FARUK KIRUNDA: Even diverting a nail (omusumaali) is corruption

The interest that Ugandans have shown in the Karamoja iron sheets saga is a sign that they are fully behind the system in strengthening its defenses against acts of graft without compromise or fear of political reprisal from the masses. I have seen Ugandans very excited about these developments which reassure them that Government is serious about ridding the country of all parasitic tendencies, as President Yoweri Museveni often says.

Corruption scandals are a bitter pill to swallow for any Government but on the other hand, it’s necessary to be open and tough because it’s a self-cleansing process for societies. Although I don’t personally believe in the “big fish” syndrome, a system must be careful not to sacrifice the gains of the revolution for the comfort of a privileged few.

Ministers are well positioned individuals in which capacity they superintend over their dockets on behalf of His Excellency the President. Therefore, their actions must reflect the image and tendencies of the President. President Museveni’s stance on corruption and impropriety is well known; he is for a zero tolerance policy. Himself he is corrupt free and with age, he has complemented that with the dignity of a statesman and an elder. If from an early age his integrity was impeccable, what makes anyone think that as an elder he aims to lose his legacy?

Therefore, let it be known that the Museveni of today is so much wiser and more stringent about values that guarantee the future survival of society. His lieutenants; whether ministers, advisors, aides, commanders of security organs, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), managers of departments and agencies, and the like, should read into this with depth and clarity.

The message is strong enough and no one should hold a grudge against the Appointing Authority if caught in a trap!

Government is serious and the responsible organs can “bite” when provided with requisite grounds to act. At least, that has been seen in the mabaati affair; police, court and Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPPs) have proven worthy and relevant to the cause. Many a time, it’s state organs that disappoint the aims and objectives of the President and Ugandans at large when the occupants sleep on their jobs. With the right occupants, safeguards against all forms of irregularity are in fulltime operation.

Although members of the public tend to think that Government is asleep or nonchalant to corruption, the truth is that a lot is happening, sometimes out of public sight. It’s just that some cases attract more attention and public interest than others. The mabaati issue is one such that has ruled the media space and airwaves for over a month now. But it’s not that there are no other cases.

The Anti-Corruption Court is very active, as well other organs handling graft case at various stages. In fact, one of the reasons why it is thought that there is so much corruption in Uganda is due to the fact that there is so much exposure, even of unconcluded cases or plain allegations that are yet to be subjected to the due process of the law. We also know there have been convictions such as the one of former State Minister of Labour, Hon. Kabafunzaki in the Aya hotels controversy, that of the Obeys and Kunsas from Public Service, and more convicts now in jail. What is true is that all are equal before the law; the process is the same. Even better, the higher up one is in national hierarchy, the easier it is to hold such a person liable for their wrong actions because those positions are held in trust of the masses and the closer to the seat of power, the greater the test of integrity and loyalty to the ideals of the system.

The excuse of Government being unresponsive to corruption does not make sense because Government is the first victim of corruption; when thieves steal public resources, they frustrate service delivery which in turn makes governance difficult. The corrupt are enemies of Government, and not for Government!

Also, Corruption is not about stealing money only, or in billions. Diversion of material things, even in small quantities, is corruption. Even just a nail (omusumaali)! Cumulatively, if a person diverted a nail in one place and another did the same in another or diverted a few nails over time, if nothing is done about that “small act of corruption”, eventually a huge financial loss is occasioned on Government coffers. Don’t forget that a nail missing at a critical point or join on a structure can cause it to crumble!

So, while we point fingers at those caught taking billions or those carrying off heavy loads to their homes, we should care not to divert small things from public stores under the guise of them being of nominal value. If something is not allocated for your benefit, don’t touch it!

Government officials should also learn or remember to always requisition for anything through the appropriate channels. They should know where to go to lobby or requisition for support and within the law or their terms of employment; no taking shortcuts, exerting pressure or influencing processes. Because, if, for example, a Minister doesn’t know how to go about processes, how will the ordinary person fare? Corruption starts when individuals think of themselves smarter than the system or more entitled than others. However, that’s clearly at one’s own instant risk!

The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary

Contact: faruk.kirunda@statehouse.go.ug