Corruption? What Corruption? In Uganda Impunity Reigns Supreme

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Cissy Kagaba. Photo: The Daily Monitor (Uganda)

[Commentary]

In order to encourage a national debate on Uganda's problems and to explore solutions The Black Star News invites nationals to submit essays of reasonable length addressing the topic " Where Uganda is Today And The Changes We Need."

Impunity! That is the elephant in the room for Uganda.

A nation wallowing in the mud of impunity can only be sure of one thing. Zigzag growth and development. And that is just about where Uganda is.

We have let the claws of impunity grip every single system of our country. We have become an audience, looking on as its tentacles take the core of our citizenry hostage. We have turned what Sir Winston Churchill observed as the "Pearl of Africa" into "A Pearl of Impunity." And that is when we dug our own grave.

But behold, good news is that we can actually fill the grave and move forward as a nation. Only and only if, however, we solve the jig-saw puzzle that impunity is.

We are talking of senior government officials diverting millions of dollars of donor monies to personal accounts, withdrawing funds using personal credit cards -- monies meant to be delivered to hundreds of thousands of people who, for 20 years, suffered the brunt of war from biting poverty and agony.

Where do they take the money? To build lavish mansions; to gamble in top casinos in Las Vegas; and, to accounts in foreign banks. Do we know about this? Oh yes, this information is written on the wall of every Ugandan. What do we do? We glorify them as the "movers and shakers" of society; in church we give them standing ovations upon arrival and call them "sharp." That's Impunity for you!

It is in Uganda where we have a swarm of laws against corruption that are never applied. The country competes for the top most position on the Transparency International Rankings of most corrupt nations. Because of impunity the country's anti-corruption laws are applied selectively. The so-called “ big fish” are immune to these laws and in most cases protected under the guise of being “ whistleblowers”.

We pay thrice higher the average price of building a road in the morning. By afternoon the same road is developing cracks; in the evening this road is filled with potholes and causing untold road carnage through accidents.

What do we do? We don’t care! Yes, even when we know the thieves. We may arrest them, parade their faces in the media but that is where the "do it for formality" game ends and then we are back to point zero. Who wins? Impunity!

It is in Uganda where patients go to public hospitals and catch diseases rather than get medication. It is here where mortality rate is high because access to maternity care is a reserve for those who can fly their relatives out of the country for treatment; and yes, it is here where doctors use torches in operating theatres because there is just no money for hospitals to have sustained power.

Meanwhile, Global Fund monies from overseas, intended to save lives of malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV/Aids patients were stolen by government officials.

Millions of dollars was injected into investigating the crime against humanity. The thieves were identified and named. Oops! They walk free on our streets and we continue to elect them to office.

Impunity!

What word best describes this: We pay a member of parliament tens of thousands of dollars and all he does is sign the attendance register, walk out without official leave, attend to his business and smile all the way to the bank. Meanwhile he will return to the August House to vote on-- Bills that oppress us; to pass supplementary budgets for the presidency; and the only time he speaks is when he is pushing for an extra allowance.

There is a reason why we vote them back to Parliament or we don’t recall them. The word is Impunity!

As a nation, our sense of right and wrong has been surrendered to impunity.

The men of the cassock accept posh cars from the president as an unwritten contract to simply watch when and as the state commits wrongs against their flock. They look on, mute, as their own who stand up against evils such as corruption are victimized and thrown into jail. They continue to preach the "good news" unto their people and go to bed with their oppressors. In the end, there is no one to say "this is wrong" and to hold others accountable.

If the media and civil society does, their voices will be suppressed, thanks to the big bull in the crowd.

By and large, for Uganda to transition, in all facets of life, we must strip ourselves of impunity. It is then that we shall feel ashamed as a nation that we lose over $200 million annually to corruption. Money that can help with many projects and go towards the $6 billion external debt.

It is only after our leaders are cured of impunity that they shall recognize that they are in office to foster better social service delivery, to care about the shame of our children having to study under trees instead of classrooms, and to be touched by mothers and babies dying day after day because of our squalid health care system.

We want a country where we put Uganda and Ugandans above self, family and ethnicity.

The very first article of our constitution vests power in us and it is that power which we must invoke to contribute to the making of the Uganda we desire for our generation and posterity.

 

Cissy Kagaba is Executive Director, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda

 

Feel free to submit to milton@blackstarnews.com your own commentary, accompanied with a high resolution headshot photo, if you're interested in contributing to this debate.

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