“Untouchables. Come rain, come shine, they’re never going to court, not while there’s somebody close to them in power. That’s because of the politics involved.”
—Prosecutor in the Anti-Corruption Court, May 21, 2013
“This court is tired of trying tilapias when crocodiles are left swimming.”
—Justice John Bosco Katutsi, former head of the Anti-Corruption Court, during a ruling convicting an engineer during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scandal, June 29, 2010
“Someone will ask, ‘Will it pay?’ If it will, one will steal. If it won’t pay, one won’t steal. It should be too expensive to steal. This is why corruption is happening on a grand scale. They must steal enough to stay out of jail.”
—Auditor General John Muwanga, May 31, 2013
The news that US$12.7 million in donor funds had been embezzled from Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) hit the headlines in many donor capitals in late 2012, prompting serious questions about Uganda’s commitment to fight corruption. The stolen donor funds were earmarked as crucial support for rebuilding northern Uganda, ravaged by a 20-year war, and Karamoja, Uganda’s poorest region. Approximately 30 percent of the national budget came from foreign aid in 2012. As a result of the OPM scandal and claims that the money was funneled into private accounts, the European Union, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, and Norway suspended aid.
The OPM scandal was not the first time that grand scale theft of public money deprived some of Uganda’s poorest citizens of better access to fundamental services such as health and education. Past corruption scandals have had a direct impact on human rights. For example, millions of dollars’ worth of funds were diverted from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation in 2006 and from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2005. Despite investigations, none of the high-ranking government officials who managed the implicated offices have faced criminal sanction. Most often they have remained in office, untouched, while individuals working at the technical level have faced prosecution and, in some cases, jail time. Even when ministers have been forced to resign from office, such resignations have been temporary; they were eventually reappointed to key positions in government, in what one diplomatic representative calls a “game of musical chairs.” Years of evidence indicate that Uganda’s current political system is built on patronage and that ultimately high-level corruption is rewarded rather than punished.
Corruption in Uganda is severe, well-known, cuts across many sectors, and is frequently debated and discussed in the media. Such corruption undermines human rights in multiple ways: a direct defiance of the rule of law and accountability, it indicates that the law and its institutions cannot be relied on to protect against violations of fundamental human rights or deliver justice. By unlawfully interfering with resources that should be available to realize fundamental rights such as the rights to health, water, food, and education—either through illegally appropriating public funds for personal wealth or rendering access to services subject to bribes, which are illegal—corruption leads to violations of human rights that may have disastrous consequences.
Media attention of Uganda’s corruption often focuses on the “big fish who got away” and who were allegedly protected from prosecution by other elites. Solutions—often proposed and supported by international donors—usually rely on technical responses. Those responses overlook what, based on past actions, can be described as the government’s deep-rooted lack of political will to address corruption at the highest levels and importantly, to set an example—starting from the top—that graft will not be tolerated.
This report analyzes the government’s failure to close legal loopholes and ensure that laws are not written or interpreted to insulate political appointees from accountability. It documents why Uganda has failed to hold the highest members of its government accountable for theft of public funds, despite its stated commitment to eradicating corruption and much good work from investigators and prosecutors at the technical level. It also shows how lack of political will has crippled Uganda’s anti-corruption institutions, undermining their efforts through political interference, underfunding, harassment, and threats. The lack of a clear system to protect witnesses and insulate prosecutors from bribery and intimidation means that anti-corruption institutions in Uganda have ended up focusing on low-level corruption involving small sums of money, while the “big fish” have continued to accumulate wealth and power.
Lastly, the report examines how efforts of Uganda’s international donors—often quick to respond with well-intentioned attempts to support anti-corruption efforts—have been undermined or weakened by their own vested interests, poor coordination, and fluctuating institutional memory, the latter thrown into stark relief by President Yoweri Museveni’s long stay in power and his political shrewdness.
Since President Museveni took office in 1986, despite recurrent corruption scandals, only one minister has ever been convicted of a corruption-related offense, a verdict that was overturned on appeal just after the president publicly offered to pay the defendant’s legal costs.
Uganda has a variety of government bodies focused on eradicating corruption, including the Anti-Corruption Court, a specialized tribunal within the Ugandan judiciary; the office of the Inspectorate of Government (IG, led by the Inspector General of Government, the IGG), an office mandated by the Ugandan constitution to fight corruption; the Auditor General; and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, among others. But while these institutions have ably prosecuted low-level corruption for small amounts of money, thus far they have been largely ineffective in curbing grand scale corruption or pushing prosecutions and convictions in an equitable and apolitical manner that would be more likely to ensure accountability of the highest-ranking members of government.
