At a National Budget Workshop organised by the Ministry of finance recently, Uganda’s development partners represented by World Bank Uganda Country office chief, Kundavi Kadiresan delivered a key statement condemning government’s failure to act on the high levels corruption in the country. Warning of serious implications, the donors under the Joint Budget Support Framework also reveal that they are considering a range of actions aimed at reversing the trend.
Estimated to be losing over $100million dollars to corruption annually, Uganda ranks high among the most corrupt countries in the world. And with 30 percent of the population surviving on less than a dollar per day, over half a million citizens living in areas known to be highly prone to disaster, there is even more reason for concern.
Recently, the Eastern Uganda district of Bududa was hit by landslides which claimed over 350 lives. Further affected are thousands of people in Butaleja, Tororo, Sironko, Mbale and Manafwa. In Western Uganda, Bundibugyo, Kabale, Kasese, Kisoro and Kabarole were affected with some roads washed away by floods. According to the Red Cross, over 50,000 people have been displaced.
But government’s response to these calamities has generated an even wider debate with critics linking the lukewarm performance to graft. In fact, a would-be avoidable diarrhea- outbreak has been reported in relief camps of Bulucheke.
Soroti District Woman MP, Alice Alaso wastes no time condemning the bad leadership exhibited by government. “Uganda is a rich country but bad leaders who siphon public resources hold us behind,” she says.
“Most of these disasters are man-made,” Alaso adds, noting that people die of famine because government has no policy to store food when production peaks. “The Nile passes here as if it’s on holiday,” she declares saying a responsible government would harvest water for agriculture hence control famine and poverty among its people.
“The people of Bududa should have been resettled in safer areas by the time disaster hit,” says Alaso pointing out that they have not been moved to safer places even after the disaster. “Landslides could strike again,” she fears.
Citing such cases as the embezzlement of Shs500bn in funds meant for CHOGM and the Gavi funds, Alaso says its unfortunate that women and children who don’t participate in the stealing are the most affected. “The Gavi immunization funds were stolen and women suffer taking care of the children as men hide their frustration in taking alcohol,” She notes.
“It is therefore a vicious cycle of bad leadership which breeds bad policies that result into corruption, poverty and disaster,” Alaso affirms.
Henry Banyenzaki, the Rubanda West MP says corruption is responsible for 90% of the problems facing Uganda. “We can not mitigate disaster since there is no contingence fund,” he says, adding that all the money is swindled. He also notes that Bududa has no efficient health facilities because money for paying workers is embezzled.
“Poverty, disaster can all be blamed on corruption,” he declares, adding that so long as it exists, poverty and other issues will never be addressed. He notes that a situation is being created where one person will be richer then Uganda yet that wealth is not even taxed.
“Every year government requests for a supplementary budget which depletes the country’s reserves because funds committed to different departments are always embezzled,” he adds. “That is why countries like China which don’t tolerate corruption are developing highly,” says Banyenzaki.
“It only gets worse as institutions like parliament are corrupted and members conscripted into silence,” says the MP citing the high maternal and infant mortality rates, poor roads causing accidents and the corrupt police officers as examples of bad governance.
Norbert Mao, the President General of the Opposition Democratic Party also Gulu Municipality Chairman says corruption increases poverty and limits government’s ability to prevent disaster. “For example government is to blame as it should have relocated the settlers in Bududa long before the disaster,” he says.
He says the Bududa incident is another sign of inequality in this country. “The poor are the ones living on the mountain slopes as the rich enjoy life in safer places,” he says.
Mao also says that women are the most affected by poverty, corruption and disaster. “There is need for affirmative action in the poverty alleviation plans to particularly target the women who we all know are at the main force of agricultural production,” he says adding that agriculture is the back-bone of our economy.
However, Disaster preparedness minister, Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere recently informed the donor community in Uganda that government will soon be relocating over half a million people residing in disaster prone areas. A plan that he says will require over $100 million, perhaps the more reason he alerted the donor community. “Recent disasters have served as an eye-opener so we won’t sit back and look on,” declares Kabwegyere.
And what implications does this environment have on the political process as we head for the 2011 elections? Mao, who is expected to run for President says poverty, corruption and disaster are going to be a serious election issues. “We will make Ugandans realize that we can offer good alternative policies,” he vows.
But Banyezaki expresses pessimism. “Only the elite are concerned about issues like corruption while poor peasants who are affected more don’t care,” the MP once branded an NRM party rebel notes. “It is disheartening to see people exchange their destiny for a packet of salt from corrupt politicians instead of voting them out,” he says. “And it will happen again in 2011,” he concludes.
“These are issues of bread and butter as they are important to every one. Whether your a supporter for FDC or NRM, you are affected,” says Alaso also revealing her worry about the people being denied a say as 2011 already has all signs of a rigged election.