Jail is a heartbeat away as new law makes hiring a relative a crime.
By Angelo Ezama Daily Monitor
In President Yoweri Museveni’s cabinet sits his wife Janet - and previously his brother Gen. Salim Saleh, who has held various jobs in government including drawing a salary today as a Presidential Advisor.
On August 25, Mr Museveni signed into law “The Anti Corruption Act”. This law would have made it criminal for him to hire or influence the hire of someone he knows or is related to.
The Act has made nepotism a criminal offence meaning one can go to jail if found guilty, but includes a raft of other actionable offences which if enforced would narrow the noose around the throats of many public officers and private individuals.
But even if it has been law for close to three months not many Ugandans seem aware of its existence or are aware of its far reaching implications.
Nepotism - like the act of giving a relative a job -- if proven fetches a jail term of up to 10 years under the new law; conflict of interest which is now a criminal offence up to 12 years.
If for example, former Minister of Finance Dr Ezra Suruma and Security Minister and Secretary General had been found guilty of conflict of interest and influence peddling in the Shs11 billion NSSF-Temangalo land purchase scandal (as indeed a minority House report found) the maximum sentence of close to 40 years between them for the two counts was within contemplation. Luckily for the two, the matter was politically managed in their favour and again under Uganda’s legal system laws cannot be enforced retrospectively.
That said, critics of Uganda’s many anti-corruption laws and graft busting institutions however like to point out that as the talk of fighting corruption grows louder so does the number of fresh, even more scandalous examples of daylight robbery of the public purse occur.
“There’s no political will. You can have great laws and institutions but things won’t change” said Miria Matembe, who was the first minister of Ethics and Integrity (1998-2003). Ms Matembe who is credited for among other things pushing for the enactment of the Leadership Code Act says like many other laws that law is unenforced. She was later booted for opposing a third term for President Yoweri Museveni.
She also says she will reveal in a planned book how her anti-corruption crusade was unpopular in Mr Museveni’s cabinet.
But if the answer to corruption is not new laws and institutions, then what is it? That’s the question.
Often in the eye of the storm is President Yoweri Museveni, who must face up to the unpleasant reality that it is on his watch that theft of public finances and abuse of office has reached shockingly unprecedented levels.
In 2003, he defended his decision to send his daughter too Germany to deliver his grandchild in the Presidential jet. His political opponents say he has no qualms about handing out envelops (allegedly to buy political support) when he tours the country or weighing in to favour political and business allies – like the bailing out of NRM operator and tycoon Hassan Basajjabalaba with taxpayers money. Mr Basajjabalaba who reportedly buys the President’s beef and skins - has on a few occasions been rescued from the brink of financial ruin on the orders of the President to the Central Bank Governor Tumusiime Mutebile. In one such incident, the Central Bank released Shs20 billion in taxpayers money to the businessman.
Speaking to Sunday Monitor last week, Ms Matembe said when she pushed the President to have his brother, Gen. Saleh, disciplined for a string of alleged misdeeds he reportedly retorted in a private conversation “do you want me to kill my brother?”
To understand the extent to which the rot has eaten into the fabric of public finances, at least one government report says corruption in public procurement every year results in the loss of $300 million (Shs500 billion) or 20% of all such transactions. Today, Uganda is ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world slipping from 111 in 2008 to 126 in 2009 out of 180 countries surveyed by the global anti-graft watchdog, Transparency International.
A 2004 World Bank report which described Uganda as a “neo-patrimonial” state cynically said the Auditor General’s reports on government business read like a case of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”.
The report’s conclusion was that corruption is a driving force of politics in Uganda and key to the power that Mr Museveni exercises. Signing this law into force potentially presents a calculated political risk, one would argue.
“Luckily the law does not work retrospectively,” said Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, who is also an executive member in the ruling NRM party’s parliamentary caucus.
Asked how such a law was ever signed off by the President, who it must be said has made several public promises to stamp out corruption, Mr Bahati said: “No one is above the law. Now we will all have to be careful when we write chits [to help relatives and friends]”.
He may as well have indicated that Mr Museveni is protected by the screen of presidential immunity from prosecution while in office.
Writing chits to friends or business acquaintances to accommodate relatives is a notorious Ugandan tendency. It’s referred to as ‘technical know who’ as opposed to ‘know-how’ a parlance that denotes the practice that merit will not help advance someone’s prospects in public office.
“If strictly enforced this law takes corruption beyond the public official and includes the private sector. It also allows the State many resources to recover,” said Jasper Tumuhimbise of the Anti-Corruption Coalition.
Mr Tumuhimbise’s group has been pushing for aggressive action to be taken in the case of suspended National Forestry Authority boss, Damien Akakwansa. Mr Tumuhimbise observed that the anti-corruption law provides good ground to commence proceedings against the forestry man.
Indeed, the Act is potentially the most aggressive piece of anti-graft legislation ever passed into law in Uganda. On top of its very broad definition of corruption, the new law makes criminal offences of things that Ugandans have over the years come to take as being normal and legal. It also replaces some offences under the Penal Code Act - the main statutory body of criminal offences and their penalties.
This includes influence peddling, sectarianism, and conflict of interest.
From now on, any public official who does something to benefit anyone he or she knows and does not disclose this fact faces 12 years in jail on top of a fine in the region of Shs100 million.
For instance, under the anti-corruption law, personal interest is defined as the “interest of a spouse, child, dependant, agent or business associate “.
In the on-going furore over how NFA’s Mr Akankwasa came to be in the possession of Shs900 million for example several sections of the new law find flesh to bite.
Sections 30 and 31 make it an offence for someone to be in possession of money that they cannot satisfactorily account for and empower the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to investigate if there is “reasonable ground” that someone is living beyond their means or has money and property “disproportionate to his or her current or past known sources of income and assets”.
If they cannot account for the property they could go to jail for 10 years too. The new law also gives the IGG/DPP power to investigate bank accounts, share purchases and require the submission of documents of a suspect’s business for scrutiny.
According to a source in the IGG’s office all 40 ongoing cases against public officials are being recalled.
This is because the IGG wants to recharge suspects under the new law. “It’s not possible to proceed under a repealed law especially because a judge cannot impose a sentence based on an offence that ceased to exist once the law was removed and replaced,” said the source.
Last week, the country’s first IGG Augustine Ruzindana insisted that; “I do not think that the regime can enforce them. The offences are enforceable though but one must be strict and consistent.”
Mr Ruzindana, now an opposition politician, says the new law is a smokescreen thrown up for the donor community. “It is paying lip service,” he said when interviewed from Accra, Ghana, a country where the fight against corruption is well and truly underway.
This month two senior Ghanaian ministers resigned after allegations that they received bribes from a British contractor. The alleged bribe-taking took place in 1999 and 2001.
Unlike in Ghana however, Mr Museveni has several colleagues in his cabinet who under the present laws would have been facing considerable jail time.
Minister of Ethics Nsaba Buturo was asked to pay back Shs20 million to Gulu-based Mega FM he illegally “pocketed” for example.
Mr Elias Kisawuzi, the High Court registrar, says no cases have so far been prosecuted under the new law because “[they are still] are dealing with the old cases.”
But what does the future hold for those accused of corruption now that jail is but a heartbeat away?
News | October 25, 2009