It is a shame on the part of the people in the NRM camp who see Karuhanga and company as the enemies of the 'revolution', indeed they are the enemy of a thieving revolution disguised as delivering salvation to the people of Uganda whose resources are being looted every other day. I wish to tell those who see themselves comfortable in power that it is an illusion. What they take pride of can disappear in the tinkle of an eye. it is better for all of us to have some common sense. you can not assume that you are comfortable when surrounded by hungry people who see you as the one who takes their share. In such circumstances,common sense should prevail upton those who see the likes of Karuhanga is the enemies, ineed these are their salvation in Uganda circumstances.
William Kituuka Kiwanuka
KARUHANGA: GRAFT FIGHT IS A GENERATIONAL CAUSE
Mr Karuhanga talks to Daily Monitor in his office at Parliament during the interview last week.
Mr Karuhanga talks to Daily Monitor in his office at Parliament during the interview last week. Photo by Yusuf Muziransa
By Don Wanyama
Posted Tuesday, December 27 2011 at 00:00
From the moment Gerald Karuhanga, the Western Youth MP, tabled documents in Parliament accusing senior government ministers of taking bribes to influence award of oil deals in a stormy debate on October 11, his political star has been rising. But who is this new face of the anti-corruption fight and what drives him? Don Wanyama met the MP and reports.
Room 134 on the First Floor of Parliament has nothing spectacular about it. When I knock on the door, a beaming Karuhanga welcomes us. The office is plain. Two wooden tables struggle for space. Karuhanga takes a rocking black leather chair; I take one of the six visitors’ seats, whose maroon colour is in tandem with the thick carpet.
Most of his public appearances have been in suits but this time Mr Karuhanga is donned in a white and black-striped T-shirt, blue jeans pants and black canvas shoes. It lends him an even younger look than his 29 years.
“Where did these oil documents come from?” I shoot.
“I got these documents from concerned members of the public,” says the MP, clearing his throat. “They are people I have known for a long time. I trust them. When I got them, I shared them with the other MPs, who were involved in drafting the motion to recall the House for the oil debate. They formed the numerous literature we were assembling to make our case for the need to open up the happenings in the oil sector and push government into being transparent.”
He adds: “We were recalling the House from recess. This was not a joking matter. We treated every information we got carefully. At the end of the day we believed the authenticity of those documents. I believed in them and decided to table them. I have nothing personal against Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi or ministers Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek. We belong to different generations.”
A first-time MP, Mr Karuhanga seems to have already blended in well with the goings-on of an institution where politics, cutting deals and even back-stabbing is just as widespread as the numbers of the players. Is he not a pawn in a wider chess game of old political fights like that between Mr Theodore Ssekikubo and Mr Sam Kutesa?
“I am not a pawn in any game,” he asserts, his husky voice, with a fair Runyankole accent, going a notch higher. “The struggle we are involved in is higher than Ssekikubo and Kutesa. How then would you explain the fact that Mr Onek was also mentioned? Those pushing this line are being diversionary.”
Digging the oil curse
Leaning in his chair, the MP takes a deep breath before he adds: “We have seen oil turn into a curse in many countries. Look at Nigeria, Venezuela or Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, a country blessed with 160 deposits of more than 2.7 billion tonnes of petroleum, politicians have messed up what was a promising sector. They have formed companies to manage the oil and most of the money before it even begins trickling in fully, is going to administration costs of these mafia-like cliques. We can’t just sit back and look on as Uganda slides down a similar path. No.
So, what is the exact problem with our oil sector? I ask.
“It is the secrecy with which things were being done. It is a pity that the documents on bribes have shrouded the other gains of this debate. For once, we saw the President assemble his technocrats and try to explain to the country what was happening as far as oil goes. We broke the silence and that alone was a big achievement. But we demand more transparency. Why, for example, has the Executive been reluctant to table Bills in Parliament to harmonise operations in the oil sector? Why is the President running the show without enabling laws?”
I have no answers, I tell him. My concern though, at just 29, with little political clout, is he not afraid of taking on time-tested politicians?
“I don’t feel any pressure of being the face of the corruption fight,” he answers quickly. “In fact, my fear is that I lack fear. Those who have known me in the past know how thick a skin I have. I might be below 30 but who else is better placed to rally the cause of this country’s majority if not one of their own? About 78 per cent of Ugandans are below 35 years.”
He goes on: “Should they not be more involved in the matters of running this country? Why should we abdicate our space to a small minority of the 60-year-olds and above who do not appreciate our concerns?”
How will graft be tamed?
When he says this, Mr Karuhanga seems possessed. It looks like he is opening a lid that has been closed for long. He will not listen to my next question as he continues: “It is these youth who suffer the pressure of bad governance. They are the ones who suffer unemployment. It is them who die while giving birth because of terrible health facilities. They won’t market their produce because roads are bad. What I am involved in is a generational cause. It is not about me as an individual. If it means paying the ultimate price, why not? Robert Sobukwe (an anti-apartheid activist who died while under house arrest when the apartheid regime denied him treatment) did it in South Africa.”
But away from sulking, I tell him, what can be done to check corruption, which now is a way of life? How do you stop what is increasingly becoming a culture?
“It needs an integrated approach,” he says, pulling a white handkerchief to blow his nose. “First, theft of public resources should be made risky. The corrupt must be punished. And this must be from top downwards. There is no way a commissioner won’t steal if he sees the permanent secretary stealing. Property gained out of theft must be confiscated.
“We must also push for a more transparent government. Like the civil societies pushed government into publishing money sent to districts every month, we must now demand that ministries make public all their expenditures. If we know Shs100 million was allocated for purchase of scan machine and we don’t see it in next six months, we shall make noise.”
The MP adds: “The civil society, academia and media can help too. Civil society agencies and academics have done immense research. The media has helped make public some of the findings and exposed corruption scandals. All these must be strengthened to do their work. Finally, we must be realistic. Corruption is a reflection of broken morals. The custodians of morals have a tough task ahead. The Church and schools, I can’t envy them.”
When I turn to inquire about his political foundation, about what shapes his thinking, Mr Karuhanga quickly quips, “The needy. Why should Ugandans and Africans wallow in poverty when we are endowed with a wealth of resources? If you gave Singapore just half the resources we have, trust me, it would be a super power. So, why are we not? When I reflect on this, I see every reason to speak for those I think are being cheated of what is duly theirs.”
He ends his spiel thus: “If people want to become billionaires, let them go into business but profiteering from taxpayers’ money and public resources is bad.”
So, “when he grows up”, whom does Karuhanga want to be like? “I admire former army commander Gen. Mugisha Muntu,” he tells me. “Gen. Muntu had all the chance to profiteer from that position he held for eight years. He never took even a coin. He has been tested and rose above the test. I also admire Leader of Opposition Nandala Mafabi. I think he was the first official to make this country pay attention to the fight against corruption while he headed PAC.”
No one in the NRM, I ask?
After a bout of laughter, he says: “It is difficult to find role models in the NRM. Maybe Ruhakana Rugunda and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Beyond that, it is a tough call. But outside Uganda, the selflessness of Nelson Mandela always leaves me awed. He is my hero.”