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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Preventing, Investigating, and Prosecuting Corruption

Today started like many of the other mornings on this trip with breakfast at the Markerere University Business School (MUBS) canteen with our Ugandan colleagues. After finishing breakfast, the class moved from the MUBS canteen to a building on campus for our second formal class discussion session while in Uganda. The discussion was led by Professors Glenn McKnight, Deb Bishop, and Jimmy Senteza from Drake University. These class discussions give the students from both Drake University and MUBS the opportunity to reflect and analyze our class experiences.

As a class, we discussed our experiences from the NARO Entebbe Botanical Gardens, Equator Shops, City Secondary School, and the Ugandan Securities Exchange. Professor McKnight helped to direct the discussion towards how these different experiences relate to sustainable development. At first visits to sites like the Botanical Gardens and the Equator shops may seem unrelated to sustainable development, but our discussion connected these two sites to the larger tourism industry in Uganda. Since tourism is such a significant sector of the Ugandan economy, these sites, and other tourist destinations, are important parts of the path towards a sustainable economy in Uganda.

A large part of this morning’s discussion was devoted to our experiences from our visit to City Secondary School. Since we spent a full day at this visit, we had a lot of information to cover in our discussion. The students from Drake and MUBS used this time to discuss the differences between the American education system and the Ugandan education system. Most of these differences are related to the disparity in educational resources (textbooks, facilities, teachers, etc.) available in each country. We also briefly discussed the practices of dating and relationships in both countries.

Finally, the discussion ended with a brief overview of the Ugandan Securities Exchange. The Ugandan Securities Exchange contributes to sustainable development by helping businesses raise capital. The professors left time after our discussion to allow the MUBS students to give the students from Drake a tour of the MUBS campus.

On my tour of the MUBS campus, I saw the library, the administration building, many lecture halls, and the women’s dormitory. The current library is cramped and overcrowded with stacks of books extending almost to the ceiling, but a new library building is under construction on the campus. The new library building will be massive. It is four stories tall with a huge dome roof. When this building opens, it will house the library, the reading room, and information technology services including computer labs.

The women’s dormitory was striking in its similarity to the student housing at Drake University. In the women’s dorm, four women share a room with two bunk beds, two closets, and two small desks. While the rooms in the women’s dormitory were slightly smaller than the rooms for first year students at Drake University, they would still be immediately recognizable to American university students — right down to the pictures of friends, families, and celebrities posted on the wall next to the beds.

We returned to the MUBS canteen to eat lunch before heading to downtown Kampala to visit the Inspectorate General of Government. The current Acting Inspector General of Government for Uganda, Mr. Raphael Baku, was out of the country and unable to meet with our group, so we met with Mr. Muzamil Abon, Director of Regional Offices and Follow Up for the Inspectorate of Government (IG).

Mr. Abon gave the class a 30 minute overview of the work that the IG does to combat corruption in Uganda. The IG was established by the NRM government in 1988 with a mandate to “eliminate corruption, promote and foster the rule of law and principles of natural justice in public offices and enforce the Leadership Code of Conduct.” Ultimately, the IG is charged with preventing, investigating, and prosecuting allegations of corruption at all levels of the Ugandan government.

In order to fulfill this mandate, the IG is given unique powers within the government. The IG has the power to investigate corruption, arrest suspects of corruption, prosecute corruption cases, issue orders (e.g. stop work on a project that has been affected by corruption), access and search any property (including safety deposit boxes), seizure of property, freeze bank accounts, and clarify the declarations of assets made by Members of Parliament and other government officials. The IG strives to maintain impartiality, so the agency is the only self-accounting body in the Ugandan government. This allows the IG to protect its budget from Members of Parliament who may attempt to seek revenge against the agency.

The IG’s attempts to end corruption in the Ugandan government are hindered by many challenges. The chief challenge facing the IG is an inadequate capacity to fight corruption. The IG lacks the human resources needed to investigate corruption; the number of people fighting corruption pales in comparison to the number of people engaged in corruption. Because the IG lacks sufficient human resources, their ability to investigate cases of corruption is limited.

The IG also needs better training for its personnel. With rapidly changing technology and a high burden of proof in the Ugandan court system, the current personnel at the IG are struggling to keep up. If the IG’s current employees are to remain effective, they must receive continual training.

Finally, the IG lacks the necessary technological resources to conduct modern investigative work. Mr. Abon explained that it is typically necessary to catch a public official in the act in order to prosecute a corruption case, but the IG currently lacks the technology to record these acts. While modern police forces around the world will record investigations with small, discrete recording devices, the IG is forced to use old tape recorders that are difficult to conceal from the people they are investigating.

