The Role and Experience of Civil Society in the
struggle against Corruption in Uganda
Statement by Civil Society presented to the Consultative Group Panel discussion on thCorruption, Kampala, 14 – 17 May 2001
Uganda Debt Network
th15 May 2001
The Role and Experience of Civil Society in the struggle
against Corruption in Uganda
Statement by Civil Society presented to the Consultative Group Panel discussion on thiCorruption, Kampala, 14 – 17 May 2001.
Corruption is not unique to Uganda. Indeed is now recognised as a serious and pervasive
international problem with diverse political, economic and social implications.
Corruption affects small as well as large business. It affects the rich as well as the poor. It affects small poor countries as well as rich countries. However, for the big business and
rich countries, the effect could be in gains to their economic well being. For the poor
people and poor countries, the effect is adversely negative leading to economic stagnation,
political instability, increased social inequality and marginalisation. Corruption affects
economic growth as it distorts the costs of business transaction thus making lessening
profits and making their services very expensive to the detriment of economic
development in poor countries.
Who perpetuates corruption?
Although this list is not exhaustive, it is observed that the following institutions and
groups of people perpetuate corruption:
a) Large international business corporations and their representatives who monopolise
and control world trade and are interested in making quick and large profits from their
investments irrespective of the effect their actions. They pay bribes to procure
contracts for the supply of goods and services.
b) Senior government officials and politicians who are in charge of decision making and
implementation of policies in their countries. They are for instance responsible for
contracting for loans and privatisation of public enterprises, procurements for goods
(e.g purchase of vehicles and equipment, uniforms, helicopters etc) and services
(police, judiciary, tax collectors, health workers etc). Thus they bend all the rules to
ensure that they serve their personal interests to the detriment of the economic and
social development of their countries. GREED is the epitome of their work. c) Donors and foreign governments who prefer to keep a closed eye even when they
know that senior officials in government are not capable of presenting proper
accountability for the money they spend. Foreign government have justified their
support for rogue governments (Marcos, Mobutu, Suharto) on flimsy excuses such as
fighting communism (today it is terrorism) even when they know such leaders are
siphoning off large chunks of borrowed resources to foreign capitals. d) The poor people in the poor countries who are victims of such greed for economic
power and unaccountable government officials who are compelled to pay a bribe for
the goods and services they receive. Corruption perpetuates their poverty and makes
them more vulnerable to the individual interests of greedy and poorly paid public
What has civil society done to fight corruption in Uganda?
Civil Society in Uganda has used a combination of approaches in the fight against
i. Public Education and sensitisation by Non-Government Organisations and other
Civil Institutions of the public. Organisations such as Uganda Debt Network are
presently carrying countrywide mobilisation of the people at the grassroots to
demand accountability from public officials and resist corruption at all levels.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), however, lack the necessary resources and
capacity to carry out extensive public education programmes on a sustained and
long term basis.
ii. Media Campaigns and information dissemination. Without the media in Uganda
corruption would not have been become a hot political issue in the recent
presidential elections. The proliferation of FM Radio stations has boosted the
campaign against corruption. However, radio stations have to be paid to carry out
public education campaigns thus hampering information dissemination.
Government decision to charge high license fees and taxes for community radios
e.g those broadcasting in the local languages, should be reviewed and abolished. iii. Increased research – Universities such as Nkozi and Makerere University have
established research centres or incorporated corruption studies in their teaching
iv. Civil Society Organisations have formed an Anti-Corruption Coalition (ACCU) to
organise jointly in the against corruption. Over 40 such organisations are
members of the coalition. Every year, ACCU organises an Anti-Corruption week
in October countrywide.
v. A Centre for Corporate Governance has been established to ensure ethical
behaviour for Corporations in their business dealings. vi. Civil Society Organisations have consistently campaigned for the improvement in
the delivery of social services. Although a lot of money is being spent annually in
areas such as health, education and others, these are also the same places where
service delivery is terribly poor. For instance UPE money is diverted without any
action taken against culprits, yet UPE is one of the most important pro-poor
programmes of the NRM government.
vii. Civil Society Organisations are involved in the Monitoring of the Poverty Action
Fund (PAF) through which the funds from debt relief and other donors are being
channelled to eradicate poverty. Grassroots structures, Poverty Action Monitoring
Committees (PAF/MCs) composed of local community people have been
established in over 15 districts in Uganda.
viii. Civil Society Organisations have also set up the budget Advocacy Initiative (BAI)
to ensure that budget allocation and expenditure are pro-poor.
ix. Civil Society Organisations are presently engaged with government to discuss
coordination between them for effectiveness in the fight against corruption.
