Best way to fight corruption
Focus on the civil service where graft is most lethal rather than in politics where it is most politically attractive
Over the last three weeks, government of Uganda has done what was previously unthinkable. First, police rearrested the ringleaders in the scam in the ministry of Public Service that saw our country lose close to Shs 500 billion paid to ghost pensioners. Second, it subjected them to rigorous interrogations, which led to the recovery of 256 titles of properties they had accumulated. These properties have an expected value of over Shs 800 billion. Third, it froze their bank accounts and placed caveats on their assets. Fourth, police is initiating the process of recovering the money by confiscating the properties and handing them to government for auction.
There is also little evidence that our democratic process can fight corruption as effectively as the public mood would demand. This is because politicians, even when elected, possess interests different from those of their constituents. In most corruption fights, politicians seek their personal benefit first (if someone can bribe them too) and the public interest later. And when they do, as they often pretend in our parliament, it is to use corruption as a platform to score political points against the ruling party (as in when opposition is fighting the NRM) or for intra party struggles for power (as when NRM fight among themselves). In fact it is this political posturing on corruption that has made it difficult to fight the more cancerous form of this malaise in our country.
To combat corruption in today’s Uganda, one would have first to give less priority to political corruption (by this I mean the corruption of powerful NRM politicians and their immediate cronies) and focus on that corruption that is purely criminal. Political corruption helps NRM maintain its electoral coalition. So there is little incentive on the ruling party to cut the hand that feeds its electoral machine. However, not every corrupt act is politically sanctioned or functional. Most corruption is by civil servants, high and low. And this is the most lethal as it makes public goods and services difficult to deliver. NRM can have a vested interest in fighting this form of corruption – and one reason the struggle against the thieves in the pension scam seems to be working.
Although civil service (or nonpolitical) corruption may constitute 90 percent of all theft of public resources, it is politically unappealing to fight it. This is because the public thinks, quite wrongly, that the biggest theft is by the powerful politicians like ministers. Yet experience shows that most money is stolen not even by top civil servants – permanent secretaries, under secretaries, directors and commissioners – but by “small people”; accountants, nurses, head teachers, clerks, auditors, district administrators, procurement officers etc. But their names don’t excite public passions and don’t make good news headlines.
Take the case of the “Temangalo scandal” that dominated news headlines, parliament, the presidency and public discourse for four months in 2008. It involved Shs 11 billion. NSSF bought 100 acres of Prime Minister (then security minister) Amama Mbabazi’s land at Shs 24 million per acre against an evaluation of Shs 18m. Even the worst critic of Mbabazi would say if he cheated NSSF at all (and I insist he did not), his theft would have been a meager Shs 600m. The civil servants in the ministry of public service stole almost Shs 500 billion and we hear only a whisper but never a shout at it in the press or parliament.
The confluence of politics with fighting corruption has made the debate on the problem lively and heated. It has also made it seem fairer as the targets are the powerful. But it has also made it less effective in generating the results our country needs. First, because it tends to target regime cronies, it induces the president and the other arms of the state to come to the defense of the accused – hence generating more noise and less action. Second, it diverts attention from the more insidious form of corruption that is widespread among many civil servants where NRM and the president can be mobilized to support the effort.
I suspect the struggle to recover stolen billions by confiscating the properties of the thieves in the pension scam is on track to success because there are no powerful politicians involved. So the NRM has little political interest to defend in protecting them and everything to gain in pursuing the case. If NRM can be persuaded to focus on fighting this form of corruption (the non political one) it can realise some measure of success. Yet this strategy cannot win public support. This is because the masses are driven, as Karl Popper said, by the sentiment for justice rather than the articulation of factual truths.
Handcuffing a powerful minister, especially one related to the President, and sending them to jail, even if he has stolen only Shs 1 million, seems a more just thing to do than arresting an accounts clerk in a ministry who has stolen Shs 100 billion. This is because punishing an accounts clerk, even when he has stolen billions instead of a powerful minister who has stolen millions, seems like catching the little flies and letting the big bugs escape. The public desires to see action against the powerful, not those considered weak. Here we see the contradiction between what public sentiment may demand and what better public policy would achieve. Until we overcome this bias, the fight against corruption will not peak.
