Pub­lic Aware­ness: Par­lia­men­t’s ef­fec­tive tool in the fight against Cor­rup­tion

By: Winnie Watera

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 scan­dalthe 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.