There are institutional, political, and legislative reasons for Uganda’s failure to prosecute grand corruption. Most importantly, President Museveni and parliament, which is heavily dominated by ruling party members, have failed to empower key institutions, either by failing to fill key vacancies or by failing to establish institutions such as the Leadership Tribunal which could challenge inaccurate financial asset declarations. In the most egregious example, the position of Deputy Inspector General of Government—which because of a constitutional court ruling is legally required to be filled in order for the IG’s office to prosecute cases independently—was vacant since 1995. It was only filled in mid-2013 when donors pressured President Museveni to fill the post. The fact that this occurred only after donors made it a condition for resuming aid shows that a powerful inspector general’s office was far from a priority for President Museveni’s governance agenda. This case highlights the broader need for vacancies in the justice section to be filled—the Supreme Court has not yet heard the appeal of this ruling because of a lack of quorum— and for legislative reform to address this issue since routine personnel vacancies should not be used to cripple a crucial anti-corruption institution.
Another important reason is that actors within the anti-corruption institutions are inadequately protected and shielded from political influence. In some Anti-Corruption Court cases involving well-connected individuals, senior officials have directed prosecutors to delay prosecution or prematurely try a case with incomplete or weak evidence. Investigators, prosecutors, and witnesses involved in such cases have been the targets of threats and requests for bribes. The Ugandan government should provide greater protection for those involved in prosecutions, including investigators, prosecutors, and witnesses. More robust systems for witness protection could potentially assist in ensuring that quality evidence against high-ranking members of government could come to light.
Legislative reforms would also bolster anti-corruption efforts. Vaguely defined offenses such as “abuse of office” and “causing financial loss” in the 2009 Anti-Corruption Act should be amended to specify more clearly what conduct is prohibited and that intentionality is required. The lack of definitional precision grants discretion to prosecutors to interpret corruption crimes and opens the door to allow political motives to drive cases. To some extent, the overlapping mandates of the Inspectorate of Government and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions for corruption-related offenses has caused a diffusion of responsibility in ensuring accountability for theft of public assets and makes it difficult to hold these agencies to account for prosecutorial inaction. So far the two offices have coordinated but this is an informal and fragile system. And the lack of security of tenure for prosecutors from the Inspectorate of Government makes them vulnerable to the shifting politics and vulnerable to removal should their investigations touch on certain individuals, particularly during the re-appointments process before parliament.
The government’s fresh pledges to fight corruption following the OPM scandal in 2013 are called into serious question by the arrest of at least 28 anti-corruption activists in 2013 alone—a significant increase over previous years. A coalition of civil society groups known as the Black Monday Movement began raising grassroots awareness and protesting corruption by wearing black on Mondays and handing out newsletters with information about graft in various sectors. Police have thwarted attempts to distribute information and arrested Black Monday Movement activists, charging them with a range of crimes, from “spreading of harmful propaganda” to “inciting violence” and “possession of prohibited publications.” Rather than harassing activists and obstructing public access to information, the government should support the crucial role of civil society in upholding human rights and anti-corruption efforts. This will mean respect and tolerance for civil society’s interaction with, and education of, Uganda’s urban and rural citizenry.
Corruption obstructs progress on many of Uganda’s most serious human rights problems, including access to justice, as well as economic and social rights, such as health, education, water, and food. For international development assistance to address these sectors, Uganda’s donors should massively increase the focus on accountability at the highest levels of government and ensure that any reengagement is based on substantive, not cosmetic, changes to Uganda’s anti-corruption structures, and serious, not token, government commitments to eradicate corruption. External donors should also actively and vocally support civil society working to document and raise awareness of corruption, by both financially supporting their work and publicly denouncing their arrests and harassment.
Some of Uganda’s international donors are considering expanding support for anti-corruption efforts. This support is critical to any meaningful effort to address high-level corruption given its low priority for government spending. However, international donors should proceed with caution if considering a return to sector or direct budget support and ensure the programs can be carefully monitored with clear benchmarks. Donors seeking to support the government in anti-corruption efforts should ensure that serious instances of corruption by high-level government officials, regardless of the stature of the alleged perpetrator or affiliation with the president’s inner circle, are duly investigated and successfully prosecuted. Focus should remain on the highest-ranking individuals possible not only to ensure that kingpins are held responsible but also to make clear that theft and diversion of public resources will not be tolerated irrespective of the perpetrator.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Ugandan government and its international donor community to fight corruption at the highest levels and its attendant human rights consequences and to bolster the capacity and functionality of key anti-corruption institutions. Given Uganda’s political patronage system and the duration of President Museveni’s stay in power, it is highly unlikely that anything other than the prosecution of the highest-ranking members of the government will fundamentally alter the deeply-rooted patterns of graft and resultant wealth accumulation of certain elites. Without substantial changes in this regard, the injustices of Uganda’s corruption problem will endure.