Africa and Obama’s second term
How the newly re-elected US president is not the solution but the problem for Africa
Last week, Barak Obama was re-elected president of the United States. Since his first election in 2008, many African elites were happy that at least “one of us” has won the presidency of the world’s only, albeit declining, superpower. Behind this “one of us” label lies hope that Obama, being “black”, would do more to “help” Africa fix its problems like dictatorship, poverty, corruption and bad government. And it seems from his rhetoric during his first election campaigns that he would try to “fix” Africa. Nothing is scarier about Obama than this ambition.
Indeed, Western attempt to solve Africa’s problems, however well intentioned in their aims and however grandiose in their idealism, are part of the problem not the solution for our continent. This is because any Western leader would come with a set of assumptions and prejudices about the source of our failures – corruption, bad leadership and lack of democracy. When I was young and intelligent, I treated these assumptions as manifest truth. Now that I have grown old and stupid, I see them as symptoms of a more complex structural problem.
Here is my first point: It is unlikely that Obama will sit around a table with a group of African politicians, businesspersons, civil society activists and civil servants to craft a solution for Africa. Even if this were done, it would only be ceremonial. Therefore, the blueprint to fix our continent would be designed in Washington by people who know a lot theoretically about Africa but have little or no experience with actual practical complexities of its politics. To attempt a large-scale plan from such a position is the stuff that most delusions are born of.
Secondly, many people from the West come with a set of assumptions about institutions and policies that have worked well in the West and think these can be replicated in Africa to produce similar results. This view is supported by a large number of African intellectuals and lies at the heart of our continent’s problems. We ignore the fact that these policies and institutions that have served the West so well were born of a specific context. It involved changing technology, which fostered structural change giving birth to political contests by emergent social groups. The resultant political contests took place in a specific set of values, norms and traditions and these produced a set of institutions and policies to respond to those realities.
Subtract all these processes and pick the end result, the institutions, and then copy and paste them unto a continent with a different social structure, history, skills, culture, norms – name it – and think it can work. That is one of the major delusions of all large-scale domestic or foreign-engineered change. I add “domestic” projects because I am acutely aware of some large-scale projects of national transformation like Ujaama that were locally bred and turned out to be a disaster. So the fact that something is locally generated does not automatically make it desirable.
For many years, the West, with the support of African intellectuals has attempted various projects of modernising Africa by replicating Western values, norms and institutions often with disastrous results. But the advocates of this “modernisation” project never give up. The 1980s and 90s Structural Adjustment Programs were one such experiment. These experiments lacked legitimacy because their promoters were largely white. Therefore, fear of being accused of racism tended to moderate their actions.
However, Obama is not restrained by such accusations. Being “black” and of African origins, he enjoys near-unanimous support on our continent. Local elites, frustrated at their inability to influence their destiny, have been waiting for a messiah from the West, especially America, to do for them by diktat what they need to do through political struggle i.e. dictate the pace and direction of change. Now these local intellectual elites have someone with the necessary legitimacy, born almost entirely of his assumed racial identity, to do this work.
Armed with an ideology that believes in the use of government power to promote social change, combined with his personal sense of destiny to change the world, Obama is the kind of man to attempt a large-scale experiment of social engineering in Africa. He loves to preach, to lecture and to guide. His messianic image of himself as the solver of every problem using government presents our nations a very big challenge. I admit that a lot of Obama’s ambitions in Africa are shared by a large cross section of our intellectuals. They would need a Gestapo to implement them.
Here is my point: our problems are largely (certainly not entirely) domestically generated, as are the demands to solve them. Often the problem has been that in trying to shape solutions to them, we rely too much on imported theories. The mismatch between suggested solutions and actual realities on the ground has been a major cause of failure on our continent.
Africa’s problems are primarily political, born of a complex web or power relationships from the village to the city. They cannot be solved by foreign diktat. Only domestic political struggle can. Foreign assistance is vital but can only succeed if it seeks to support local agents of change. When foreign assistance comes with solutions like those Obama outlined in his 2009 speech in Accra, then we are back on a slippery slope. In such circumstances, the best Obama can do for Africa is to fold his hands and do nothing. Africa’s savior may be the continuation of the economic crisis in America, which may divert Obama’s next big plan for our continent.
Who will fight corruption?
