Graft: Ugandan officials may go unpunished

2010-11-19 14:12

Kampala - There is little hope of punishing Ugandan officials implicated in a $25m corruption scandal, opposition lawmakers said on Friday, after parliament exonerated a top presidential ally.

Ruling party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi was late on Thursday cleared by parliament of wrongdoing in connection with Uganda's hosting of the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) when millions of dollars went missing.

Mbabazi, widely considered Uganda's second most powerful politician after President Yoweri Museveni, was exonerated by a parliament dominated by ruling party lawmakers.

"Apparently we did six months of gruelling work for nothing," Charles Okello-Oduman, the opposition's budget expert, told AFP, referring to a bipartisan inquiry into CHOGM theft.

Inquiries by Uganda's auditor general and a parliamentary panel both found evidence that senior government officials were involved in massive financial misconduct while preparing for the summit.

Uganda's major donors demanded accountability for the CHOGM scandal after the parliamentary panel released its report, which named Mbabazi, Vice President Gilbert Bukenyan, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa and several other top officials.

In August, the World Bank, Britain and the European Commission decided to withhold 36 million dollars in aid to Uganda citing "insufficient action" on CHOGM and "a failure to address high-level corruption”.

Partisan outcome

In email sent to AFP this week, Kasper Dalsten at the World Bank's Kampala office, said Uganda had promised to take decisive action on CHOGM by the end of 2010, and outlined four specific promises, none of which have been satisfied.

Dalsten did not rule out further punishment in 2011.

Oduman argued that ruling party backbenchers could not afford to alienate their party's secretary general with a general election slated for February 18.

"Mbabzi determines whether you stand in elections, whether you win your primary. He is not an ordinary person," he said.

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the accusations against other senior officials next week, but Oduman predicted a similarly partisan outcome.

"These men will do anything to be able to say 'I have been exonerated by parliament,'" he said.