Govt Gurus Have Stolen Shs 1.4 Trillion Since 1997
Mubatsi Asinja Habati
28 December 2010
Corruption continues to keep Uganda in the news. Two weeks ago, the Anticorruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) published a list of big corruption scandals in the country since 1997 which have never been concluded or where the accused have never been held to account. The list drawn from media reports puts the total money swindled from public coffers at a staggering Shs1.4 trillion which is a quarter of Uganda's annual budget.
In the ongoing presidential campaigns across the country, each candidate is vowing to eliminate corruption. The ACCU Executive Director, Cissy Kagaba, urges Ugandans to vote out corrupt leaders and those who purport to fight corruption but do little or nothing about it.
Quantifying the services that Ugandans would have enjoyed if the money had not been stolen, Kagaba said that at Shs 15000 of a dose of Coartem for malaria, the stolen Shs 1.4 trillion would buy 94,189,650 doses of the drug. This would drastically reduce the drug shortages in public hospitals and reduce malaria related deaths that stand at 320 every day in Uganda.
If this money was used to pay primary school teachers it would pay 6,422,021 teachers at Shs 220,000 salary per month. Given that there are 124,630 teachers employed by the government, the Shs1.4 trillion would have paid salaries of all government teachers for four years.
An evaluation report by the Joint Assessment Framework which brings together the government of Uganda and some budget support partners valued the cost of building a classroom under the Universal Primary Education at Shs14 million. Therefore the stolen money since 1997 would have constructed 100,917 classrooms saving children from studying under trees and grass-thatched classrooms.
The same amount of money would have constructed 94,189 boreholes at Shs15 million per borehole thereby saving 44% of rural Ugandans, who have no access to clean and safe water, from water borne diseases.
The ACCU shows that the money stolen by corrupt officials since 1997 is higher by Shs100m than that of Ministry of Works and Transport, the ministry with the biggest budgetary allocation in the national budget.
The 2005 Global Fund mismanagement scandal is top with the biggest money lost. It's followed by the November 2007 CHOGM scandal. The ACCU says Shs660 billion was mismanaged in the Global Fund project which was meant to fight Malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB while Shs247 billion was stolen from the Shs500 billion budgeted for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The ACCU also cites the 1998 purchase of four junk M1-24 military helicopters by the Ministry of Defence where the country lost Shs11 billion.
In 1998 businessman Emma Kato and Gen. Salim Saleh, President Museveni's brother, were at the centre of the deal. Saleh facilitated the execution of the deal and received $800,000 off the transaction. A commission of inquiry into the purchase of the helicopters held that Saleh's US$800,000 amounted to a bribe. Museveni later said that Saleh had confessed to him that he had been offered a bribe in the purchase of the helicopters but that the president had advised him to use the money for the military operations against the LRA rebels in the north. The choppers had been bought to end the LRA insurgency. But upon discovering that the helicopters were not airworthy, the air force refused to fly them.
The commission's Chairperson Justice Julia Sebutinde recommended that Saleh, Kato and their associates in the scandal be prosecuted. But the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to charge Saleh. He charged Kato and brought Saleh as a state witness in the trial. Saleh's testified in favour of Kato and the latter was acquitted.
The ACCU observes that former minister of health Jim Muhwezi and his former junior health ministers Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha and State House aide Alice Kaboyo were briefly sent to jail over the mismanagement of the Global Fund money, but were released on bail. Their case has never been concluded in court since 2005. Other ministers Amama Mbabazi and Fred Omach were implicated in the Shs247 billion CHOGM scandal but were later exonerated by parliament on dubious grounds.
Parliament's action killed the morale to debate the Public Accounts Committee's report on abuse of CHOGM funds.
The staggering amount has been stolen despite several institutions appointed to fight corruption such as the Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Buturo, Inspector General of Government Raphael Baku, Anti-Corruption Court, Police and parliament among others.
This month the Dutch Ambassador to Uganda Jeroen Verheul announced that his country would cut its aid to Uganda by Shs10 billion due to the government's failure to punish officials implicated by the CHOGM report.
Last month the British also withheld Shs 27 billion in direct aid over the same reasons. Donors contribute 33% of Uganda's Shs7.3 trillion budget this financial year
Transparency International has consistently ranked Uganda among the most corrupt countries in the world, a few places to top the table. The 2010 Global Corruption Barometer findings indicate that corruption in Uganda has increased over the last three years with one in four people having paid a bribe. According to this year's report people think that political parties are the most corrupt institutions followed by the police.
ACCU warns that in the next three or more years, taxpayers will have no option but to finance Uganda's debt of Shs89 billion for the additional funding to CHOGM.
Hosting CHOGM had initially been estimated to cost Shs270 billion but due to corruption, the amount shot to Shs500 billion.
Building on the theme 'Do not let Electoral Corruption Kill Democracy and Development' Kagaba urges voters: "Vote leaders who are neither corrupt nor condone and sympathise with the corrupt."