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The dramatic case of ministry of Ethics & Integrity in Uganda

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I do not know who the current minister of Ethics and Integrity is, and I wouldn’t blame any Ugandan for not knowing – just as it is okay not to know our vice president.

I imagine that being a minister of Ethics in Uganda is a tricky thing – especially for one who does not have the spine to refuse the job. I do not think that anyone takes that job without knowing the corners of the house they are not supposed to visit, and the dirt that is not really meant to be swept out.

Maybe with the exception of Miria Matembe, the rest have gone in with religious readiness to shut up. A tale is told of a cat that was accused of being ruthless in leading other animals. To change this impression among its subjects, the cat created a position of prefect in charge of welfare. A squirrel was duly appointed to it.

The first animals to petition the squirrel were rats, raising concerns about their comrades that were disappearing. The ambitious squirrel took the report to his boss, who seemed to listen. However, the squirrel was soon accused of incompetence and was unceremoniously dropped from the prefect list. Therein is the unethical drama of the ministry.

The office of the Ministry of Ethics, that of the Inspector General of Government, and the Human Rights Commission are perhaps among the most ironical of all. They take on a portfolio of which they are practically aware that over 70 per cent of their work is not supposed to be done. You do it at your own risk.

To accept to be a minister of Ethics is basically to accept to be idle for pay. But, to give a semblance of work, one has to create safe petty activities around morality. In whichever way one analyses Uganda’s problems, you will end up realising that much of what affects us as a country has to do with ethics.

Be it the swindling of public funds, the corruption in many of our public and private institutions, the road accidents, the tribalism, election rigging, lies, violence, gross inequalities, marginalisation, political persecution, terrorism, domestic violence, name it.

In essence, the ministry of Ethics and Integrity would be one of the most important ones for the country. Ask any Ugandan when they ever heard the minister or anyone from the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity explicitly condemning political corruption.

With all the corruption and political scandals we have witnessed of late, they watch on in cynical helplessness; perhaps waiting for the public to speak out on their behalf. No press conference, no statement! In their practical definition, this is not an important ethical matter. It can only be spoken about in tongues or with safe vagueness.

It would be interesting to hear from them about their understanding of ethics and integrity. But that wouldn’t matter. The real duties are less important than avoiding big toes. This is how their portfolio has been redefined to become a ministry of Sexual Morality.

Bring up any debate on pornography, miniskirts, and homosexuality; they will be willing to preach until cows come home. They will procure pornography detectors. They will keep a keen eye on social media for any news of sex tapes or fetish music videos.

These are the best moments for asserting presence. Fr Simon Lokodo, the former holder of the seat, took this triviality to the highest heights. From that angle, maybe his quiet successor is better.

I understand that the directorate has also held workshops at local government levels, sensitising officials about integrity. It is ironical how they expect that this selective targeting of who to ‘sensitise’ will create an impact. Some of these ‘bad manners’ at lower levels are learnt from above.

If it is okay for someone above to steal, why should it be wrong at local levels? This is why, apart from receiving unnecessary workshop allowances, the directorate itself should be internally aware that people can’t take it seriously when it talks about national values that are violated by big fish in its silent watch.

Building ethical society should move both from bottom up and from up to bottom. While the gaps in modern families are immensely contributing to the moral decay we see in upper levels, much of this can change if there is committed leadership from top.

If we want to wait for parents to spontaneously improve on their moral parenting, we might have to wait for too long. In a society where institutions are let to become endemically corrupt and with no consequence, even if families play their role, children will still be corrupted by the wider society.

Therefore, a ministry of Ethics that cannot speak to the top about corruption and integrity is simply occupying space and wasting taxpayers’ money. I am not saying that sexual morality is not important. But where it is the preoccupation of a unit that is supposed to address many other crucial ethical issues, it becomes hard to listen to the pretence.

When an institution makes a reputation for triviality, even when it tries to raise serious matters, it will not get audience. I was about to say that this drama should stop. But, given what we know, it would be a naïve recommendation. These questions should then go to those that accept to become regime scarecrows by accepting to occupy positions where they clearly know that they can’t have any reasonable impact.

Is it because of poverty, that you accept to be paid with taxpayers’ money for no public use while creating vain expectations among the public? When you look at all the ethical needs of the country, and what you keep yourselves busy with, are you happy with yourselves? In sincerity to yourselves, how do you evaluate your performance?

jsssentongo@gmail.com

The author is a teacher of philosophy.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd