For many years, corruption has noticeably skyrocketed in various public institutions and offices in Uganda. According to a 2018 Transparency International report, Uganda is ranked the 149th least-corrupt country in the world despite claims of curbing the vice by the government. President Museveni announced a policy of zero-tolerance for corruption in 2006 but it has ironically remained widespread and endemic at all levels of society having its deep roots in all systems. Over the past 3 decades, corruption scandals involving personalities in and close to those in power persistently hit the headlines.
A few months ago the president spearheaded the Anti-corruption walk which was a way of marking the government’s fight against corruption. A few months down the road there has not been any palpable efforts to show that the government is indeed fighting against corruption yet many other corruption cases crop up almost every day. While the government seems to let the big fish swim, many citizens are making a difference in the fight against corruption.
Citizens in Bushenyi under their pressure group, MBUGA (Make Bushenyi Great Again), a group affiliated to Solidarity Uganda, have done several direct actions which include citizen arrests of corrupt officials, blockades of impassable roads that have been ignored by the district leadership amongst other actions. In November last year, MBUGA launched a campaign that was dubbed the “vuvuzela campaign”. The goal of this campaign is to bring to a halt, the wanton theft of the taxpayer’s money meant for the road works in Bushenyi Ishaka Municipality. The citizens used vuvuzelas as a tool to create awareness on the corruption in the municipal council and to also call citizens and leaders to action.
Amongst their demands was that the town clerk ensures the functionality of the non-functional but well-built theater and health center in Bushenyi, the poor roads are worked on, the garbage in the municipality is cleared, the illegal collection of parking fees in no gazette areas is stopped and all officers implicated in corruption scandals are interdicted.
A few days ago MBUGA members filed a case against Bushenyi Ishaka Municipal Council for denying them access to information. They had wanted to access records that included the annual report to Uganda road fund, the Final procurement plan for financial year 2017/2018 amongst others. This information was meant to help them back their claims. As they waited for their case to be heard, a source informed them that over 194million for local revenue advanced by the government to Bushenyi Ishaka Municipal Council had been swindled. Following this, MBUGA together with Municipality councilors called upon for the arrest of the Town clerk. The Town Clerk, Mr. Makuune Abwooli William was arrested on 27th March 2020 and recorded a statement but he was later released on police bond.
To reinforce their struggle, the citizens and councilors decided to close off the municipal council offices until the Minister for local government intervened. In a phone call, the minister promised to handle these issues on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, but until then, the offices of the Bushenyi Ishaka Municipal Council remain closed. Today morning, Monday, March 2, 2020, some workers checked in but couldn’t access the municipal offices since MBUGA members are guarding the place to make sure no one opens the offices until their demands are met.
About a month ago citizens awarded different activists and political parties that have upheld their struggle against corruption. They called this the ‘Citizens anti-corruption award’. The funds awarded are meant to support the struggle against corruption. Amongst the awarded groups were the Jobless Brotherhood, The Alternative Uganda and Forum For democratic Change.
Such acts by citizens are what pushes authorities and those in power to act. Citizens play a fundamental role in holding those in power accountable. They can pressure governments and authorities to make decisions which they would otherwise not make.
Corruption severely affects the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities and it undermines their chances of a stable and prosperous future. It greatly contributes to the dysfunction of our society, public institutions, and all systems.
It is thus time the government walks its talk. Having an anti-corruption walk is not enough if there are no practical resolutions or commitments that are evidently fighting corruption. Citizens would, for instance, be very happy to see government/ public officials implicated in several corruption scandals investigated and prosecuted other than transferring them to different work stations in different districts or locations like they have mostly done. So as citizens play their role, so should the government.