The civil society and all other initiatives need moral, financial and material support from government, donors and other institutions to carry out their work. Universities need
money to carry out research and investigate the corruption scourge and its impact on
political systems, economic development and social inequality. This would in turn help
government review its accountability procedures and systems on a continuous basis.
Government Actions against corruption
On the basis of experience from our involvement in the fight against corruption, we want
to emphasise that corruption is an institutionalised problem. This is because government
officials involved in perpetuating corruption are senior officers who are also very
influential. It is to be noted that large-scale corruption has taken place in government
departments and the perpetrators have either been promoted or have been retired with
their full benefits without causing an investigation to establish the facts. This has tended to send a wrong signal that Government lacks the political will to punish corrupt officials. It is also noted that even where reports by Auditor General and Commissions of Inquiry
have implicated public officials, in most cases no action has been taken against them thus
making such institutions appear useless. In some cases they have been publicly vilified by
sections influential organs of government such as Members of Parliament when they try
to do their job.
a) Government should be commended for the action against senior Police Officers
resulting from the Justice Sebutinde Commission although it was delayed for over
one year. We await punishment for those who amassed wealth from misuse of office
and public resources.
b) The Government should also be commended for establishing a Judicial Commission
of Inquiry chaired by the Eminent Lady Justice Julia Ssebutinde into the supply of
junk helicopters in the Ministry of Defence. The commission’s findings should be
used on the one hand to establish the facts since we believe and know that this only
the tip of the iceberg. On the other hand, it should be used to develop open,
accountable and transparent systems for procurements not only in the Ministry of
Defence but in all government ministries and departments. There is no need to hide
behind classified information that is available on the Internet in the present era of the
c) The enactment of the Anti-Corruption Action Plan was welcomed by civil society
organisations and the media as a way forward. However, since then there does not
seem to be serious actions to implement it. If it is being implemented we do not have
evidence of this as most of the anti-corruption agencies such as CID do not share
information about their activities.
d) The Inspectorate of Government (IGG) has done a commendable job. However, it is
poorly resourced. It lacks the financial and human capacity to make an impact on
high level corruption involving senior government officials and politicians and while
collar corruption or internet and computer based corruption.
e) The Directorate of Ethics and Integrity was established to among other things “co-
ordinate anti-corruption agencies” headed by a Cabinet Minister. However, to avoid
political compromise, in future the directorate should not be headed by an elected
What needs to be done?
? Civil Society Organisations have demanded for the establishment of an Anti-
Corruption Tribunal headed by a competent person to deal quickly and decisively
with corruption cases, recover stolen money by attaching and selling properties of
culprits and putting the money back in the public coffers.
? The enactment of a Public Information Act (or Open Democracy Act as in South
Africa) by Parliament should be put on top of the policy agenda in the next
Parliament. This will enable the public and the media have access to vital and critical
information on critical areas such as public expenditure. It will also instil discipline
among the public officials who like to hide behind slogans such as “Top Secret” or
“Confidential” while they are engaged in mischief.
? Government should review the role of the anti-corruption agencies with a view to
strengthening them. Our concern is that there are too many and the central questions
is whether the multiplicity of institutions is a facilitator or a hindrance to the fight
against corruption. At the moment they are too many and poorly resourced to have
impact. For instance sections of the Police CID should be merged with Directorate of
Public Prosecutions (DPP) so as to hasten investigations. And the Inspectorate of
Government (IGG) should play its rightful role of inspection and enforcement of
government rules, procedures and regulations such as the leadership code and
government standing orders.
? The most perverse corruption is in the procurement of goods and services where
government looses billions of shillings every year. Rules for the behaviour of
International Corporations should be more stringent. An International Anti-
Corruption Tribunal should be established to deal with corruption across boarders
(The Global Forum on Corruption in the Hague at the end of May should be asked
to approve this resolution suggested by the petition Civil Society Organisations).
? The policy of decentralisation should be reviewed to ensure that only high calibre
personnel are employed in financial and administrative management positions at the
district level by guaranteeing their tenure of office and stopping local councils from
interfering in the recruitment of such persons.
? Donors, foreign government and international business corporations have more often
been accomplices to corruption in poor countries. They should equally adhere to good
practices of doing business. In addition they should help in the building of effective
accountability systems that are open and transparent in governments where they
operate through providing support for institutions such as the IGG and training of
high calibre personnel to investigate corruption.
Coordinator, Uganda Debt Network
i. The statement was developed with input from civil society organisations and grassroots people. Much of the information was derived from a questionnaire that was administered
for the purpose. Thanks to all those who responded to the questionnaire in time.