Wednesday, December 23, 2009

UGANDA-CORRUPTION: Where ‘Kitu Kidogo’ is Cheaper than Facing the Law

Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi

KAMPALA, Dec 22 (IPS) - You are driving through the streets of
the Ugandan capital and suddenly a traffic police officer waves
you down. He immediately notices that the side-mirror on the
passenger’s side is missing. He threatens to give you a penalty
ticket that costs 50,000 shillings (25 dollars).

But because you understand ‘the policeman’s language’, you
automatically dig into your purse and discreetly squeeze a
10,000 shilling note (5 dollars) in to his palms. They call it
‘kitu kidogo’ a Swahili word for a bribe, literary meaning
‘something small.’

And that solves the problem. But an act of corruption has just
occurred; an act that has become a way of life in the East
African country where bribing a traffic policeman is cheaper than
facing the long arm of the law.

Corruption

Corruption in Uganda is the most serious unethical practice
undermining trust and confidence in most public institutions
including the police. Indeed, the third National Integrity Report
(NIS) 2008 produced by the Inspectorate of Government rated the
police as the most dishonest and most corrupt public institution
at 88.2 percent and 87.9 percent for general police and traffic
police respectively.

"The corruption scourge not only undermines good governance but
also retards the economic development of a given country," the
NIS report said.

According to the report, the most prevalent form of corruption
is bribery at 66 percent. The survey found that demands for and
payment of bribes were no longer secret in society and many
treated corruption as "a useful means of accessing services".

However, this is having a negative impact on service delivery,
the NIS report said. Respondents who sought services from
selected public institutions in a countrywide study were asked
what effect they thought corruption had on service delivery.

The results showed a consensus on what respondents said; that
corruption retards development, limits access to services,
worsens poverty, causes resentment of and loss of confidence in
government.

"When the police are perceived as corrupt, then you will have
very many incidences of mob justice and gender-based violence.
Administration of justice then turns to the citizens because they
think when they report a crime to the police, nothing is done,"
says Jasper Tumuhimbise, National Coordinator, Anti Corruption
Coalition of Uganda (ACCU), a local NGOs in Kampala.

Poor welfare

Poor welfare is the major cause of high levels of corruption
among police, analysts say. A Police constable here earns as
little as 200,000 shillings (100 dollars) a month. The police
also have inadequate and poor housing conditions.

Most police barracks built before independence in 1962 are now
too small, dilapidated and with broken sewerage systems. For
instance, Nsambya barracks, one of the largest, built to
accommodate 300 police officers now houses over 3,000 officers
and their families. This is because accommodation there is free
and the majority cannot afford to rent their own houses.

However, some officers have now turned to renting rooms outside
the barracks at their own cost. It is also not uncommon to find
a police officer constructing his own mud and wattle shelter and
toilet within the barracks premises during working hours. Over
two decades ago, government introduced ‘uniports’ (single-roomed
aluminium huts) to improve accommodations. However, often, two
families still share one uniport.

"This affects my concentration at work especially when I am out
on night duty," says 27 year-old Constable Albert Vuchiri*. "I
keep worrying over the safety of my wife because I have left her
in the same uniport with another man," he tells IPS.

Coincidentally, HIV/AIDS prevalence in the force is 10 percent
compared to the national figure of 6.4 percent, recent
statistics from the Commissioner of Medical Services in the
police reveals.

Besides, the police have no medical schemes. Many times,
officers have to meet their own medical expenses. Although there
are free state hospitals, patients usually have to buy their own
drugs as lack of supplies occur frequently.

Furthermore, police stations lack stationary, furniture and
even computers.

"Sometimes they (the police) even ask you to facilitate them to
serve you, including photocopying police report forms. And when
you do so, then you become a donor. Therefore, they will begin
judging the case depending on how much one has contributed. This
is compromising and a disaster," Tumuhimbise says.

Government responds

National Police Commissar and Assistant Inspector General of
Police Asan Kasingye acknowledges the situation, describing the
state of police welfare as "appalling".

"On one hand it (the accommodation facilities) is appalling and
on the other hand it (accommodation) is just not there. So
police officers use their meagre salary to pay for accommodation
yet it is government supposed to accommodate them," Kasingye
says.

Kasingye also agrees that poor welfare has affected service
delivery and exacerbated corruption levels.

"As long as police officers are not well enumerated, and they
have to meet their needs in terms of medical, food and
accommodation from the meagre salaries, they will be forced to
indulge in corrupt tendencies and these tendencies affect service
delivery 100 percent," Kasingye admits.

"It also affects attitude and motivation. It actually makes a
police officer perform as if he has been forced to do the job
and we all know what that means. A police officer is supposed to
have the right attitude to perform his job effectively because we
are supposed to be on duty 24 hours."

Interventions

However, government is putting efforts to improve police
welfare.

"Our welfare slate is not good. We could do much more and are
working on it…We have not got to even a quarter of where we want
to be (in terms of improved welfare). The welfare of the police
officers in Uganda is really bad," Kasingye says.

Interventions include the introduction of schemes – police
welfare shops geared at ameliorating the situation of household
incomes of the police officers. These welfare shops will provide
food stuffs and building materials at discount rates for only
police officers, he says.

"We have already secured two billion Uganda shillings (one
million dollars) from government and within next month, the
welfare shops will be opened at least within Kampala.

"There is also a cooperative Saving Scheme where officers can
save or borrow money at only one percent interest per month,"
Kasingye says.

CSO’s speak

"We are saying police are corrupt, but we as the community also
facilitate this corruption. Police is part of our society; a
society that says ‘okay, lets steal because nobody will punish
us’. Because we have not punished police and others, they have
become part of a process that promotes corruption rather than
good governance. There should also be community policing," ACCU’s
Tumuhimbise says.

Gerald Werikhe Wanzala, Team leader Africa Leadership
Institute, a local policy think tank and NGO in Kampala said
most CSO’s have been dwelling on issues like HIV/AIDS and
disasters and have ignored the fight against corruption. "People
at the grassroots lack information about corruption. They do not
know what corruption is and do not even know that they have the
responsibility of fighting corruption themselves."

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