By Faruk Kirunda
While marking World Anti-Corruption Day at Kololo Independence grounds on December 9, 2021, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Beti Kamya, announced a new game plan in the fight against corruption by way of “lifestyle audit”. Lifestyle audit involves checking the standard of living of an individual or tracking their asset inventory and comparing it with their known sources of income to determine if they match.
Where one’s wealth is not commensurate to their known and declared source(s) of earning, the IGG would follow up to establish if there is no connection with corrupt acts. Accumulators of illegal wealth tend to flaunt it because their motivation is to attain admiration and respect among peers, their clans or communities. A drastic change in a person’s lifestyle could mean that the person suddenly acquires conspicuous purchasing power or disposable income in a way that is too good to be true.
Many culprits of corruption can be nailed if they cannot justify their standard of living. As one can imagine, the corrupt are obsessed with personal benefit with a “for God and my stomach” mindset than offering service to the public. Such characters are responsible for poor service delivery and inefficiency in the public sector because they are always out chasing the next corrupt deal while Ugandans are stranded at offices waiting in vain to be attended to.
By their greed, they make enemies for themselves that eventually give the away. The increasing adoption of ICTs and e-systems where cash transactions are electronic is making it easier to monitor doubtful individuals who inexplicably and suddenly begin transacting large amounts or more expressly, laundering money.
Roughly, that is how lifestyle audit works-tracking the spending habits of Government workers in relation to their standard emoluments. Ordinarily, it works because you are able to see inconsistencies but accumulators can sense that a sudden open display of changing standards can easily give them away so they devise ways to mislead investigators. In reaction to the IGG’s announcement of recourse to “lifestyle audit”, President Yoweri Museveni, when his turn came to speak at the occasion, appealed to her to go slow on the approach, noting that it could force the corrupt to go conceal what they have stolen, including repatriating it out of the economy.
The president’s comments were (mis)construed to mean that he was shooting down the IGG’s proposal and, in some extremely opinionated instances, that he was ditching the war on corruption. How far from the truth such interpretations are! The president’s take should be understood with a broad mind and a deep appreciation of his place in the war on all forms of corruption.
Museveni’s historical role in building a Uganda where accountability is central to Government operations is legendary. It defines his struggle for a free Uganda where members of the public are integral to the management of national affairs and contributing to national development by working jobs, being producers, paying taxes and following up how their tax money is used.
A country in shambles as Uganda was before 1986 cannot have functional systems of accountability but Uganda has those systems in place, complete with a legal regime that prescribes appropriate penalties that should deter wrong tendencies. It’s said that corruption in Uganda has reached endemic levels; that is not true, as well.
The reality is that corruption has been fundamentally demystified under NRM, with discourse on it opened up to the public on an unprecedented scale. Corruption is not a taboo subject; everybody is called to think and act in pushing back against it. The media is full of reports on corruption, with some investigations reported conclusively as though big money has been lost, yet, in fact, these are queries which may be answered satisfactorily or not.
But the public tends to take preliminary findings as conclusive and that creates an impression that corruption has reached run away levels. That is not possible in Uganda.There is no way President Museveni can preside over endemic corruption because that goes against the basic principle of his leadership which is hinged on transparency. Corruption is, in fact, the biggest danger to his leadership and Vision of transformation for the country.
Corrupt is an insult to his credentials. How does he benefit when shoddy works are done on public projects? How does he benefit when public funds are swindled or substandard services are offered in government institutions? The corrupt are his greatest enemies. Whatever they do and stand for is contrary to his overall mission and objectives; they slow down the pace of development and misrepresent Ugandans as a collectively corrupt people whereas there are a few countable bad apples.
Show me someone working for Museveni’s downfall and I will show you a corrupt person! So, the president was not at Kololo as a ritual or for lack of other things to do. He was there to express solidarity with all forces involved in the drive to suppress the destructive vice and contribute more ideas on the “how”. Other activists shunned the occasion but they are always quick to condemn others and claim credit where it is not due.Museveni is extremely valuable in the fight against corruption. I trust that if the public rallies behind him, we shall get somewhere.
His (complementary) proposal for “performance audit” is sure to bring results. Performance audit is better because it stops corruption before it happens unlike lifestyle audit which is like a “postmortem.” With the latter approach, by the time you realise that something is amiss, the corrupt official or service provider is already off the site. You may not find anything to return to the consolidated fund. With performance audit, terms and conditions/deliverables are very clear with set targets which must be satisfied. If it is a school, road, hospital or tender to supply something, the contractor, supplier or service provider is assessed on how well they have met terms of their undertaking.
If they fall short, they aren’t allowed to disengage without making good on any anomalies.And that is easy to do because with physical works, citizens see with their own eyes when somebody is not doing a good job and can report. Government is empowering citizens with information on its programmes for their participation in monitoring and evaluation of performance by those charged with providing services to them.
Working hand in hand with leaders and good technocrats, the few bad apples can be easily isolated.Overall, Uganda employs many approaches against corruption and going forward, both performance audit and lifestyle audit should be incorporated among them because it is one government, one nation working to defeat a common enemy
*The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary*