Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Corruption has been in the air these last few weeks. The President reiterating his resolve to fight the scourge. A few hundreds of millions of shillings went missing here. A few billion shillings went missing there. And you can be sure a few millions of shillings grew legs every day in this, that or the other office.

Various surveys show us to be one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

But Ugandans do not need surveys to tell what we come against everyday of our lives.

In fact we need to be grateful that our public corporations were privatized and the economy was liberalized. Otherwise you would, still be waiting for a phone line, making daily pilgrimages to minister’s offices for your quota of beers for your Christmas party and withering away at a thankless, dead end job for lack of alternative employment.

It gets one to thinking about corruption, its perpetrators and what kind of mindset it takes to be corrupt.

To begin with corruption is a euphemism for theft, like “putting out of action” is for killing or “forceful carnal knowledge” is for rape.

It is also one of the crimes which becomes ever more pervasive as no one is willing to hurl the first stone or take out the speck from the neighbours’ as they have been blinded by the plank in their own.

The jury is out on why corruption thrives but it is obvious for there to be corruption there has to be opportunity, a person of questionable moral standing and I would like to add, financial illiteracy.

Any official with access to funds has an opportunity to steal, so we shall not belabor the point.

Issues of moral fiber are to a large extent, beyond the scope of this page.

So I will restrict my self to financial illiteracy, a functional ignorance of how money works, is made and grown.

Let us use Mr D as an example of a corrupt official. Mr D holds an office – be it public or private, from which he has access to funds. I would like to believe that there are few psychopathic individuals who aspire to high office specifically to steal funds. I think they get into office with good intentions and then along the way get disensitised towards pocketing first small and then ever increasing amounts.

It is this group officials whose minds I would like to decipher.

Many of these officials have followed the traditional career path – school, first degree and many times second degree. They have been brought up on the credo that you study hard, get a good job, earn a higher and higher salary and become rich.

However the more they earn the reality hits them; that riches do not automatically follow from a higher pay. They come to the shock realization that the more they earn the more they find themselves bonded to their job. With every pay increase their consumption patterns rose to match and now they can not do without their job.

They look richer – they driver a top of the range Japanese 4WD, they buy their suits in Europe, no beer for them they drink spirits that need an accent to pronounce and they live on one hill or another previously reserved for Europeans during colonial days. But deep down they know they are living a fantasy, a fantasy they would not sustain on their own steam.

Assuming an annual take home pay of not less than sh120m, it is not advanced mathematics to workout that to earn this annual take home – this not counting transport, entertainment and the per diems, they know they would need assets of at least sh1.2b. And this is assuming all their money is in 364-day treasury bills which by this week’s auction were yielding 9.93 percent.

Retirement beckons. For the last 15 or so years of his working life he has been living high, accumulating questionable assets – that farm is more a status symbol than anything, those houses built a few years ago are showing a negative return on investment and his money in the bank is being eaten away by double digit inflation.

What is a man to do? The temptation is overwhelming. Pride is at stake – he cannot retire to a life of relative destitution and squalor, he has an MBA for God’s sake. Where’s that imprest?

Published October 2009, New Vision

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