Graft: Museveni's new line-up falls short of the goal

Saturday February 21 2009

By JULIUS BARIGABA

Last week’s cabinet reshuffle came at a time when the public was expecting a decisive action to address the country’s biggest problem — corruption. But in a real sense, it was a disappointment.

This reshuffle is the eleventh President Yoweri Museveni has made since he took power in 1986, but it also marks the longest time he has had the same Cabinet, announced three years ago after the 2006 General Election.

Mr Museveni attempted to soothe public concern on January 26 this year — the 23rd anniversary of his then rebel outfit, the National Resistance Army’s capture of Kampala. He promised that he was developing a cadre to deal with graft, noting that it was the biggest contributor to poor delivery of service.

“The fight against corruption is at the heart of the Movement’s struggle to rebuild Uganda from the shackles of tyranny.

The anti-corruption organs, instituted by government, resulted in the exposure of a lot of graft that had been going on unabated in government departments,” Mr Museveni said.

But several of his ministers that various oversight institutions — Office of the Auditor General, Parliament, the Inspector General of Government and other independent bodies — found to have cost the taxpayer dearly in corruption-related deals have not been removed.

The three years this Cabinet has been in office have been marked by staggering cases, the most fresh being the Temangalo scandal in which two senior ministers coerced the National Social Security Fund to bypass procurement rules to buy land that belonged to Security Minister Amama Mbabazi.

Proceeds from the sale were invested in a bank in which Finance Minister Ezra Suruma and M Mbabazi are shareholders.

During the same period, the country hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in which some $178 million was spent on projects that the Auditor General’s report later established did not amount to “value for money”.

Part of this money was used to lease 144 executive cars from BMW, pulling the deal from under the wraps of Spear Motors that had won the tender to supply Mercedes Benzes.

The government went ahead to buy 30 of these vehicles at the cost of $1.87 million, while the rest were put up for sale.

Some of the roads that cost the taxpayer more billions to resurface for the November 2007 Summit peeled off even before Summit officials arrived in Kampala, prompting hurried patch up work, from government, and anger from the public, calling for the head of Works Minister John Nasasira.

Despite Mr Nasasira holding that portfolio for almost a decade now, Uganda’s road network has remained the worst — the huge funding from donors notwithstanding.

Uganda’s Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority last year reported loses of over $250 million a year in procurement-related corruption, the bulk of this in the roads sector.

But overall, various reports have indicated that the country loses Ush800 billion (over $400 million) annually.

With others such as General Kahinda Otafiire (formerly Local Government, now Tourism, Trade and Industry) and Sam Kutesa (Foreign Affairs) frequently cited in multi million deals, there is no explanation for their retention.

During his tenure as Local Government Minister, Gen Otafiire leased several markets in Kampala in irregular deals to well connected businessmen, while Mr Kutesa also irregularly paid $0.75 million to a public relations firm in the United Kingdom shortly before CHOGM.

At the height of a strong campaign that was meant to earn government credit by facilitating internally displaced peoples to return home from the camps in Northern Uganda in 2007.

Relief Minister Professor Tarsis Kabwegyere was found to have supervised the purchase of substandard returnees kits, of “rotten seeds, fake pangas and garden tools”, according to a report of Local Government leaders in the North.

The taxpayer expected the president to get rid of his tainted lieutenants and bring in fresh faces, but he has chosen to recycle the oldguard.