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Politicians and the technocrats: who is responsible for corruption?
09 July 2010
Uganda Media Centre

Kampala: While handing out his ruling to now beleaguered and former Engineer In Chief of the government of Uganda, Samson Bagonza, the head of the anti corruption court, Justice John Bosco Katutsi, lamented that he was apparently convicting the "tilapias" in the lake and yet the "crocodile" were still at large to enjoy the lake waters. Katutsi's allegory was lucid and defined. It showed a bit of frustration on his part. Probably, he felt uncomfortable only convicting the likes of Eng. Sam Bagonza, Teddy Seezi Cheeye, et al and yet the politicians (read the ministers) who in one way or the other were part and parcel of the rip-off were still free men and women on the streets without any form of apprehension.

Justice Katutsi's aggravation is understandable given the level of outcry from members of the public regarding the conduct of some of our politicians. However, His Lordship Katutsi is in a better position to know that politicians by their very nature are hard to apprehend in such circumstances. This is largely because they not the accounting officers of the moneys usually allocated to their respective ministries/departments. Ministers are supposed to only supervise and give political guidance towards the implementation of various policy directives. Therefore, claims from some government officials' especially permanent secretaries and other heads of government institutions claiming that they were forced to take wrong decisions by their bosses (politicians), are not only diversionary but laughable.

For purposes of lucidity, a minister has no powers to sack the permanent secretary or any other civil servant. In the event of any reason as to why the minister would want any civil servant sacked or transferred, he/she has to first consult with the head of Public Service. If the head of the Public Service is somehow convinced by the reasons advanced against his officer, he/she will constitute a team of investigation that as of necessity must give a chance the accused to appear before them to defend himself before the report is compiled and the decision taken.

This is always in consultation with the Solicitor General. The verdict is always reachedafter a careful study of the allegations because any wrongful dismissal might attract a hash litigation that may result in heavy losses on the part of government through compensation and redeployment. Consequently, the argument that some technocrats are forced to endorse fraudulent transactions because they fear to loose their jobs is far fetched because as shown above it is not always easy to sack a public servant. The constitution of Uganda provides strongly for the protection of public officers.

Indeed, there are some technocrats who have stood their grounds and refused to bow to the corrupt whims of the politicians. A certain Permanent Secretary who at one time was in the ministry of health refused to be messed by the politicians, and as a result he requested the appointing authority to transfer him. They wanted to bypass the set procedures to access certain funds. Because of his strong stance on following procedures, he was accused of sabotaging government programmes. Indeed, no sooner had he left that ministry than we heard of the now infamous Global and GAVI fund scandals. Yes, the politicians succeeded in having him transferred but at least he walks with his head high. Those who replaced him are chose to succumb to the whims of politicians are in "hot soup" facing trial that might jeopardize the rest of their lives.

Politicians are smart. They know very well that they are not the accounting officers. When audit issues come up from the supervising institutions they don't go to them. It is always the technocrats that face the music alone. One therefore wonders why in the first place these technocrats can allow to be messed up while making financial decisions well aware that during accountability the hammer will fall on them alone. This brings me to the conclusion that these technocrats are trying to find scapegoats in accusing their political supervisors. Otherwise they are the big fish (read crocodiles) Justice Katutsi is crying to land his hands on.

Besides, I am informed that in the event of stalemate i.e between the political supervisors, the accounting officers can seek the guidance from the supervising agencies. In the case ofcivil servants, they can seek guidance from the head of the Public Service such that in event of a backfire they can refer to that advice. Institution a like the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee can also of big help.

If truth be told, contrary to what Justice Katutsi thinks, these technocrats are the main guilty party in the corruption scandals. In fact, the technocrats usually seduce the politicians with financial favours such they in return can keep a blind eye on what they are exactly doing.

Finally, let our anti corruption institutions concentrate on the technocrats because after all the implementation process of all government programmes lie squarely in their hands. If anything, the politicians are after all seasonal. They can be easily removed as and when the appointing authority deems necessary while other are always sorted out by political fate itself.

* Commentary by Obed K Katureebe

Keywords: civil service, anti-corruption, Uganda
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