Wednesday, September 16, 2009

General Saleh should redeem himself

Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a. Salim Saleh (50) a former Army Commander, Reserve Force Commander, Parliamentarian and now a senior presidential advisor having been a state Minister in charge of Micro Finance is not new in Uganda’s political, social, economic and corruption game. Mention his name and you will receive lots of responses including the fact that he is one of the bravest NRA fighters and richest ‘liberators’ although no apparent figure has been put on his worth. Before May 2006’s cabinet appointment as a minister in Charge of Micro Finance; he is the Senior Presidential Advisor.

He recently stated that he is a pauper. He was also a member of a committee set up by the army High Command to probe the ghost soldiers’ in the army (now UPDF)- although there is no clear action against military leaders who perpetuated that act. I laughed hard when he was appointed recently to ‘investigate’ UMEME (an Electricity Company that has more problems than electricity itself). Who needs more investigations?

Back in December 2003, he resigned as one of the ten army Parliamentary representatives. His resignation was over allegations of corruption and abuse of office. In his resignation letter, Saleh inter-alia stated that: 'My first reason is the unending allegations of corruption and abuse of office, which have ranged from the bungled helicopter purchase, my role in the privatization of former Uganda Commercial Bank to last year's (2002) allegations of plundering Congo's natural resources. All these allegations have come and passed but have left me very perturbed”. When he was re-appointed no official in or outside Parliament raised any of the above issues. Not even the General himself until days ago when he publicly acknowledged his mistake of accumulating ill gotten wealth that seem to have no source other than through corruption!

Of course the big question is whether General Saleh’s conversion is real or imagined. What perturbed him as a revolutionary in 2003 cannot be simply brushed aside. In effect we must know whether the allegations against him were proved true or false by a relevant organ of Government! May be not- because after resignation, I think the public got contented and pardoned him! That is why in the global fund and other grand corruption scandals ‘dropping’ one from cabinet seems enough punishment and sometimes ‘paying back’(refunding) part of the stolen money is acceptable- and life goes on!

In repentance, one confesses the crime and pays back through legal means (restitution). Other than what he himself stated above and in the press, his involvement in other business is suspect and he needs to clearly state his sources of income. For example he was involved in shoddy deals like setting up of micro-finance projects in Luweero (though now he has just been a minister of the same), Privatisation of Uganda Grain Milling in Jinja, Divinity in Acholi and influence peddling in the tendering processes in the Ministry of Defense; Uganda Commercial Bank adnauseam.

He was pardoned in the junk helicopter scandal. In the history of anti corruption struggle no where is ‘pardon’ more pronounced than his involvement in the ‘junk helicopter’ scandal; where in July 1996 the Government took a decision to purchase four Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters from Belarus at a cost of US$1.5m each. In this corruption scandal of the last decade, Salim Saleh confessed to his elder brother the President (H.E Yoweri Museveni) of receiving US$800,000 (about Shs1.4 billion) commission and the president forgave him. Action against all officials involved in the deal including the leader of the main opposition Party (FDC) Rt. Col. Dr. Kiiza Besigye has now formed part of our history of scandals.

Some people have urged on the nomenclature of a word used by Gen Saleh-‘commission’. Shakespeare stated that ‘a rose by any other name smells good’ so is the ‘badness of corruption or theft’. A ‘bribe’ remains a ‘crime’ no matter what you name it-or even if you think it was a commission.

And by the way, what precisely happened to the $ 800,000? Did he receive it or not? Part of the story is that the President ‘advised him to give it to the army for special operations in the north’. Whether the advice was taken or not; will remain a mystery until when there is another inquiry/probe by an independent investigation specifically to take action. When? Your guess is as good as mine.

But for the sake of argument let me assume that it was taken for special operations. For such a financial transaction one would wish to know whether it was received as ‘revenue’ by the ministry of Defense or the military and when and whether it was expended in accordance with the law i.e. whether it was receipted and subsequently accounted for..

Of course one should not be ignorant of the fact that the commission of inquiry and the Cabinet’s Government White Paper recommended the prosecution of Salim Saleh along with the other persons involved in the this scandal. But in 2005, the Director Public Prosecution dropped all charges for ‘lack of any evidence linking Salim Saleh to the scandal’ instead Mr. Emma Katto the middleman was charged and we all know the results. The big question is whether the DPP would charge somebody ‘pardoned’ however much irregular that act is. Did I hear somebody mentioning ‘presidential discretion’ that pardons before a legal progression? Give me a break.

But in any way, one can say if General Saleh was pardoned by the President, or silently put off the hook by the DPP, how come we are all quiet as if there was no loss? Many Ugandans indeed give and forgive, while others get and forget! Times gone by have not really changed our thinking on corruption or have they? Saleh the revived revolutionary should publicly answer in order to redeem himself…

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