Op-ed – We need to involve the public more in Uganda’s corruption fight

By Badru Walusansa

Uganda ranks high among the most corrupt countries around the globe. The latest 2015 findings by Transparency International places Uganda in 139th position out of 168 countries reviewed (See report below).

On the contrary,  Uganda is one of the countries with the finest legal frameworks against corruption. Most corruption reports, whether international or local, point to the public sector as grappling with the most corruption cases.

The devastating shortfalls in service delivery in Uganda are largely a result of endemic corruption in the public sector. Almost every day, the media is awash with stories about corruption scandals in government ministries, departments and agencies. The private sector is not immune to the corruption ailment either.

Because of endless bribes, extortion and misuse of public funds, both donors and development partners have either withdrawn or are threatening to withdraw their support to the country.  It’s safe to say Uganda’s corruption track record can sabotage the country’s anticipated vision of attaining a middle income status by 2020.

The Judiciary in 2008 raised hope when it established the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court to specifically handle corruption offences. The anti-graft court has since its inception tried to execute its mandate as seen in the numerous corruption cases handled. However, the court together with the ombudsman – Inspector General of Government – have faced criticisms for sparing the “big fish” and only going after the “small fish” in the corruption fight, a claim they both refute.

While I hold in high regard the country’s laws on corruption, selective administering of the same doesn’t cut it. Why should the law remain soft on some corrupt officials that have done injustice to the country? Why should someone who has clearly engaged in corruption go scot free? The (perceived) selective prosecution of corruption cases provides fertile ground for the public to lose interest and confidence in anti-corruption institutions of government.

Matters have been made worse that the public views promises on corruption fight as rhetoric. Lately, a joke is told of how a Tanzanian official claimed that; “better be corrupt and stay in Uganda, not Tanzania”. Such mockery continue to depict how fashionable and normal corruption has become in Uganda.

As we mark the anti-corruption week, it’s important that besides emphasising effective, proper and equal application of the law on corruption, public interest in scaling down the vice in Uganda should be stirred.

This year’s theme for the anti-corruption week is reject and report; your responsibility, a theme I believe was chosen deliberately. A report by Transparency International, titled People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015 shows that 47% of Ugandans strongly agree that ordinary people can make a difference in corruption fight in Uganda. While this figure appears minimal, it’s the more reason anti-corruption institutions – both government and private – should strengthen ordinary people’s involvement in fighting the vice, right from their communities.

The public can only reject and report corruption after witnessing that the laws in place are not cosmetic as it appears to be.

There should be efforts to overhaul mind-sets, especially of many civil servants who are poorly remunerated and believe they are justified to accept and solicit bribes. Government should also be pushed to improve the welfare of civil servants like the police.

Both government and Civil Society Organisations should synchronise their strategies and messages in the corruption fight so that the public is convinced that their involvement matters.

Information sharing on corruption-related matters between anti-corruption bodies and the public is equally important and hence the need to expedite existing opportunities presented by ICTs. Online reporting systems and applications should be developed and publicised so that the public can use them to report corruption. This will help bridge the gap in communication between the public and anti-corruption actors.

However, this should come along with building the capacity of citizens through training and sensitisation on laws such as the Whistle Blowers Act, 2010, which seeks to protect victimisation or unfair treatment of persons who disclose corrupt practices.

As of now, the public holds little confidence in various government anti-corruption institutions (only 26% of Ugandans believe government is doing well in fighting corruption, according to Transparency International’s report titled, People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015). The public believes that government selectively nets the corrupt while certain persons are immune to prosecution. Such claims continue to stifle public involvement which is pertinent in the fight against corruption.

In order to dispel such public discontent, different anti-corruption actors, including the Inspector General of Government, police, CSOs, the media and development partners, should rethink and increase public involvement in the fight against corruption.

Mr Walusansa is a Commonwealth Correspondent

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Editor’s Note: Do you have strong and informed opinion on current affairs in Uganda and beyond? Send a 800-word opinion to info [at] acme-ug [dot] org and let your views be read.

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL: PEOPLE AND CORRUPTION: AFRICA SURVEY 2015