Speaking on stage at an awards ceremony for accountants in Kampala last week, Finance minister Matia Kasaija offered a blunt and rare plain-spoken confession.
Unbothered by the constraints of the formalities of his government job, Kasaija said he knows officials who have stolen from government, or their own companies, and are hiding the loot at home.
It was not the first of a kind bold spur-of-the-moment comment. Last February, while appearing before the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led land commission of inquiry, Kasaija said a lot of government money is finding its way into the wrong hands.
To demonstrate the grip cunning corrupt officials have on public finances, he said that his hands shake when he is signing off money for some ministries because he doesn’t know whether the money would reach its intended recipients.
The commissioners laughed, but this was a serious statement by the man in charge of Uganda’s finances. Kasaija declined to drop names publicly when prodded, but insisted that government money continues to “leak and leak out.”
He said corruption is a problem which touches everyone and that people looting from public coffers in broad daylight must be dealt with quickly. In being outspoken but reluctant to take decisive action, the minister demonstrates an overriding feeble resolve by government to tackle corruption proactively (through prevention) at both the macro and micro levels. This way, it fails to back the ethos of transparency, accountability and efficiency in administrative and financial management.
Now that prevention has failed but we know the thieving government officials, the minister should give the information he has to the anti-corruption agencies. The Inspectorate of Government should then carry out the necessary investigation and prosecution.
Public lamentation from the minister of finance, who is in a strong position to do something, only underscores one fact; that corrupt officials have become too big to touch. The ministry of Ethics and Integrity has also continued to under serve this country in as far as detection and punishment of corruption is concerned.
The minister is publicly loud in his fight against public indecency, nudity and pornography – demanding billions of shillings to set up a pornography detection machine, yet conspicuously quiet on corruption.
This begs the question: where is corruption on government’s priority list?