Mr. President, it’s high time you walked the corruption talk

President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

Recently, while closing the cabinet retreat that was held at the Kololo ceremonial grounds in Kampala, President Yoweri Museveni said ‘corruption will kill the future of our country.’

Sadly, he is right as corruption has, for a while now, been gnawing at the future, under the custodianship of his leadership. I cannot state how pleased I am that the president has been reported as saying this, especially to his cabinet, in the week when one of his former ministers escaped jail by paying a fine in what the courts found to have been a corruption scandal.

Welcome as this news is, it is disheartening that we have been here far more than we want to acknowledge. On taking state power in 1986, President Museveni, in his now famous 10-point programme, cited corruption as one of the reasons he waged a guerrilla war that eventually toppled the Tito Okello Lutwa junta.

With every succeeding election, the president promises to put an end to corruption and with every successive inauguration, the corruption scandals rocking Uganda move to the next set of zeros.

What begun in the 1980s, with a few top government officials and their confidants taking thousands and then tens of thousands of shillings have now become a billion-shilling heist. It is just a matter of time before we cross the trillion shillings threshold, and all this is happening despite the president promising to tackle the vice by the horns.

In 2019, when the president marched against corruption, some people were pleased because the talk had gone to the street. But shortly after this march and several grand speeches made, not much has changed, as the aftermath of the fight against Covid-19 in Uganda has shown.

A special audit report into the funds mobilized to fight Covid-19 showed that generally there was poor value for money; all applicable laws were flaunted to create an emergency situation even in instances where there was none and people in positions of authority used their positions to enrich themselves, and made a kill out of the pandemic.

The lone case in which the government of Uganda took on a few officials from the Prime Minister’s office ended with the Directorate of Public Prosecutions losing interest in the matter and some of the accused officials being retired in public interest.

The distribution of what has now been dubbed ‘Nabanjja’s Money’ has also not done much to salvage the situation as the true beneficiaries missed out and the connected few instead received that money.

As a country, we have missed out on a lot of opportunities to salvage our tattered image in as far as fighting corruption is concerned. The fact that the president still talks about corruption despite surrounding himself with people who have on a number of occasions been implicated in the vice is telling in itself, but not all is lost.

If the president wasn’t genuinely interested in the fight, maybe Uganda would have become worse than some of the other countries we read about annually at the release of the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

The truth is, very few investors want to put their money into an economy generally believed to operate under the veil of corruption. Unfortunately, the president has been desperately courting investors, but if he took on the fight against corruption as he talks about it, he would have his work cut out.

There is a general belief that the president knows who the corrupt are; he knows what they use the money for.

Unfortunately, due to the cultivated patronage system, it might be difficult to destabilize the current status quo, and yet destabilizing the status quo is what the country needs if it is to escape the ‘doom prophesy’ that the president delivered to his new cabinet. If this is not done, we shall be back here a few months from today, talking about corruption like a new discovery, as has been the case before.

The author is the executive director of Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd