The Question of Corruption and the Anti-Homosexuality BillFebruary 27, 2014
President Museveni’s speech in Entebbe on Monday, 26 November 2012 to development partners under the auspices of Partners for Democracy and Governance [PDG] made for quite an interesting read for a number of reasons. Firstly, in my assessment it was one of the best State of the Nation addresses the president has never made in recent past. In a marked departure from his previous addresses, this was not solely a preoccupation with regurgitating tales of NRM’s liberation of Uganda and the ‘paradise’ Uganda has become since the advent of his government but also an admission of the failings of his government in the area of public governance, particularly in checking corruption in government. In defending the allegations of lack of a political will to fight the menace of corruption, he appears to grab at every straw, including blaming ‘Article 174 of the Constitution, the Public Service Act of 2008 and section 188 of Local Government Act, all of which give power over money, contracts and personnel to the civil servants, not to politicians,’ not that there is always a difference between the two.
Uganda is currently ranked 143/183 in the 2011 global Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International and comfortably shares that bottom quadrant with such African countries as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, DR Congo, Chad. With Uganda reeling from multiple high level corruption scandals, most recently: the thefts of Pension Money in the Ministry of Public Service and the Northern Uganda reconstruction funds in the Office of the Prime Minister both involving sums of over $200 million; the lack of transparency around access to and control over Uganda’s oil resources; the unwillingness or refusal of Parliament to deal with these issues decisively and; the cutting of donor aid by development partners as a result, the President’s speech could not have been more timely. Perhaps it has taken this cacophony of scandals to inspire His Excellency President Museveni to re-examine his house and bring it to order.
Another issue that has placed Uganda on the world stage is the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 which has literally seen the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Kadega take centre stage as the unofficial face of Uganda’s foreign policy as she addresses what she may perceive as the biggest issue facing Uganda presently, homosexuality. It is ironic that this 2009 Bill seems to always resurface on the agenda of Parliament whenever consensus cannot be reached on such challenging issues as dealing with corruption or when there is an imminent threat to the powers of principal officers. Hon. Bahati’s Bill has become a tool for holding Parliament together in the face of crisis, and for side-stepping the demands of Ugandans for transparent, accountability and financial probity in Government. It is a gimmick that has been so successful in the past that the Speaker of Parliament’s choice of a ‘Christmas gift to Ugandans’ was neither the prosecution of corrupt public officials and the return of their loot to the State coffers nor the decisive conclusion of the bill on access to and control over Uganda’s oil resources, nor the promise of full independence and lack of political interference in the affairs of key institutions such as the Office of the Inspector-General of Government, but a promise to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Christmas. Unfortunately the Speaker may have over-estimated how gullibility of Ugandans to fall for this trick especially in the face of the recent spate of corruption scandals. More and more Ugandans have refused to be fooled by this ploy; they are calling out the Anti-Homosexuality Bill for what it is “populist, opportunistic and hypocritical” in the words of Pastor Solomon Male, Director of National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuses in Uganda (NCAHSAU) and former proponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. According to Pastor Male, the Bill “is a waste of precious time, financial and other resources that should have been applied more productively elsewhere.”
It is therefore imperative for the President, in the spirit of his newfound candour, to direct Parliament and his cabinet to focus their time, financial and other resources on issues that really matter – fighting corruption in the public sector, access to healthcare, access to justice, curtailing unbridled nepotism and tribalism/clanism in the civil service, actively promoting professionalism and the respect for the rule of law in the security agencies, regional peace and security, among others. Positive changes in this regard will bring the much-needed goodwill back to Uganda and inspire the people’s confidence in their elected representatives in a way that no State of the Nation speech or diversionary Parliamentary posturing can.
Kene C. Esom is the Director of Law and Policy, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights [AMSHeR]. AMSHeR is a regional coalition of African civil society organisations addressing the human rights of sexual minorities and the access to HIV services for key populations.