When the dust settles the ongoing probe into fraud in the prime minister’s office may very well serve as a test case of how the fight against corruption will look like – messy, drawn out and not unlike riding on a tiger.
It all started rather innocuously – by Ugandan standards.
The ministry’s permanent secretary Pius Bigirimana reported absent without leave chief Accountant Geoffrey Kazinda to police at the tail end of months of frustration at Kazinda’s working methods and discovery of missing monies in the ministry.
The papers were then aflush with stories of Kazinda’s personal wealth. The sums he allegedly misappropriated grew by the day. He was hauled before the courts, whisked off to jail. All the while the investigation took on a life of its own roping in “unsuspecting” co-workers and businessmen. On Monday, 16 staff from the office were interdicted for their connection to the missing monies. And in the latest twist in the tale a UK newspaper reported that the Irish and British governments had suspended aid to the OPM on the strength of this scandal.
Also in recent weeks our imagination has been similarly exercised by the pensions scam where up to sh63b went missing in the public service ministry, paid out to more than a thousand “ghost” pensioners. As that case also winds its way through the process it is leaving a trail of shattered careers and reputations – some of whom it can be argued were innocent onlookers at best.
These two cases will test not only the justice system’s ability to investigate and prosecute corruption cases but will also highlight how pervasive corruption is in the system—as if we needed any more evidence.
In addition on they will force a rethink of our values.
For instance where does responsibility start and end in such cases? How does one explain officials who accumulate prodigious wealth in full view of the public even when we know their known income cannot support it? Is it time to rethink the law on corruption, make it more punitive, lower the burden of proof?
We see things going wrong around us every day, nod knowingly to ourselves when some official or the other builds a multi-billion shilling mansion for himself, gleefully pore over the stories of the latest corruption scandal, grateful that someone else blew the whistle and bringing these “eaters” to book but click our tongues knowing that they will get off the hook anyway. And then we return to the daily grind content to keep our heads down and wait for the next scandal.
The danger with this situation of course is that corruption takes on a life of its own influencing politics – ensuring only “compliant” leaders rise, distorting the market – making it impossible for honest people to invest or do business and eventually co-opting everyone and making it the normal order of things.
The cost of the tyranny of corruption is seen in poor social services and infrastructure and eventually manifests in government’s inability to make anything work.
We may throw our hands up in frustration and complain that government does not have the political will to handle the scourge, but where does political will come from if we are all complicit? Who will bring the political pressure to bear on government?
They say that all tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.