Tuesday, March 19, 2013

UGANDA'S ANTI-CORRUPTION FIGHT TRUDGES ON


Last week former junior health minister Mike Mukula’s conviction by a lower court for embezzlement was quashed by the.

Earlier this year Mukula was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling sh210m. His co-accused former Health ministers Jim Muhwezi and Dr Kamugisha were acquitted while, state house official Alice Kaboyo pleaded guilty, paid a fine and was set free.

The acquittal of his colleagues, Mukula’s conviction and eventual acquittal has been met with mixed reactions.

On the one hand were the anti-corruption crusaders who saw Mukula’s case as sign that the struggle was beginning to rope in the “big fish” and for the first time government may actually be serious about the issue. They also argued that regardless of the political undertones of his case an irreversible momentum was building up that would engulf even the “connected” ones who continued to sidestep the course of justice.

On the other hand were the conspiracy theorists who saw Mukula as a sacrificial lamb. A peace offering to the public which was getting increasingly restless at the inaction against runaway official corruption. The argument was that Mukula while a big enough fish has not been the biggest beneficiary of corruption in this town and it did not help that he is not as “connected” as other alleged perpetrators.

Who is to say which is which?

The fight against corruption was never going to be an easy one.

We can expect moments of elation as officials are hauled before the courts and stripped of their auras of invincibility. We may even see some of them convicted and bused off to Luzira. But we can also expect that some will be acquitted despite being found guilty in the court of public opinion or dodge the bullet on a technicality or survive serious punishment out of the “incompetence” of our law enforcement agencies.

At best the fight will not progress in an unbroken straight line. Expect a start-stop-start again progressions that will test our patience and try our souls. The worst of course is that even the most promising cases will suffer still births, because the truth is the corrupt are not lining up like ducks waiting to be picked off, but are actively fighting for their own survival.

However as we have said on these pages before everyone who is interrogated by the police but not charged, charged but not convicted, convicted but later on acquitted is progress at the most fundamental level – they cause the so-far unscathed corrupt to pause and better still dissuades the  soon-to-be corrupt from contemplating a life in crime. At the end of the day we want the momentum to be slowed and that no more new entrants enter the ring. If at the bare minimum this happens, the fight would have achieved unimaginable good.

However it would be foolhardy to get our hopes up too high about the success of this campaign.

What is clear is that theft of public funds has gone on for so long that not only has almost everyone been coopted into the scam but that a lot criminal behavior is now been accepted as normal behavior.

How you do you explain how the public, relatives and friends look on as poorly paid public servants accumulate wealth at prodigious speed and not only do we not reprimand them but are glad to partake of the obviously ill-gotten wealth?

Because we are all complicit in this evil it makes the fight that much more difficult. And once every one is in on the deal, politics comes in and you might as well forget about routing the problem from our midst.

Two things however may work to sustain the fight against corruption. To begin with, judging by the tip of the iceberg that is on public show, these corrupt officials have amassed colossal sums, which are a threat not only to the smooth running of the economy but can prove a threat to national stability.

Think about it. What would you stop at to keep yourself out of Luzira if you had a few billions of shillings stacked away somewhere? Kill a witness here or there? Pay an investigator, judge, prison warden, MP? Your unwillingness to go to jail will be in direct proportion to the amount of wealth you have accumulated and will reflect the desperation you will display.

In addition we might take comfort in the fact that there is no honour among thieves. There is no coalition of the corrupt. If we turn the screws long and hard enough this edifice of graft will come crumbling down like a house of cards. The only problem is that there will be a lot collateral damage.

No one said the fight against corruption would be easy, but hopefully it will be worth it.

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