Is corruption the oil that runs the NRM or it is the party’s death pill?
The question on the minds of many people is how has the NRM government survived this long despite being one of the most corrupt governments the country has ever had. In many countries, a leader getting merely implicated in a minor case of abuse of office, often results into a resignation and prosecutions. In Uganda, Alas. Life simply continues as if nothing has happened.
The past couple of months have witnessed numerous scandals involving abuse of public funds by highest ranking politicians. From the Nagguru land saga, to NSSF abuse of workers money to the Karamoja Iron sheet ‘Mabati’ scandal, the government appears to be entangled in an intricate and inexplicable web of corruption that would ordinarily trigger its downfall.
But, neither have the implicated ministers had the shame to resign from their positions, nor has the appointing authority showed any sensitivity to fire them.
According to some media reports, President Yoweri Museveni while chairing a Cabinet meeting recently, demanded explanations from his ministers why they had helped themselves on items meant for poor people.
Minister Mary Gorreti Kitutu, in charge of Karamoja affairs, was probably briefed on the agenda items of the cabinet meeting, and hence skipped it.
The president reportedly kept asking other ministers, but is yet to disappoint anyone for the shameful act. But actions speak louder than rhetoric. It is the view of many people that the purported anger from the President is merely cosmetic but will not yield anything.
The level of insensitivity from the chief executive of the country has led to the conclusion that the President is incapable of firing the corrupt because they sustain him in power.
During a Twitter Spaces discussion on the subject that was held last Thursday March 9, 2023 and moderated by Robert Kabushenga, renowned human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo argued that the NRM leadership is incapable of taking action against its corrupt men and women because the money they steal helps to support the system.
Opiyo argued that the NRM leaders rely on ill-gotten funds crafted through dubious programmes to sustain a system of patronage that they survive on.
Opiyo argued that the government makes sure it manages public anger arising from public revelations of graft. Opiyo has previously cited the use of the military in suppressing public decent. He has also noted before that the government strategy of introducing repressive laws such as the Public Order Management Act, enable it to silence critics who would mobilize the population to demonstrate against the corrupt.
Apart from the more direct forms of suppressing public debate on corruption, analysts have pointed out that the government sometimes resorts to other diversionary tactics such as bringing bills in Parliament about a controvercial but different topic.
Opiyo’s view is shared by Forum for Democratic Change former President Dr. Kizza Besigye, who argued that Kitutu is merely a sacrificial lamb for deeper decay.
Besigye wrote on his twitter timeline that: “The Minister accused of giving goodies meant for Karamoja to her family, friends & constituents can’t be looked at in isolation! Patronage, using public money, is the system of Ug’s Junta! Mr. M7 is given money that’s more than that of 6 districts to donate as he pleases!!”
Besigye added: “Similarly, all elected & aspiring leaders must steal to build their own patronage system! That’s why stealing public money is a critical part of the system on which the Junta stands. Let’s stop dealing with symptoms- leave “Hon” Kitutu alone; uproot the evil system!”
NRM apologists such as Andrew Mwenda have come out to argue that when leaders distribute goods such as sugar, soap and meat to their electorates, they don’t have a corrupt intent but rather that they are addressing existential needs of the people. Mwenda’s argument is that ordinary people don’t care whether the money being used to buy the donated items is stolen or not. What they mind is to meet their most immediate needs.
There are others however who argue that the government cannot continue the plunder without consequences – the biggest of which is to fall out of favour with the people.
The Opposition have for example used the numerous corruption scandals to urge Uganda’s development partners (donors) to stop channeling the assistance through the consolidated fund, with the view that this would reduce chances of it being stolen, and instead put the money in projects run by NGOs and other non-governmental agencies.
A number of foreign governments have heeded this call and no longer put money into the government’s consolidated fund coffers. However, the government has used anti-money laundering provisions to cut off the funding and therefore, limit the amount of money that ordinary people can access.
While hosting a delegation of Danish Members of Parliament recently, the Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga asked Denmark to stop channeling its aid through the consolidated fund, but instead consider direct funding to the intended beneficiaries.
Mpuuga told the visiting Danes that: “Over the past 5 years, Denmark has given the regime close to UGX50 trillion to fund various initiatives intended to promote good governance, rule of law, protection of human rights, refugee response, climate change, etc. Unfortunately, due to endemic corruption, our people haven’t benefited from such interventions. I there4 advised Denmark to consider direct funding for community projects in education, health.”
Although the ruling government has so far turned its back on the people by ignoring their cries over corruption, people like Dr. Emilly Comfort Maractho, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media studies at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Mukono, argues that not all is lost.
She argued while appearing alongside Nicholas Opiyo in Kabushenga’s Spaces talkshow that successive corruption scandals have tarnished the image of the government to the effect that it has lost political support in successive elections. According to Maractho, therefore, increased vigilance and activism by the civil society and other members of the public against corruption could lead the government to capitulate under its own sins.
For Maractho, if this trend of massaging thieves is not checked, the possibility of the government failing is only a matter of time.