To the President, Cabinet, and Government of Uganda
- Publicly announce a commitment to facilitate an environment committed to non-partisan accountability for corruption by eliminating political interference at the Anti-Corruption Court.
- Encourage robust and independent investigations of high-level grand corruption and desist from making public comments on the quality of evidence of pending investigations or prosecutions of high-level members of government, including ministers and permanent secretaries, or their alleged innocence.
- Immediately fill all vacant positions in the justice system, including prosecutors, judges, and magistrates for the Anti-Corruption Court, and justices for the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court.
- Support strengthened protections for investigators, prosecutors, and witnesses in corruption-related cases.
- Promptly draft and present to parliament a bill establishing the Leadership Code Tribunal and in the interim call on public officials to make available to the public their financial disclosures, redacting information that raises privacy concerns such as bank account numbers.
- Promptly draft and present to parliament a bill establishing the prescribed form for the public release of asset declaration. Ensure broad public access to asset declaration records for civil servants and members of government.
To the Ugandan Police
- Stop all arrests, harassment, and intimidation of anti-corruption activists and immediately drop all criminal charges related to the distribution of anti-corruption information.
To the Anti-Corruption Court and Ugandan Judiciary
- Routinely publish decisions of the Anti-Corruption Court.
- Track case law, and in particular, the profile of the defendant and at which stage cases are disposed of, to enable greater statistical analysis of cases.
- Provide robust forms of protection to witnesses including the option to testify in camera, to change identities or residence; participate in the creation of a robust witness protection program.
To Uganda’s Parliament
- Clarify in law the mandate and jurisdictions of the Inspectorate of Government and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
- Continue to urge the president and the Judicial Services Commission to fill all judicial vacancies, including at the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court.
- Support the amendment of the constitution to increase the term of office of the Inspector General of Government and ensure that any parliamentarians under investigations recuse themselves from any appointments process to the inspector’s office.
- In the absence of judicial action, support the amendment of the constitution and the Inspectorate of Government Act to ensure that vacancies in the office of Inspector General of Government cannot be a basis to prevent the Inspectorate from prosecuting corruption cases.
- Support amendment of the vague definition of corruption offenses in the Anti-Corruption Act, including “abuse of office” and “causing financial loss,” to bring them in line with offences as defined under international standards.
- Support amendment of the Leadership Code Act to explicitly state that it is applicable to presidential appointees.
- Urge the Law Reform Commission and cabinet to draft a bill establishing the Leadership Code Tribunal and present it to parliament.
- Urge the Law Reform Commission and cabinet to move the draft Protection of Witnesses bill to parliament so as to better protect witnesses providing testimony during high-level corruption trials.
To Uganda’s Development Partners and Donors, including the World Bank
- Maintain strong and consistent political pressure on the Ugandan government to allow anti-corruption institutions, including the Inspectorate of Government, to pursue robust and independent investigations and prosecutions of high-level corruption in a non-partisan manner, including by analyzing progress and ongoing concerns in country strategies and similar documents which govern a donor’s partnership with the Ugandan government.
- Urge the Ugandan government to implement the recommendations described in this report, and offer technical assistance in doing so where appropriate.
- Fund a threat assessment for witnesses in corruption-related trials to evaluate concrete risks and recommend which government institution would be best placed to administer robust witness protection in corruption-related cases.
- Routinely speak out and condemn the arrests of anti-corruption activists.
- When members of civil society are detained, make impromptu visits to police stations and encourage the government to withdraw all baseless charges.
- Encourage “demand-side accountability” by actively supporting civil society throughout Uganda working on anti-corruption investigations and education as well as seeking disclosure of financial asset declarations of leaders. Seek undertakings from the government that such civil society workers will not face reprisals for their work.
- Ensure any development assistance is project specific, can be effectively monitored over the long-term, and has a stated exit strategy should allegations of graft arise.
- Escalate efforts to monitor the effective use of development assistance, including by ensuring ample time and money for routine forensic audits.
- Ensure that local civil society plays a long-term and active role in monitoring the effective use of development assistance, so as to improve donors’ contextual and political understanding of corruption in Uganda and to identify possible vulnerabilities in donor programs.
- Support the distribution of information to the public about corruption in donor-supported sectors and how the public can raise concerns for corruption in the use of government services and donor-supported projects.
- Ensure the structure of staff incentives include criteria such as the quality of project preparation and supervision to effectively prevent, monitor, and respond to corruption, policy violations (including of safeguard policies), and human rights violations including risks of reprisals against civil society monitors or complainants.
