Abel Katembwe, have been implicated and forced out of office. In no case, however, were the culprits prosecuted. Even when there was a parliamentary recommendation to prosecute them, it was not followed through. Forcing them out of office was a major battle

and even then the culprits were able to get off the hook lightly because of the protection they enjoyed from certain members of the Executive.

The Kutesa affair

For example, Museveni refused to take action against Sam Kutesa who had been accused in a parliamentary report, of using his position to defraud Uganda Airlines Corporation. The President said the evidence against Kutesa was not conclusive. However, many people attributed Museveni's defense of Kutesa to their joint family connections. Kutesa's wife is a sister to the First Lady, and Museveni's eldest son, Muhoozi Keinerugaba, is expected to marry Kutesa's daughter. (Keinerugaba was, until recently, the manager of his uncle Salim Saleh's business empire).

The damning parliamentary report on privatisation was released in December last year while a meeting of European donors was taking place in Kampala. The public expected Museveni to take tough action against the ministers and other government officials implicated, if only to demonstrate to the donors that he was serious about fighting corruption. Instead, he told the donors that those shouting about corruption were «malicious and opportunistic,» trying to settle personal scores or gain political advancement. The censure motion against Kutesa is expected to be tabled shortly. Museveni is quick to enumerate the various institutions set up under his government to deal with corruption, including the inspectorate of government, the Public Accounts Committee, the vice-president's office, and the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity.

Critics, however, dismiss these institutions as mere paper tigers designed to create the false impression, especially among donors, that the government is serious about fighting corruption. The joke in the country is that whenever a major corruption scandal is unearthed, the President creates yet another institution «to fight corruption.» Matters are not helped by the kind of people who head some of these institutions. They are seen as too close to the Movement to be independent. Parliament is currently investigating the disappearance of about 3.5 billion shillings (2.5 million US dollars) intended for a dams project. Vice-President Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, who is also the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, is in charge of the project. (Don't forget, as vice-president, Kazibwe heads the government's anti-corruption crusade).

NOTA - On 30 March, Vice-President Specioza Wandira Kazibwe appeared before Parliament to defend herself against mismanagement allegations. On 6 April, President Museveni appointed 12 new ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle. Vice-President Kazibwe lost her agriculture portfolio but remained vice-president. (ANB-BIA)



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