African Press International (API)

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Uganda: Corruption responsible for poor infrastructure (commentary)

Posted by African Press International on May 24, 2008

Publisher: Korir, africanpress@getmail.no source.Monitor (Uganda) Mbatau wa Ngai

Kampala (Uganda) – It is inexplicable for the government to say it doesn?t have money to fund vital public services in sanitation, water and health while sitting on its hands when it comes to prosecuting corrupt cases.

Reports from the World Bank that the country has been losing about Shs510 billion every year since 2005 to corruption are particularly distressing. That may explain why Ugandans empathize with Mr Niels Hjordal, the head of Programmes at Danida who criticised the government earlier in the week. The diplomat accused the government of adopting go-slow policies in its fight against corruption.

Mr Hjordal said corruption was still rampant in Uganda despite a wide-range of laws, regulations and institutions to fight it. The Ugandan experience demonstrates that whereas anti-corruption laws, regulations and institutions are important they are no substitute for action. This means the country?s top leadership must walk the talk of waging war against corruption if it is to be won. Failure to do so does not only lead to loss of huge public finances and the provision of second-rate public services but it also slows down private investment.

Worse, the youth learn that the road to wealth, leisure and conspicuous consumption is through corrupt practices making a mockery of hard work and honesty. The result is that few Ugandans, or even fewer foreigners, are ready to tie their money in long-term investments. Corruption also undermines the rule of law leading to even grater doubts about the future. The national motto then easily becomes ?come, let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.? This leads to the kind of reckless behaviour that is becoming all too common.

Worse, corruption also leads to the glorification of consumption over production. It is not uncommon to hear of foreign investors who change their mind after staying a few days in Kampala and instead of investing in industry they invest in casinos and in the imports of luxury goods. No country can develop by following such lop-sided policies. And no amount of talk about prosperity for all will make it happen without sustained savings and medium-to-long-term investments both in agriculture and industry. The hope is that the top leadership will see the danger of failing to rein in corruption before it is too late.

The leadership should understand that it is in its own best interest to lead the war against corruption by example and from the front. At the very minimum that should mean that any of their members found with sticky fingers is cut off from the rest and is prosecuted speedily. That ensures that the majority don?t become guilty of the vice by association. Our neighbours to the south, Tanzania, are showing a welcome determination to deal with the vice that has robbed them of development since independence. Let it be hoped that the local high command will follow suit.

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