Uganda: Anti-Graft Crusade Must be Factual

Published on 12th November 2012

A Ugandan daily reports on corruption  P. courtesy
I have been following the anti- corruption fight in this Country keenly. First, I firmly believe that unless an antidote against increasing corruption is found, efforts towards transformation of this nation will be gravely hurt. Indeed corruption or the simple dereliction of duty creates massive all round inefficiencies in delivery of public services. Therefore – corruption is a serious issue and should be treated as such. Secondly, across the board we need to think and act creatively to find practical solutions to end this vice. But why are many actors in Parliament, the wider media and civil society transforming corruption into a platform for blackmail, innuendo, and selfish political positioning and limelight/sound bite predatory schemes? Corruption should never be a stimulus for ugly partisan political contestations but rather an evil we should all roundly reject and fight.

The recent allegations against the First Lady Hon. Janet Museveni smacks of the foregoing ill schemes. These schemers are trying to use the so called “lion strategy” by attempting to blackmail and isolate leaders they presume to be strong challengers. For example, to vilify the First Lady that she travelled to Israel eight times in one month without verifying facts is silly and lazy. Why would the Auditor General publish falsehoods about the First Lady without inquiring with her office on this matter? Why would the wider media publish the story without deploying their investigative assets to find the truth? Why would some in the wider public use twitter, facebook and e-google, among others, to crucify the First Lady for money paid to OPM cashiers personal accounts (see: Why are we not crosschecking facts and summoning reason? Is responsibility in free speech-too much to ask? This is simply a skewed attempt to tarnish the name of the First Lady who has staked out her neck in many ways to serve the public good. If we don’t stop and reflect, legitimate efforts to fight corruption will be pushed under water by swarms of self interest.

Indeed, the ‘holier than thou’ parliament will restore legitimacy in the fight against corruption by engaging in self examination. A data visualization by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) shows that the Parliamentary Commission expenditure has shot through the roof from 82 billion in the 2008/2009 financial year to 280 billion in the 2010/2011 financial year. A deeper drill into the data shows that many Members of Parliament are spending tax payers’ money on foreign trips. MPs are entitled to an allowance of Shs 1.4 million ($550) for each day they spend out of the country on official duty. On the 21st of November 2011, The Observer reported that Shs 8.5bn was allocated to facilitate at least 300 of the 344 legislators on foreign travel for the financial year 2011/2012. In a space of just 4 months, Shs 2.2 billion was already spent on MPs’ foreign travels - an average of Shs 550m being spent per month! Yet they are quick to throw tantrums at the First Lady who explained her single trip to Israel at half the cost because she delayed her trip to hitch hike a lift from her husband H.E President Museveni who was travelling to New York for a United Nations General Assembly.

But what are our MPs doing abroad? Have we increased our exports as a result of their massive globetrotting? Has parliament become more efficient with infusion of lessons from abroad? Is this how they fight for aspirations of their constituents? No wonder, there are stories doing rounds that some MPs pick per diem and   hang around. Such behavior and acts should be investigated. I think official travels should be streamlined to national interest and be reined in order to avert increasingly bloating public administration expenditure in Uganda.

An independent media and civil society can do a lot for the struggle against corruption. Because part of the solution is in propagating factual information on expenditure, releases etc to the wider population. Information has the power to stimulate imagination of citizenry to for instance ask and monitor what’s going on, compare with what is happening elsewhere and most importantly follow their money and hold officialdom to account. Apart from bickering, there are practical experiences of what works in the fight to tackle corruption.

For example, Uganda Government gives per student grants to schools (capitation grant) to maintain their buildings, buy text books, and fund extra programs that their students might need. In 1996, Rivtva Reinikka and Jakob Svensson set out to answer a simple Question: How much of these funds allocated to schools by the central government actually made it to schools? It was a straight forward exercise. They sent survey teams to schools and asked them how much they had received. Then they compared the numbers to computer records of how much had been sent. The answer they got was nothing short of stunning. Only 13 percent of funds ever reached the schools. More than half of the school got nothing at all. Inquiries suggested that a lot of the money most likely ended up in the pockets of district officials and bureaucrats. When these results were released in Uganda- there was an uproar – and the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development started giving the main national papers (and their local language editions) month by month information about how much money had been sent to the districts for the schools. By 2001, when Reinikka and Svensson repeated their school survey, they found the schools were getting, an average 80 percent of the discretionary money that they were entitled to. About half of the headmasters of schools that had received less than they were supposed to get had initiated a formal complaint and eventually most of them had received their money. 

There were no reports of reprisals against them or against newspapers that run the story. It seems the district officials had been happy to embezzle the money when no one was watching but stopped when that became more difficult. These Uganda headteachers suggest an exciting possibility: If rural schools headteachers could fight corruption, perhaps it is not necessary to wait for the overthrow of the government or the profound transformation of institutions for better policies to be implemented. Careful thinking and access to ferment of information driven through the wider media has potential to check and stop corruption. Unfortunately, quite often what you see is mudslinging, partisanship and laziness by actors in the media and public arena.

It is a central responsibility of media to do rigorous research, deliberate inquires and due diligence- necessary for fair reporting. Some journalists and media houses have turned into political activists instead of professional umpires in the business of information. This will endanger to society, media itself and promote anarchy. In fighting this corruption monster, let’s be fair, balanced, just and factual. Let’s not play to the gallery. 

By Morrison Rwakakamba

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