While speaking at Kololo ceremonial grounds to mark the end of the one-week Anticorruption week, Irene Mulyagonja, the inspector general of government, acknowledged that it is hard to fight corruption because of the sophisticated trajectory it has taken.
This was a testament of the institution’s struggles to fight the vice, something that prompted President Museveni to create a parallel – albeit similar – agency to fight the vice.
A closer scrutiny of the operations of the Inspectorate of Government (IG) exposes the hardships it faces and how government has not done enough to empower it.
Speaking at the same function at Kololo, President Museveni introduced Lt Col Edith Nakalema as the new face in the fight against graft, something which can be seen as a damning indictment on Mulyagonja. Nakalema will head a new State House unit dedicated to fighting corruption. He also announced toll-free lines to fight corruption; 0800202500 and 0778202500 for WhatsApp.
It is still not yet clear how Nakalema’s unit will operate, its legal status and human resource as well as the budget. “This is a duplication meant to frustrate the fight against corruption,” said an IGG official who preferred anonymity.
“The president should have given us more powers or called for tougher laws on corruption Nakalema’s and render us idle.”
However, the president said the public should look at the positives the unit will bring and join the fight against the vice.
“We have too much corruption in Uganda which is stifling government’s work. The institutions are there, the laws are there but the problem is those manning them because the departments were also infiltrated by weevils and that’s what we should deal with. I want the public also to get involved in this war; these are your wars. The thieves are part of the public, they stay with you... Nothing bad is happening that you don’t know about,” Museveni said.
He added that Nakalema is going to be his listening post, picking and collecting information that the president would base on to crack the whip on the corrupt.
“The IGG has tried to fight corruption like she has said but I have decided to stoke up the fire by appointing my soldier, Lt Col Nakalema. She is a short woman but she has fire... I have worked with her for a long time and when she returned from studies, I told her we have too much weevils, come and assist us,” he said.
Museveni reiterated that Nakalema had not come to take over the work of the IGG or the CIID, but to reinforce it. However, sources close to operations of government agencies intimate that Nakalema’s unit will most likely usurp the IGG’s powers since it reports directly at the power centre.
Meanwhile, Mulyagonja also believes that no single person; not even a soldier of Nakalema’s stature, can singlehandedly defeat corruption.
“We believe that one of the most important aspects of the work of the anticorruption agencies is to encourage and demand for improved accountability from all persons in charge of public resources. It’s through this route that Ugandans can all carry out their constitutional obligation to bring about accountability and stop corruption even before it starts. We call upon the public to fulfil their constitutional obligation and duty of fighting corruption by detecting, preventing and reporting suspected cases of corruption.”
Incidentally, Mulyagonja’s recent report to parliament notes as much.
“Of particular concern is the evolving nature of corruption. While previously limited to favours and bribes to a few officials, it now encompasses grand syndicated corruption where controls are deliberately circumvented in a systematic way, involving networks of corrupt officials...,” the report reads in part.
The president promised to enact a law that will make it possible to confiscate the properties of those convicted of corruption. Ironically, former Makindye East member of parliament John Ssimbwa had introduced a private member’s bill that sought to do the same but his efforts came to nothing.
Government funding of the office of the IGG remains quite small compared to other agencies. For example, in the 2017/18 budget, the IGG’s office was allocated only Shs 45 billion and in the 2018/19 budget only Shs 53 billion was allocated. Despite the meagre allocations, the IGG has this year investigated and prosecuted 142 officials with 99 convicted and a total of Shs 1.9 billion recovered while Shs 107 billion was saved.
To explain the figures, Munira Ali, the IG director of public and international relations, says money was recovered mainly from cases that were investigated and found out that money was misused or overpaid.
“Some of the money was also realised from court cases which ordered the repayment or refund of money misappropriated,” Ali said.
A recent bi-annual IG performance report to parliament covering the months of July 2017 to December 2017 shows that out of the 25,000 public officials across the country who declared their wealth, the IG verified only 10 cases.
This demonstrates the emphasis or lack of it that government puts into the efforts to fight corruption. The Leadership Code Act requires all government employees to declare their incomes, assets and liabilities to the inspector general of government (IGG).
The code prohibits conduct that is likely to breach honesty, impartiality and integrity of leaders or conduct that leads to corruption in public affairs and it imposes penalties on those who violate it.
Ironically, Ali told The Observer the that the Leadership Code Act, amendment in 2017, strengthened the law in some aspects but also made it easy for thieving public officials to tack away stolen properties by registering them in the names of their spouses and children.
“During the amendment, there were certain articles favouring the fight against corruption that were removed,” she says.
“When we called for the amendment, there are certain areas we suggested to be amended but some were ignored and instead others that help the fight against corruption that we didn’t recommend for amendment were removed.”
The IG’s report to parliament and the 2018/2019 budget framework paper call on government to reconsider the Act if corruption is to be defeated. “The amendment of the Act eliminated major breaches such as false declarations and excess or under declaration of property.
This strongly affects the verification reports that find cases of false declarations and hidden assets by leaders. The amendment also does not provide penalties for breaches such as failure to declare, conflict of interest and anticipatory declaration,” reads the budget framework paper in part.
It adds that although on July 5 2017, the minister of state for Ethics and Integrity, Father Simon Lokodo, wrote to the minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Matia Kasaija, requesting for Shs 3.3bn to set up the Leadership Tribunal to hear disputes arising from wealth declarations in financial year 2017/18 up to now it remains an unfunded priority.
Ali admits that the law restricting the public disclosure of the declared property also added a layer of corruption by government officials.
“It’s a weakness but that is the law; internally we are looking for ways we can enlist public support to help us fight corruption. We want them to report to us what these officials own so that we can go back and crosscheck what has been disclosed,” Ali says.
She also decries the inadequate funding that hampers their operation.
“We don’t have the numbers and the money to do verification. Someone can declare a building and says it costs Shs 500,000 yet it costs Shs 5 million; we don’t have the expertise to verify that and sometimes the properties are scattered across the country which poses a challenge,” Ali said.