In recent months the fight against corruption seems to be gathering steam.
The latest is that the police are inquiring into the misappropriation of $150m in the education ministry, money that was meant for training for post-primary school teachers country wide.
Last week the Permanent Secretary in the public service ministry Jimmy Lwamafa and several other officials were called in by CID to shed light on a sh63b gap in the ministry finances meant to pay pensions.
A few weeks ago we accountants in the Prime minister’s office were interrogated over the loss of billions of shillings that had gone missing in the ministry.
Meanwhile three ministers are before the high court to answer to charges of causing financial loss during CHOGM preparations in 2007.
Ugandans are understandably cynical about the latest round of officials being hailed out to answer for lost monies under their brief, but they shouldn’t be.
It is safe to say that the majority of Ugandans are hardworking citizens looking to make ends meet through the sweat of their brow. But it is also safe to say enough Ugandans while going about their daily business are on the lookout for the one big deal that will set them up on easy street.
And that is where the trouble begins.
Enough of us believe in this fairytale. We support corruption by omission. We turn a blind eye to the exponential accumulation of wealth by our family and neighbours in the hope that when our “turn” comes onlookers will extend us the same courtesy.
Because it does not add up. How can it be that our civil servants with their anaemic paychecks are the most propertied among our ranks? How can it be that their children rub shoulders with our small captains of industry in the priciest schools? How can it be?
President Yoweri Museveni never tires of saying that by marching into Kampala the NRA erased terror by state agencies on the people, which was the easier battle. Easy because the perpetrators were a small minority who monopolized the instruments of violence and had the tacit approval of a state gone absent. But the fight against corruption or white collar crime is not restricted to a few but to everyone who has access to state resources. This requires another kind of soldier.
It gets tricky because unlike the NRA who went off into the wilderness, their resolve to rid Uganda of the “terrorists” tempered in the heat of the bush war, the current crop of soldiers will have to come from within the very same society that glorifies the “state thief”. And very often it is like employing Dracula to guard the blood bank.
One can talk till the cows come home about the political dimensions of corruption and why it maybe in some people’s interest to let it fester, keeping potential opponents eating and therefore quiet, but even that lee way is finite when viewed against the growing demand for improvements in service delivery.
The last year’s walk-to-work protests were fuelled more by the disgust of jobless youth wallowing in hopelessness as they see their “benefactors” wooshing past in four wheel drives or wheezing off to “outside” countries for medical attention than by any political brilliance of the opposition.
But to create jobs or more specifically to create an enabling environment in which these jobs can be created takes money. It therefore does not help when up to sh300b goes missing annually slowing down this progress.
This “cleanup” was inevitable, whether the momentum will be sustained is another question.
I choose to believe that with every campaign – the commissions into URA and police, the several parliamentary probes and the various court cases past and ongoing a momentum is being created that is winding its way towards irreversibility.
At every turn of course there are forces bent on derailing the process and it may seem that they are succeeding but they are not.
A South African businessman who had not been to Uganda for at least 10 years told me earlier this year how he is astounded by the progress we have made, not only in infrastructure but also in the processes.
He said we were too close to the action to make an objective judgement of the decision. In addition he said many of us fly out or watch better societies on TV and we want that yesterday, “Progress is messy business and when you are in the middle of it it seems like nothing is happening,” he said, adding that he was betting millions of dollars that progress is inevitable in Uganda over the next 20 to 50 years. That was the time frame he was looking at.
Don’t be fooled. Some people may think these are political morsels being thrown out to the baying public and that they shall rein in the anti-corruption agents when we, the public are suitably pacified but they will have misread history.
Every official who is questioned, even if not tried; tried even if not convicted; convicted even if acquitted in a higher court is progress made, even if it means that the odd official seeing this, will think once maybe twice before dipping his grubby fingers in the public till.