Ugandans demand action over corruption

2012-11-16 19:10
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Kampala - Dressed in black, Betty Aguti clutches a bunch of roses that she says should be laid at the graves of the Ugandan public services being strangled by rampant corruption.

She was among several hundred activists who gathered this week under Kampala's beating tropical sun to launch a "week of mourning", to raise awareness about widespread graft in the country.

"All sectors have been swallowed up by corruption; education is nowhere, health is nowhere," said Aguti, a policy specialist at Catholic organisation Caritas.

"We want to show the government that we are fed up with it and that we will not stand it anymore as it is leading to the death of our country," Aguti said.

Uganda is no stranger to spectacular corruption scandals, but recent developments have particularly angered activists.

Corruption


Over the past month four major donors have suspended millions of dollars of aid to the prime minister's office.

They acted after it emerged that $13m intended for some of Uganda's poorest regions had ended up in officials' private bank accounts.

Britain, Denmark, Ireland and Norway halted the funds after a report last month by Uganda's auditor general showed that money intended to help develop areas left devastated by the war against the Lord's Resistance Army rebels had been stolen.

So far 12 officials have been suspended pending investigations but the most senior officials remain in place.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has resisted calls for him to take responsibility for the scandal that emerged from his office, and resign.

Despite repeated promises from Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to tackle graft, activists say that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Desperate

Richard Ssewankiryanga, executive director of Uganda's NGO forum, says some $800m of government funds have been reported stolen over the past decade - and he acknowledges that this is a conservative figure. Other observers put the amount stolen at many times that.

"We have had over 10 commissions and inquiries into different scandals but nothing has been done, so now we are saying that enough is enough and we must find a solution," Ssewankiryanga said.

Even if government officials have embezzled foreign aid, Ssewankiryanga says that donor nations should look to bypass corrupt institutions rather than simply stop aid completely.

"The donors should not just cut aid completely and so harm the people the money was intended for, but they should find alternative methods to avoid dealing with corrupt officials," he said.

The government however insists that it can be trusted with donor funds. It says it will repay the stolen money and is serious about cracking down on graft.

"In this case it is significant that the corruption was uncovered by the government's own auditor general because it shows that our institutions are starting to work," said government spokesperson Fred Opolot.

Difficult to stop


However analysts argue that the lavish use of government funds, nepotism and perceived corruption at the top levels of leadership effectively give a green light for officials to loot state coffers.

This week local media reported that at least $2.4m of government money was spent to add two luxury limousines to president Museveni's already impressive official convoy, which consists of some 20 vehicles.

"Actions speak louder than words and when top leaders are either part of corruption scandals or handle them with kid gloves then people lower down get the perception that it is okay," said Julius Kiiza, a political scientist at Kampala's Makerere University.

"Corruption exists to some extent in all governments, but in our country it has become totally entrenched in all sectors of government."

Activists agree that corruption is so widespread that many Ugandans have simply become inured to the situation but they still argue that the fight can be won.

"People are aware of the problem but they feel it cannot be solved and so have given up," Aguti, the civil society activist said. "Now all we hope is that we can reawaken them."

Read more on:    yoweri museveni  |  uganda  |  east africa
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