Faruk Kirunda; what President Museveni’s letter on mabaati means

President Yoweri Museveni’s April 3, 2023, letter to the Prime Minister on the way forward on individuals named in the diversion of iron sheets meant for Karamoja should be taken in good faith and in the broader context. For those who needed more evidence of the Big Man’s seriousness with corruption, this is just the beginning.
But, first, let us all thank the President for being the frontline commander in the war on corruption. The mistake many people make is to think or claim that corruption exists in Uganda because of the President-either failing to tame it or condoning it.

In my well informed view, corruption exists in Uganda because the corrupt, naturally, like all criminals and sinners are unserious people who think they can always get their way. Without President Museveni’s strong leadership, corruption would be “legal and cultural.” Those who delude themselves that in Uganda it’s all talk and no action can now understand that there is no joke, no “big fish” when it comes to accounting for one’s crimes.

Looking at the President’s letter to Rt. Hon. Nabbanja, any wise person can tell that no effort will be spared to rid Uganda of corruption, through legal, and political channels. In the letter, the President categorised the individuals implicated, giving “political guidance”, according to the circumstances in which one found themselves in possession of the “Government property.” For those who got them “unconsciously”-that is, without knowing the source, he directed that they “return the iron sheets, if they are still available, or personally reimburse the value of the iron sheets they took.” Even in a stern state, the President was still magnanimous and offered a form of amnesty- without compromising the due process.

For those who were consciously involved in the diversion of the iron sheets “must take personal responsibility, pay back the value of the mabaati they diverted and I will decide on the political action to punish [them for] this mistake.”

Within the categorization of the “unconscious” and “conscious”, there are those who used the iron sheets for personal projects and those who used them for public projects such as schools. For both, the Head-Of-State had no kind words, terming their actions as “theft” and “political corruption”, respectively.
The public court has already passed judgment, which, hopefully, will be based on the collective perception that we must all engage in the fight against graft by being informed and supporting organs charged with the task of “processing” culprits.

The freedom to speak freely about these things is one of the guarantees that the President has established in this country, on top of marking out corruption in his bush time Ten Point Programme at Number 7: “Eliminating corruption and misuse of power.” The President has kept that promise, making corruption as risky as possible by establishing an array of anti-vice agencies such as the Inspectorate of Government, Anti-Corruption Unit under State House, co-opting the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), boosting the capacity of CID and detailing Resident District/City Commissioners (RD/CCs) to make weeding out corruption a priority in their deployment.
I have attended so many meetings, seen so many documents, briefs and correspondences but there are few concerns above his loathing for corruption, and enjoining all those he addresses to do their part. Indeed, most Ugandans are good; many workers are clean but the few dirty ones steal too much at the expense of the most vulnerable. That’s what makes corruption particularly nasty; the corrupt deny those who most need uplifting an opportunity for service and benefit. The corrupt are usually “white collar haves” taking advantage of their connections to sideline the neediest. That is why such greedy actors, when convicted, deserve little mercy or dignity other than serving as an example to others.

There are sufficient laws to see to that; if they are not stringent enough, necessary amendments should be proposed and effected. What is for sure is that there is no room for corruption in Uganda and time for “mere talk” is over!

The biggest mistake in this whole iron sheet saga is the crime of diversion of government resources from the intended purpose. This act is very dangerous because it has adverse effects on overall service delivery and Government performance. Government is chronically short of resources to satisfy all the needs of Ugandans. By the time an item gets budget consideration, it’s of significant necessity, and when such allocation is diverted, it means that the system is trapped in inertia. Projects are delayed or killed, while in other instances as in the case of Karamoja and its security challenges, people’s lives are put at risk.

Therefore, other public servants and political leaders should take a lesson from this saga and know that diversion of resources under their management is a very serious crime that cannot be tolerated.
Much of the corruption manifests in the districts, all the way down to the Sub-Counties and Parishes, and thrives with the collusion of technocrats and leaders with no shame to accord themselves powers to appropriate for themselves and their cronies resources meant to benefit the ordinary person. Be warned that the President is coming for you! If “big fish” is not spared, who are you mukene?

The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary
Contact: faruk.kirunda@statehouse.go.ug