Public Awareness: Parliament’s effective tool in the fight against Corruption
On 2nd August, the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises [COSASE] met, the main issue on the table was the Auditor General’s queries for the year ending 2014. It is in this meeting that it came to light that Hon. Margaret Muhanga was holding on to a title belonging to Uganda Broadcasting Corporation [UBC] because she “claimed” she had effected payment for the contested land with UGX 10B hard cash, transported in bags in a car. The money was from selling cows and goats, borrowing from friends and family. This is how #HowMuhangaGot10bn started trending on twitter and facebook social media platforms for close to a week and it’s one of those meetings that bore fruit as the title was handed to the chairperson of the committee.
From various analogies, this amount of money especially in Ugandan shillings would weigh a little over three 50kg bags of sugar that is if it was even in UGX 50,000 denominations. A little hard to believe, media houses carried the story. The probing coupled with the backlash from the public was overwhelming.
Like in Hon. Muhanga’s case, many accountability anomalies in Public Institutions reported by the Office of the Auditor General are a normal sight within the confines of Parliament especially for those who deal directly with the accountability committees. Beyond the thick walls, however, many Ugandans are oblivious of the intricacies pertaining to these queries. Maybe it’s because the public audit reports are produced in giant volumes that often scare the readers from scrutinizing beyond the executive summary or many are just disinterested as a result of exasperation from the way government businesses are run. Either way, the habit has worked and will continue working in favour of those who exploit the loopholes bedevilling many public institutions and this is where the public hearings exposing some of these cases come in handy.
Paying as much attention as we can to these issues opens one’s eyes to the rot one never fathomed would exist, from the Ugandan real estate being run by public civil servants to bizarre incidents where termites conveniently eat accountability documents. One of the advantages is that at the stage of public hearings, which many committees conduct, several cases are brought to light and when the public gets wind of it, several stakeholders are compelled to act like in the case of Muhanga, the title was produced within a week after several futile attempts by Ugandan courts . With the help of the media, such stories, reach far and wide, trickling down even to the grass roots and surpassing expectations. Most times, these cases have been exposed by banks, courts of law, the Inspector General of Government among others but the impact is five-fold when Parliament interests itself.
Narrowing the cases brought to light by Parliament to Muhanga and her 10 billion purchase would be prejudicial, others like the Pension scam in the Ministry of Public Service, the Temangalo scandal, the compensation of Basajjabalaba and the CHOGM probes. At this point, Government or whoever protects these individuals can no longer shield them from public scrutiny. This particular role does not remedy the actual problem but it sure suffices where all else has fallen short for instance when recommendations of Parliament are merely advisory, this peculiar role comes in handy.