(It is worth noting that President Museveni announced a $10.4 million dollar effort to increase the IG’s capacity for fighting corruption, but a high level of corruption persists. For more information, see The Daily Monitor.)

Corruption is a direct obstacle to sustainable development in an economy. Emerging economies rely on quality infrastructure to attract investment and business development, but corruption contributes towards failing and insufficient infrastructure. Mr. Abon explained that in Uganda corruption results in poorly constructed public houses, roads, and bridges. In some cases, corruption contributed to schools being constructed improperly which resulted in at least two cases of roofs collapsing on people.

Mr. Abon described two main causes of corruption in Uganda. The traditional cause of corruption was low salaries. Public employees who were struggling to provide for their families looked to corruption as a source of additional income. In an attempt to eliminate this cause of corruption, the government increased workers’ salaries, yet corruption continued. The new cause of corruption, Mr. Abon explained, is greed. Workers are paid well, but corruption persists because government officials want big houses and expensive clothes. Corruption is now used to support the lavish lifestyles of some government officials.

Many Drake students were surprised to find out that it is illegal to investigate a sitting President in Uganda. As children we grew up in the age of Monica Lewinsky and televised political scandals, so to hear that it is illegal to investigate a President seems insensible. Clearly leaders can falter, but in Uganda, the President is immune from the IG’s investigations.

While the IG has worked hard to reduce the amount of corruption in the Ugandan government, corruption is still widespread. According to information provided by the IG, over 80% of the Ugandan people viewed the Ugandan National Police Force as corrupt. And just this week, the IG arrested a Member of Parliament suspected of embezzling 20 million Ugandan Schillings.

“Corruption is an evil we can combat successfully,” Abon said. “We cannot afford to lose this fight. If we do, our country loses.” While corruption is still prevalent in Uganda, neighboring countries suggest that efforts to eliminate corruption can be successful. Rwanda recently reduced corruption and increased its rating from Transparency International, a nonprofit organization fighting against corruption around the world. Eliminating corruption is a necessary step towards sustainable development in Uganda, and the IG must be given the necessary resources to continue its fight against corruption.

After our visit to the IG, we stopped at a market near the Ugandan National Theater. We browsed through the shops, and some of us purchased gifts, clothing, and other handmade products.

Tonight we had dinner at Mexican restaurant which was an entirely new experience for our colleagues from MUBS. Throughout this trip, Drake students have been exposed to new Ugandan foods, but tonight, it was the students from MUBS who were given a new cultural experience. The MUBS students tried chips (known as biscuits in Uganda) and salsa, enchiladas, fajitas, chimichangas, and tacos. The MUBS students had mixed reviews of the Mexican food, but at least a few were ready to return to traditional Matoke after the meal.

Learning about corruption in the Ugandan government is an important part of understanding the process of facilitating sustainable development in the country. Until corruption is eliminated, efforts for sustainable development will be hindered. International aid will be embezzled, money for infrastructure improvements will be misspent, and businesspeople and consumers will continue to accept bribes as a way of doing business.

As Mr. Abon explained, if the corrupt win, Uganda loses.


  1. Great post! You did a great job of including everything we did during the day. I was surprised to find that the IG could not investigate the president. If they are not allowed to investigate him how are his actions being kept in check? I think that in order to obtain sustainable development Uganda will need to change this loophole.

    I was not expecting corruption to be this prevalent in Uganda. After talking to some MUBS students they told me how even doctors and policemen take bribes. The corruption that we have in the U.S. appears very minimal in comparison. I keep thinking how challenging it would be for the IG to get this massive problem under control. I think getting corruption out of Uganda will be a big step towards sustainable development.

  2. Excellent post. I can’t believe Naomi and I are the only ones to comment on the IG visit, so far. Visiting with Mr. Abon and his staff was a hugely eye-opening experience for me, as I’m sure it was for all of the other Drake students.

    As Naomi has mentioned, I was both surprised and somewhat upset to learn that the IG cannot investigate a sitting president on charges of corruption. This becomes especially problematic when we acknowledge that the IG was established under the president’s office in 1986 when the National Resistance Movement and President Museveni came to power. Isn’t it convenient that Museveni’s administration established the IG to prevent and investigate corruption, but the person in the highest position in this Third World country (therefore possessing the most power) cannot be investigated?

    When we compare Museveni’s 25 years in power over a corruption-riddled nation to corruption and scandals involving presidents within the past 25 years in checks-and-balances-maintained governments like the United States’ and the United Kingdoms’, we can infer without almost any doubt that some form of corruption has taken place directly involving his office.

    In my opinion, to have a truly corruption-free administration, the IG must not be influenced by the Office of the President and must be able to investigate ALL claims of corruption within ALL government offices.