Should Pub­lic ser­vants step down when on trial for graft?

By: Winnie Watera

“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.