NAKALEMA: I HAVE DEMYSTIFIED BIG FISH SYNDROME IN UGANDA’ WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION
By Mulengera Reporters
Afande Edith Nakalema on Monday morning appeared on NBS TV’s Morning Breeze program to articulate her report card for the last 2 years she has been at the helm of the anti-corruption war in Uganda while operating under the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU).
Saying it was her duty as a people’s servant to account to the citizens what she has so far achieved in the last 24 months (her Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) operations began on 2nd December 2018), Nakalema revealed that 247 big-name public officials had been reported to her ACU and investigated. 24 of these have already been convicted and sentenced through courts of law.
She says one of the biggest accomplishments ACU has registered is demystifying the big fish syndrome by going after the corrupt regardless of who they are. That even those who used to be feared to be big fish and too powerful to be blocked have been tackled. Asked for examples of the big fish she has tackled, Nakalema revealed that for the Shs24.6bn she has recovered so far she has had to go after Permanent Secretaries, CEOs and MDs of statutory bodies including at PostBank Uganda whose MD and other top managers lost their jobs after she moved in and unearthed impropriety. She claimed that as a result of her intervention, the situation at PBU had gotten better to the extent that annual profitability of the bank has since grown from mere Shs3.3bn to the current Shs8.52bn.
In the CEO/MD category, Nakalema asserted that 8 big fish had fallen because of corruption practices. She refused to disclose names claiming the matter is already before court.
To further illustrate the big fish she has tackled, Nakalema added that a total of 14 CAOs and Town Clerks are out of office while facing prosecution after she unearthed rot at the entities they were accounting officers for. That several Chief Finance Officers for Local Governments are equally out of job at her instigation. She said four directors of statutory bodies too are out of the job after ACU unmasked them as corrupt. She also referred to Bank of Uganda whose Director Currency Affairs is undergoing prosecution at the instigation of ACU just like several branch managers.
She said there is potential to do more unmasking more big-fish corruption except that Ugandans are good at talking generally claiming existence of corruption in certain entities but they are never prepared to step forward when required to (in confidence) adduce the hard evidence leading to the tackling of such curplits. But to her, “corruption is corruption and must be fought as such regardless of whether the perpetrator is big or small fish.” Nakalema says she has been able to proceed with her work without fearing anyone not because she has a lot of operational funds (actually has no budget) but largely because of the backing and guidance of the President who she freely accesses.
Humbling herself and agreeing to closely work under the technical guidance of the legally mandated anti-corruption agencies like DPP, IGG, PPDA and the OAG is another factor leading to the Nakalema success. She denied being at loggerheads with any of the agency heads, a fact she later demonstrated in the afternoon by addressing a joint press conference with them reflecting on the work of the last 2 years.
She revealed that some of the cases are referred or passed on to the IGG. Nakalema also says without the DPP efforts and Uganda Police Force, there is no way 24 cases would have ended in criminal conviction and sentencing out of the 247 cases investigated so far. She revealed that behind her is a solid team of seasoned lawyers and police detectives who do all the donkey work as she concentrates on supervising and coordinating with sister agencies. She revealed that 185 public office holders have been interdicted as a result of graft being unearthed by ACU closely working with citizens volunteering information as whistle blowers.
Nakalema says the cases her Unit has investigated for the last 24 months represent subject matter worth Shs565bn of which so little (just Shs24bn) has so far been recovered largely because prosecution of cases hasn’t moved as fast as she desires to see because the judiciary is severely constrained. She disclosed the breakdown of the Shs24bn that has been recovered thus far through ACU efforts. Shs8.650bn saved as a result of the inflated procurements at the OPM being detected early and stopped. Nakalema says this related to the procurement of COVID19 relief food for the people of Kampala and Wakiso during the March lock down at the dawn of the Coronavirus pandemic.
She says some of the money relates to what was saved at PBU as a result of her intervention. That the officials concerned with Bukasa Inland Port Project had plotted to con GoU of up to Shs3.6bn through inflated Project Affected Persons compensation claims. ACU got the information and moved in; instantly saving Shs3.6bn the GoU would have lost. There is also another Shs700m saved off the fraud that involved URA officials and another Shs120m that was recovered from the thieving Local Government leaders in Jinja resulting into the CAO and Finance Officer getting exposed. Off these two recoveries, Nakalema says, Shs820m was rescued and passed on to the PSST Keith Muhakanizi.
Nakalema also claims credit for the 500 hundred Ugandan girls working as maids in Arab countries whose rescue and repatriation back home she coordinated upon being petitioned. 6 dead bodies of the girls in Arab countries too were returned under the coordination of ACU to the extreme relief of their families and relatives who had given up ever getting chance to accord the decent burial. Yet that isn’t all. Shs1bn was refunded by labor export firms back to poor jobless youths from whom it had been extorted. She vividly remembers how more than Shs700m related to Middle East labor export firm whose directors have since been put on criminal trial for human trafficking-related offences. She was attacked viciously by influential media people like Tamale Mirundi over this Middle East saga but Nakalema stood her ground and says she doesn’t regret anything.
She also says there are indicators the public appreciates what ACU has accomplished and that public confidence can only grow because “we are here to stay.” Nakalema also says the fact that their call center operates 24/7 and Ugandans call in ceaselessly to report corruption is indicative the public has confidence in ACU. To her credit, Nakalema ensured the information officers recruited to man the call center are representative of all the languages that can be potentially spoken in Uganda. This means one doesn’t have to know English or any of Uganda’s widely spoken languages to be able to effectively report corruption to ACU.
Afande Nakalema says Ugandans have got so much confidence in her they even report purely civil matters relating to land disputes, a few of which she has intervened into resulting into instant solutions for the hitherto voiceless Ugandans. Examples include Siisa in Wakiso’s Busiro County where a group of Kiwaani royals were on the verge of evicting an entire village. She called meetings during which the Land Ministry officials illustrated the so-called royals and their lawyers were parading a fake claim. She says villagers are now living in peace with their titled land. Similar land-related interventions were made in Kyangwali in Hoima and Mpigi where the land-related interests of the poor were prioritized.
Through baraza foras, which were abandoned because of COVID19, Nakalema was also able to spearhead mediation sessions leading to conflicts getting resolved and deescalated without reference to court system. In Amolatar, community members/women were up in arms against a powerful actor who had hijacked five maize mills and other projects supposed to be jointly owned under their SACCO. He had totally excluded them and they didn’t have a remedy (being too poor to hire a lawyer) until Nakalema intervened forcing justice to be done.
Nakalema is also not ashamed bragging about being the actor who managed to obliterate tycoon Abid Alam who had proved untouchable to the total detriment of many poor community members in Kasanda and other parts of Mubende and Kiboga. She moved in, got him apprehended and he continues to be prosecuted over land-related grievances and community violence his men meted out on the poor members of the community. She says there are 4 such big-name private actors whose impunity she decisively cracked up. She isn’t comfortable naming the other three because the matter is in court.
Nakalema is optimistic much more progress will be made and better results achieved once the legal regime improves becoming more enabling and Ugandans become more willing to report the corrupt with concrete evidence as opposed to making sweeping statements on social media claiming “so and so is corrupt but can’t be touched because she or she is a big fish.” Gen Museveni’s anti-corruption Tsar also looks forward to deepened collaboration between ACU and other anti-corruption agencies including the IGG, DPP, OAG, the courts of law and PPDA just to mention a few.
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