With billions in stolen funds, the thieves are in a position to compromise investigations, prosecution and judgment
Over the last few months, it has been exposed that officials in the office of the prime minister and in the ministry of public service stole over Shs 600 billion (US$ 250m). Our country has bad roads, 26 mothers die in child birth per day, 80,000 kids die every year from preventable diseases (in ten years you have a number equal to the Rwanda genocide of 1994), children study under mango trees for lack of classrooms, limited agricultural extension services and supply of electricity is only to eight percent of our people. Therefore Uganda needs every coin of public funds to serve its citizens. However, this collective vision has been lost. Instead, we see a pattern of actions where the interests of the many have been usurped by the greed of a few.
Hence, official loot becomes the glue that holds together NRM’s multi ethnic and multi religious coalition. Otherwise, how would one keep such diverse men as Kahinda Otafiire, Gilbert Bukenya and Amama Mbabazi under the same roof? Remove corruption and the system could crack. Rather than see it as a criminal act by individuals seeking material self-aggrandizement, my view has been to see corruption as a social institution through which political power is organised, distributed, exercised and reproduced.
From this perspective, one can understand that allegations of corruption against powerful politicians and their auxiliaries fit this instrumentalist view. However, corruption in Uganda also involves “small people”: the nurse at a local clinic who sells to her patients drugs that are meant to be free; to a head teacher at a rural primary school who pockets the capitation grant; the traffic police constable on the street who lets an offender go free in exchange for kitu kidogo i.e. a bribe; the agricultural extension worker who does not show up for his job but earns a salary.
How does NRM politically gain from such small-scale yet widespread corruption? Besides, this has the most detrimental effects on public service delivery. There is a saying that a fish begins rotting from the head. Once you have the top creaking with corruption, it infects the entire body politic. This is theoretically convincing but empirically not always true. I have read many studies of corruption in high places in Italy, Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan that make ours look like chicken feed. However, elites in these countries, while corrupt at the top, tend to discipline small public sector functionaries.Thus, in spite of corruption, work gets done.
In Uganda’s case, it is obvious that NRM also suffers the costs of corruption. For instance, its national and international reputation is badly tainted. During the last election campaigns, the failure of public services was an important part of Kizza Besigye’s platform. Even in rural areas where I covered Besigye and President Yoweri Museveni’s rallies, Museveni was accosted with complaints of failures in public service delivery. Each time he tried to name his achievements in service delivery he would be booed by his supporters. He therefore adopted a strategy of deflecting blame from himself to local government functionaries. It worked but for how long?
Therefore, even if NRM may benefit from corruption, it also suffers its costs. Many people harmed by corruption are its supporters. Perhaps NRM does a cost-benefit analysis and finds that it gains more than it loses through corruption. But this also means it is not always a beneficiary of every act of corruption. For example, how does NRM benefit when people like Godfrey Kazinda, David Oloka and Christopher Obey steal billions? Surely, NRM should have a vested interest in fighting certain forms of corruption.
Why then is the political will missing? Perhaps it is not just political will but actual capacity to take on the thieves. Assuming this government (or any other newly elected government) decided to fight corruption. Would it change the current trajectory? To fight the corrupt, government would have to rely on existing institutions and manpower – the police, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Inspectorate of Government and the judiciary. But with thieves commanding billions, how many officials from these institutions can resist the temptation of Shs 100m delivered at their doorstep? Besides, the existing legal regime favors the corrupt.
For example, having stolen over shs 400 billion through ghost pensions, Obey and Oloka were taken to police and given bond. Now they are free on the streets and it is their legal right to be. Does anyone think that they are out on the streets waiting for their day in court? Is it possible that they could be busy trying to use their billions to influence police investigations, to buy off state attorneys in the DPP’s office, using their allies to hide evidence, sell off their properties and send their monies to numbered accounts abroad?
Should we be surprised that in spite of mountains of evidence, the DPP has not yet preferred any charges against them – two months later? The choice facing any government official trying to nail them is overnight riches (because they can pay handsomely) or the thankless job of fighting a lost cause i.e. serving a government that pays them peanuts. The state cannot compete with the thieves in bribing its own officials to be more committed to the public good.
