Should Public servants step down when on trial for graft?
“The Panama Leaks claim first victim,” read many international last week. This was in relation to the resignation of the Iceland Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, whose wife is implicated in what has now become one of the biggest stories of the year yet. This got me thinking, what happens in Uganda when a government official is mentioned or involved in serious graft scandals?
It is not news anymore that many members of Parliament in Uganda have been implicated in cases of graft. The most recent is Honorable Abraham Byandala accused by the Inspector General of Government of causing a loss of UGX 24.7 billion to the Government of Uganda during the upgrade of the Mukono-Katosi road. Mr. Byandala is the MP-elect for Katikamu North and also Minister without portfolio in Uganda’s 70-man cabinet. In the view of some, the Minister should have stepped down as investigations continued, while others echo and propose the fundamental human rights principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
As a Ugandan, I feel it is only fair, for any suspected or implicated government official in any alleged misconduct to step down as investigations in the matter are being carried out. The other available option indicative of ensuring justice is done without undue interference, is for the appointing authority, in this case, the President, Yoweri Museveni to relieve them of their ministerial duties until the case is fully determined. This would leave him as only a member of Parliament whose recourse lies with the electorate who have powers to recall their MP.
According to the Public Service Standing Orders, if a public servant is indicted, he or she should step pending completion of investigation and disposal of the matter. In the event that the Minister became disgruntled after the executive decision, he would seek redress from the courts of law as it provides for such cases.
However, in the case of Byandala, since he has already sought a plea bargain from the Inspector General of Government, he is in a way admitting to his guilt in the matter and it would not cost the government much in wrongful termination costs. A move like this would act as a warning to many other government officials that they are not above reproach.
In the wake of the trial, Mr. Byandala also resorted to violence when he assaulted a female journalist at the Anti-Corruption Court. For a man of his caliber, he should learn to restrain himself because violence has never solved anything, on the contrary, it makes things worse.
Mr. Byandala in this case is just an example, there have been many other cases of ranking officers who have been in similar predicaments and still go scot free even when they have been proven guilty. It should not be like that, because it only worsens the problem as other government officials, MPs and civil servants are sure they will not be reprimanded for their actions.
Graft, is an imminent threat to Uganda and unless it is curbed, it will continue to spiral out of control and cost taxpayers more than the trillions already lost. The government needs to investigate corruption tendencies in all its forms and make sure the culprits face justice. Government should also harness technology for example Integrated Financial Management Systems that are easy to monitor and consequently avert some cases like the attempt to steal $8million from Bank of Uganda.