MBALE – While doing fieldwork in Mt Elgon sub-region August to December, 2021, I often marveled at the apparent talk by civil servants at the districts about state minister for economic monitoring Mr Peter Ogwang.
Mr Ogwang was visiting districts to check on government projects and the findings indicated that there was gross misuse of government funds, fraud, corruption and shoddy works.
At various districts, Civil servants kept out of their offices whenever they heard of Mr Ogwang or would take off if they saw his entourage arriving in the district compound- the contractors, local government leaders, CAOs, CFOs, internal auditors, local councilors were all scared.
They would then speak in whispers when discussing corruption issues surrounding the districts while watching the direction for the main road to the district headquarters.
“And corruption is not here, the ministry officials deduct some money and give us little money to implement the work and tell us to account for everything. We have been tricked for long, actually the real corruption is in the ministries not down here,” the discussion goes on.
And Mr Ogwang, as if on a mission to end corruption in the country, goes to district local governments, just to scare them because most of those arrested are taken by police for routine questioning and released.
According to the junior minister certain projects, notably the construction of boreholes, roads, construction of health facilities, local markets etc meant for the citizens that were supposed to be implemented in various districts have not been done. He warned the culprits to exit the offices before they are got.
“If you know your appetite is on public funds, please resign because for the next five years if I am still state minister in charge of economic monitoring, prisons are going to be full. I am going to be very unpopular among the corrupt,” said Ogwang, who works under the office of the President.
This message has generated mixed reactions, with some commending his style of work while others wondered how he would follow up the criminals who are down the tree by climbing this tree from the top.
In preparing lists and dates to visit districts on his monitoring mission, Mr Ogwang has become a man who goes to hunt for birds in the bush but makes noise to alert them to take off before he arrives at the scene. The Bagisu have this wise saying “A roaring lion kills no game.”
Mr Ogwang, my grandmother [RIP] once told me that “The big game often appears when the hunter has given up the hunt for the day, I want you to draw lessons from this.
And this makes me ask the questions; Are you really serious in fighting corruption across the country in lower local governments or you are on ‘circus’ to hoodwink our donors to think that you are fighting corruption?
The other question is, are you just on a mission by your ‘dear’ president to paint civil servants as the most corrupt in Uganda to justify the deployment of soldiers as the only ones who can fight corruption or?
And, as has so often been the case throughout Uganda’s much-vaunted anti-corruption campaign, the tougher the rhetoric grows the wider the ridicule becomes for you Mr Ogwang.
Tue, you unearthed a lot of shoddy works across the districts you visited, and tha corruption is huge but we ought to understand that the trouble for Uganda is that the public [Ugandans] knows only too well that corruption is not simply a by-product of the system but the system and the entire system itself.
It flourishes because there is no oversight, no free press, no separation of powers, no independent judiciary and no political opposition but the system alone.
So, as your crackdown of local government councils at districts continues, each eyebrow-raising story only serves to underline just how impossible the task at hand really is because it took government sometime to find out that the US$ 45.4 million global funds meant to fight Aids, malaria and tuberculosis had been siphoned by some ministers and technical staff.
And it also took time for government to discover a deepening refugee scandal where OPM officials were accused of buying a wetland with a forged land title at Shs8b government funds.
But unfortunately of fortunately, all these happen at the time we have the Auditor General, Public accounts committee, the parliament and office of the inspector General of government [IGG] and of course backed by the non government anti corruption bodies like Anti corruption coalition Uganda [ACCU] and now we have the state house anti-corruption unit.
Mr Ogwang how are you going to fight corruption alone without a backing from anti-corruption agencies? Are n’t you just on a corruption ‘circus’, just to make Ugandans think that government is fighting corruption?
Last year in January, Transparency International Uganda launched the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2020 which painted a grim picture of corruption worldwide. CPI uses a scale of 0 to 100 to rate corruption, where 0 represents highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
According to Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, Uganda scored 27/100 in terms of corruption and this is an indication that Uganda is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world. In terms of ranking by country, Uganda was 142 out of 180 countries.
And Uganda’s ranking by CPI does not come as a surprise because even President Yoweri Museveni has on several occasions come out to bemoan the high level of corruption in the country, recently during his address to the nation, he said that “Corruption has become a real enemy. It starts in Finance where projects are designed with supernumerary elements (extras); these bloated projects go to Ministries, then to Committees of Parliament, and, then, to the Auditor-General, where there is collusion all the way.”
Though the president has continuously talked and cautioned public servants to stop their corrupt tendencies, including being the chief walker during an ‘anti-corruption walk’, most Ugandans believe that just talking without action cannot address corruption in Uganda.
But in the recent remarks about his minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero, the President warned the parliament to back off the ‘Decorated minister’ for her great role in the fight against fight against Ebola and Covid-19 pandemics, leaves a lot to be desired.
Dr Musenero, under the spotlight is a veterinarian, microbiologist, and epidemiologist is linked to alleged corruption and embezzlement of Shs 31 billion Covid-19 funds, with whistleblowers petitioning the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to investigate her.
And a visibly furiously Mr Museveni spent over 10 minutes of his speech during the Science, Technology and Innovation exhibition at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds to caution those behind what he termed as an attack on his “decorated scientist”.
Mr Ogwang when President Museveni speaks like this for a person, who has been caught up in a corruption scandal, do you expect us as ordinary Ugandans to believe that you are committed to fighting corruption?
It is clear that as a state minister for economic monitoring, you are working in office of the president, are you going against what your president is for or you are working at cross purposes with your ‘dear’ president.
Today, like you Mr Ogwang and many of the ministers in Uganda, you are appointed by president Museveni to serve his political interests especially that there has been a shift from the all-inclusive and broad-based politics of national unity to politics of exclusion and manipulation.
President Museveni is still in charge and each of you ministers must serve his interests, you must serve the interests of the NRM party, a party that has sustained itself in power through corruption-Mr Ogwang you can’t bite that hand that feeds you.
President Museveni has an advantage of incumbency, he still fears opening up for competitive multiparty elections and instead opted for gradual and pseudo democratic reforms through bribes across the country to sustain himself in power.
Mr Ogwang, there is another African proverb that goes “He that beats the drum for the mad man to dance is no better than the mad man himself,”
Our ministers today have joined the bandwagon of President Museveni to serve his political interests and are not doing much to fight the corruption sin but all their future plans are consumed by visions of attaining and dispensing political power and patronage.
I think our leaders have a leadership, supervisory and advisory roles to play pre-actively and ensure that there is sanity in the management of public funds in this country.
Uganda’s rampant corruption remains a salient issue on the national agenda and it played a major role in deciding the country’s 2021 election for the NRM, Mr Ogwang are you willing to uproot this from the backbone of NRM?
You ought to remember that President Museveni’s determination to retain power in a pseudo democratic dispensation has culminated into many undemocratic practices including corruption and this is driven by the motive to marshal enough political support through hook or crook in order to retain power.
Prof. Mwambustya Ndebesa [Mak University] despite admitting that corruption has become sophisticated and systemic in nature, he challenged President Museveni’s administration to come up with tougher and effective measures to address corruption mainly perpetuated by unpatriotic vultures.
Mr Ogwang with your ‘circus’ across the country now, we are waiting to see if the wealthy off springs of the historical NRM cadres, ministers, UPDF soldiers and other relatives whom the president has started employing in civil service will be the answer to corruption in Uganda.
The author, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist