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Monday, June 26, 2017


Overshadowed by juicer news events the land inquiry commission continues to plod through hundreds of cases that are being brought before it.

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire who heads the commission recently reported that since they started their inquiries in the middle of may about 1,600 land cases have been brought to their attention.

The cases have ranged from land encroachment to “straightforward” land grabbing to grave snatching to grabbing whole forests, swamps, lakes and everything in between. The consistent thread running through these cases is of individuals trying to keep for themselves land which seems unattended to or occupied by helpless people who can easily be disposed of – literally or figuratively.

These cases examined in broad daylight seem incredible but point to a creeping – no, entrenched culture of impunity in our society.

"We have seen it before be it in the Office of the prime minister or the public service pensions scam or the jaw dropping smash and grabbing that characterised the Uganda National Road Authority (UNRA) or the shenanigans going on in many government offices....

That public officials willing to help themselves to public goods do so and do not even try to cover their tracks, flaunting their ill gained wealth under our very noses, safe in the knowledge that they will not be caught.

As a result even “good” men and women have joined the hogs at the trough arguing that if everybody is doing why not them, while continuing to assume pride of place at their local churches every Sunday.

Pope Benedict called it moral relativism, when the divide between good and bad begins to blur and eventually disappear. When the question stops being whether an action is bad but how bad compared to other actions it is.

A few years ago when a former minister discovered that his proceeds from a influence peddling deal was about to come to light he complained that he was being witch hunted after all, as he pleaded at the time, others had “eaten” more. Notice he did not deny that he had taken a bribe but was protesting his “relative” innocence.

"In a country committed to electoral democracy it was only a matter of time before the rapaciousness of the public official got in the way of service delivery, to the point that it is hard to explain it away with the wave of an autocratic hand...

But also as societies grow and become more complex, relying on the good manners of people or familial or tribal standards to enforce good behaviour becomes less possible hence the need for generally agreed rules and institutions to ensure  law and order.

The 1970s and 1980s – our dark ages, broke down a growing appreciation for the rule of law and institutions. Government’s inability to get things done means it cannot be business as usual.
We will hear increasing grumbling of the Moral relativism type in coming months and years as attempts are made to get things in order.

Even if the effort is half hearted, if it gathers some steam it will begin to take on a life of its own, an irreversible momentum that will force us all to conform to the rules.

Wishful thinking?

In order to meet our development ambitions a rule based society is imperative. See for example the billions of dollars we can now borrow from the open market. We couldn’t do this a decade ago. The lenders can now look at your society and discern some order which gives them a better chance of getting paid back.

Contrast this with our neighbours the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) whose natural resources have been estimated at about $12trillion but it cannot exploit them for the population’s benefit because the chaos at every level that prevails there.

"Whether we progress towards a more rule based society will depend on our elite both political and economic, which gives little solace....

On the one hand whether the politicians can see that a more prosperous, rule based society will be correspondingly good for them and on the other whether the business community can shed off those in their ranks, who have benefitted and worked to maintain a status quo that benefitted them to the exclusion of the rest of us.

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