Uganda: Free Pass on High-Level Corruption

October 21, 2013 6:19 pm0 comments by:

Kampala–The government of Uganda has failed to hold to account senior officials implicated in the t heft and diversion of public funds, Human Rights Watch and Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic said in a joint report released today.

The report states that no high-ranking government official, minister, or political appointee has ever served a prison sentence despite investigations into numerous corruption scandals over many years and an impressive array of anti-corruption institutions.

The report also notes that activists fighting corruption face arrest and criminal charges.

The 63-page report, “Letting the Big Fish Swim: Failure to Prosecute High-Level Corruption in Uganda,” documents Uganda’s failure to hold the highest members of its government accountable for large scale graft, despite repeated pledges to eradicate corruption and good technical work from investigators and prosecutors.

The groups analyzed officials’ use of legal loopholes and laws that insulate political appointees from accountability to elude punishment.

It notes that a lack of political will has crippled Uganda’s anti-corruption institutions, undermining their efforts through political interference, harassment, and threats.

“Scandal after scandal, the government’s patronage politics and lack of political will undermine the fight against corruption in Uganda,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher. “Throughout President Yoweri Museveni’s 27 years in office his promises to tackle corruption have proliferated while officials responsible for graft at the highest levels go free.”

The report is based on research by Human Rights Watch and Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic from May to September 2013, including interviews with 48 people with substantive knowledge of anti-corruption efforts in Uganda. The researchers also consulted numerous reports from local activists, Uganda’s development partners, and the World Bank to reflect the history of Uganda’s entrenched corruption problem.

Uganda has had numerous scandals in recent years like the theft of donor funding worth US$12.7 million from the Office of the Prime Minister in late 2012.

The money was earmarked for rebuilding northern Uganda, a region ravaged by a 20-year war, and Karamoja, Uganda’s poorest region.

Other scandals have rocked health programs, like the US$45 million diverted from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in 2010, and the US$12 million stolen from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations in 2006. The theft of resources intended to help realize fundamental rights to justice, health, water, food, and education can have disastrous consequences.

Human Rights Watch notes in the report that given Uganda’s political patronage system and the duration of Museveni’s stay in power, prosecution of high-level government officials responsible for corruption is necessary to fundamentally alter the deeply rooted patterns of graft among certain elites.


“This court is tired of trying tilapias when crocodiles are left swimming,” the report quotes, Justice John Bosco Katutsi the former head of the Anti-Corruption Court, in a 2010 ruling.

Uganda has a variety of government bodies focused on eradicating corruption, which have ably prosecuted low-level corruption for small amounts of money. But these bodies have been largely ineffective in curbing grand scale corruption.

“The government and its donors need to work harder to ensure that President Museveni’s administration lives up to its pledges to tackle corruption. That means putting members of government, including political appointees, behind bars if they are guilty of corruption.” States HRW’s Burnet.

In 2012 approximately 30 percent of Uganda’s national budget came from donor support. Donors have suspended aid at various times in response to high-profile graft, but donor funding has nearly always resumed despite the lack of significant reform or high-level prosecutions. International donors should increase their focus on strategies that will promote accountability at the highest levels of government and ensure that any re-engagement is based on substantive changes to Uganda’s anti-corruption structures.





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