Corruption has become too deeply entrenched that fighting it may require a combination of political will backed by the arbitrary use of power – a willingness to be ruthless. It seems to me that any leader willing to take on this monster would have to disregard due process, run rough shod over peoples’ legal rights and use extra legal means to bring social justice. That may be necessary, but is it desirable?
Kazinda interview: ‘Bigirimana planted evidence at my house……’
On Wednesday, December 5, 2012, a member of UAH (whom we
prefer to keep Lutaya Shafiq H due to the sensitivity of this matter) had gone
to Murchison Bay prison in Luzira to visit a relative, and ran into the now
embattled former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister
Geoffrey Kazinda, and asked him a few questions on record. Kazinda also managed
to photocopy a number of documents from his file and gave them to him. Below
Kazinda was in hospital ward upper
floor bed number 8 by the window side facing the main Upper Prison, and there,
he can virtually watch every vehicle in-coming to Murchison Bay area.
Lutaya Shafiq H: So Kazinda what happened to you, we are reading a lot about
you in the papers over the scam in the OPM.
Kazinda: (gives sheepish smile, and lets out a prolonged hearty
laugh) Well, Mr. X, am glad to see here, I didn’t know you could think about
me. I am here, you know like you could have been in the Democratic Republic of
Congo the two of you, and problems crop up. So, your friend with whom you were
in Congo knows that you are the only other person who knows what you did there,
and decides to deal with you, if possible eliminate. So, in my case am
incarcerated here because the PS, Mr. Pius Bigirimana wants to keep me here. He
knows if am out he cannot be a free man; I will let out a lot of information
about the problems in OPM as far back as we began working together.
Lutaya Shafiq H: But surely, Bigirimana cannot keep you here indefinitely,
after three months on remand you may get out, but, also, you will have your day
in court so you telling your side of the story.
Kazinda: Yes that is true, but he hopes he can manipulate the system
as he maligns me along like what you hear him saying in parliament before PAC.
He is using the police especially IGP Kayihura to keep me here.
Lutaya Shafiq H: So what is your next step now that you are here, and each
time you are suppose to appear before court you claim you are too sick to attend
Kazinda: No. As you can see, I am here in hospital admitted. In
fact the doctors here have told me they can no longer manage my case from here.
I need to get bail and travel to Nairobi for a further operation and treatment.
Lutaya Shafiq H: So what next anyway?
Kazinda: I am but when I get out am going to get a lot of money
because of this malicious arrest and prosecution by the state on the
instigation of the PS Bigirimana using the police, Grace Akullo and Kayihura.
Lutaya Shafiq H: You mean you are just being framed, you are totally
Kazinda: I am sure am innocent but we have done many things
together with Bigirimana, and he knows that when I get out he may not be as
safe. He should be here with me. If anything, he is the accounting officer
responsible for many of much of the mess. But as you can see his testimonies in
parliament before PAC he does not have the right answers. I am the one with
some of the answers but he chose to deal with me as way of killing evidence and
they get nowhere with those investigations.
Lutaya Shafiq H: Why did you use the domant account to steal public funds?
Kazinda: Some time back the people in finance ministry asked all
accounting officers to indicate in writing which accounts were active and
dormant, and which of those they wanted to leave open. This particular was then
left open by the PS Bigirimana, he knows it and the Accountant General also
knows the truth. It wasn’t me who opened or used. Bigirimana is signatory to
Lutaya Shafiq H: Do you mean to say all these things we hear are really
lies about you?
Kazinda: Many of the things were with his approval. He approved
many of those things being talked about. But, am glad when he wanted me out he
chose to use the forensic audit. I was never part of the audit. I was never
interviewed. And so, most of the things are pinning him and he must be wishing
the ground could swallow him. He did not know how far this thing would spin,
and it is too late for him.
Lutaya Shafiq H: Do you mean you never forged Bigirimana’s signatures to
withdraw money from banks including Bank of Uganda?
Kazinda: Never. I never forged any documents. Indeed no documents
as far as I know were forged, and the PS knows as much. Those cheques were all
signed by Bigirimana. In fact the PS is never sure of his own signatures, and
we many cheques that were queried by Bank of Uganda and returned to us in OPM.
They were genuinely signed by the PS but unfortunately he can never get his
signature sight at once, he always tries many times before he gets it right.
Lutaya Shafiq H: You mean you did not steal cheque books, how about the
ones recovered from your residence in Bukoto?
Kazinda: that is why I told am going to get a lot of money from this
arrest and malicious prosecution. I was not present when the police search took
place. I was never asked to sign those forms after the search. All those are
concoctions by the PS, he is the one who personally brought a kavera full of
documents and gave it to my mother, and the police have not bothered to verify
Lutaya Shafiq H: Why to your mother, and how did he know where your mother
Kazinda: The PS has ever visited me at my home. He knows my house,
and my mother lives next to me, and they know each other.
Lutaya Shafiq H: Where and when did Bigirimana visit you?
Kazinda: When I fell sick and took leave from June 04, 2012 to
begining of July. I think he visited me towards the end of June; I have it on
my records. But with a hind sight, I think he did not come to visit me just as
a friend and his officer, he also came to survey my residence so he could come
or send some people later to plant documents.
Lutaya Shafiq H: Why do you think so?
Kazinda: the Ps returned that evening and found he could not
penetrate my residence, and so, he chose to give my mother the kavera full of
documents which police later claimed, and used the press to say were recovered
from residence. It was to blackmail me.
Lutaya Shafiq H: So were the forged cheques among them?
Kazinda: Those are not forgeries; they are genuine signed by the PS.
Let me tell you the genesis of those cheques. It began some time, I think at
the beginning of 2010 during the landslides in Bududa. The then Prime minister
Prof. Nsibambi (Apolo) was returning from Bududa and he was with the PS when
their helicopter crushed somewhere in Busoga… Bugiri. Prof. Nsibambi took sick
leave, I think of about two months. The PS, Bigirimana never took sick leave
but chose to work from home because he complained of terrible back and joint
pains. The PS stayed home for about two weeks, and during all that I used to
take to him cheques to sign from his home. In fact, I used to take them to him
in his bed room. Not once, twice, three times, but many times I sat with him on
his bed as he signs those cheques which were indeed very many. Many times he
would try over and over until he gets his signature right. All those cheques
which he signed but with faulty signature, I returned them for custody because
they are government property auditors could come and ask for them.
Lutaya Shafiq H: You mean you went into his bed room?
Kazinda: Yes, because he was the principal signatory and there was
no way we get money to run the operations of OPM. He asked me to take them to
Lutaya Shafiq H: Where does he live..I mean his residence?
Kazinda: Now he has shifted to Bugolobi, but at that time he was
staying in those flats in Nakasero as you go past Emin Pasha hotel. I don’t
remember the name of the road. There are some flats there I don’t know who owns
Lutaya Shafiq H: How about absconding from duty and refusing to write a
Kazinda: the PS is telling lies. I never absconded. He gave me an
official sick leave from June 4, 2012 to July 8, 2012. (Kazinda gives me a
photocopy of the leave memo dated 3rd June, 2012, and it endorsed by Bigirimana
in which the PS wrote; PA. It is unfortunate. However take note that I am not
aware of what went wrong. We shall discuss when you report back. Signed PS
Lutaya Shafiq H: So if the PS gave you leave why do you think he turned on
Kazinda: The PS knows better why he did it. But I think that for a
while the PS had developed a dislike for me and the senior accountant under me.
He had cause his transfer, and ensured that someone he liked in the ministry of
health, Mr. Mugumya was given accelerated promotion, and who was eventually
posted to replace me even before I returned from sick leave.
Lutaya Shafiq H: Why did you refuse to handover and instead went
As you can see the PS secured
someone he wanted to replace me and got him posted even before I completed my
sick leave. Secondly, he got me transferred during that leave. Thirdly
according to my letter of transfer by the Accountant General, I was given up
August 31, 2012 as the date for handover. But all these maneuvers came in
between when I was on leave, and you can see the PS’s letter to the IGP,
Auditor General, Accountant General, and IGG were all about the same time in
July before I could complete my sick leave.
Lutaya Shafiq H: Will you testify before PAC?
Kazinda: I am not interested because as you can see the PS wants to
kill evidence and that is why he is claiming Kazinda stole all the vital
documents yet in his letter to the IGP he says he had put a second padlock on
my office door. Also, as you can see from his testimony before PAC the PS does
not gave all the information, and I don’t want to go there and give some of the
information that may exonerate him. The mistrust is no mutual between him and