This report is based on research carried out by Human Rights Watch and the Yale Law School Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic from May to August 2013, largely in Kampala. Forty-eight individuals with substantive knowledge of anti-corruption efforts in Uganda were interviewed, including current and former officials from the Inspectorate of Government, Auditor General, and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions; members of parliament; representatives of diplomatic missions; and members of the judiciary. Interviewees also included private attorneys, journalists, development and donor agency officials, and civil society activists involved with anti-corruption efforts in Uganda. Numerous reports from local civil society, Uganda’s development partners, and the World Bank were also consulted to reflect the history of Uganda’s entrenched corruption problems.
All interviews were conducted in English. Nearly all lasted over an hour and included just one interviewee at a time. No compensation or any form of remuneration was offered or provided to any person interviewed for this report. Due to fears of personal and professional reprisals, some interviewees requested that their comments not be directly attributed to them. Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic have complied with this request and have withheld names and other personally identifiable information about interviewees.
Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic analyzed 114 judgments by the Anti-Corruption Court issued since the court’s creation in 2009. Eighty-eight of these judgments were for cases in the first instance and twenty-six were cases on appeal. A small number of these judgments (34) were publicly available from the Uganda Legal Information Institute. Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic obtained the remainder from the Anti-Corruption Court as they were not publicly available.
In June 2013 the Anti-Corruption Court provided Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic with a list of cases that appeared in its chambers since 2009. The case list included 124 defendants whose have gone to verdict (93 convictions and 31 acquittals). The list indicates that Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic analyzed 71 percent of all available first instance cases.
The Anti-Corruption Court in a separate table indicated that, as of April 30, 2013, it had disposed of 516 out of the 766 cases that have been registered since 2009. The number of disposed cases far exceeds the number of verdicts in the June 2013 list because it includes cases that ended in involuntary discontinuations, dismissals with and without prejudice, and dismissals for “no case to answer.”
It is not possible to determine how the judgments Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic reviewed compare to those we did not have access to. Therefore, this analysis does not represent the complete body of cases heard by the Anti-Corruption Court, and the findings described in the report cannot be generalized for the remaining cases. It is merely a description of a partial set of cases heard by the Anti-Corruption Court.
“Corruption is the way the regime survives. The current regime is in survival mode and it depends on corruption.”
—Anti-corruption activist, May 19, 2013
Endless Zero-Tolerance Promises
President Yoweri Museveni, members of his government, and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party have repeatedly promised to root out corruption since he took office in 1986. Despite these pledges major corruption scandals have surfaced again and again and no high-ranking member of government who managed the implicated offices—for example, not a single minister—has served prison time for a corruption-related offence during Museveni’s long tenure. The only conviction of a minister was overturned on appeal in 2013, after the president himself offered to pay his legal costs.
In the NRM Parliamentary Caucus Retreat in January 2013, NRM members pledged support for the party’s zero-tolerance policy on corruption. President Museveni echoed the same sentiments in his June 7, 2013 State of the Nation address confidently stating, “The evil of corruption is being handled.” His rhetoric was nothing new; the elimination of corruption and misuse of power was a key part of the president’s 1986 Ten Point Program.
With the new constitution in 1995 came more promises to eradicate corruption, but these proved hollow over the long term. As one report commissioned for the World Bank noted, “corruption in Uganda—as a form of patronage and regime maintenance—became increasingly apparent after 1996.” 
Waves of scandals have continued to hit the Museveni administration. Members of his inner circle—from both military and cabinet—have been accused of theft and improper procurement of state resources by the media, civil society, the auditor general, and parliament.
There have also been three successive anti-corruption strategies launched over the last decade. The most recent scandal—the theft of $12.7 million from the Office of the Prime Minister—occurred in the middle of the 2008 five-year National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), which sought to address transparency and accountability and ensure “full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements” as described in Uganda’s national legislation and its international legal commitments. The strategy encompassed a variety of new initiatives, including providing guidance to ministries on anti-corruption policies; promoting engagement with the public to improve accountability; identifying successful anti-corruption policies; enabling anti-corruption agencies to carry out their work; and informing national policy.
Yet despite these many plans and relentless promises, to date, corruption in Uganda remains pervasive at both low and high levels of public administration. Analysts note that bribery, nepotism, and misuse of official positions and resources are widespread.As one report authored by a donor expert on anti-corruption efforts in Uganda noted, “[r]ecent international surveys coupled with nationally produced data indicate that corruption in Uganda is endemic and deeply ingrained; it shows no sign of subsiding and may be getting worse. Evidence exists of extensive grand corruption and impunity enjoyed by high-level officials.” The problematic role of high-level actors was again brought to light in a 2012 public poll run by TracFM.org which asked the reason for Uganda’s corruption problem. The single largest response, forty-seven percent of respondents, said it was due to “corrupt elites” setting a “negative example.”
Uganda topped the five countries in the East African Community (EAC) as the most corrupt in a 2012 assessment that examines frequency with which citizens reported being asked to pay bribes. The same year, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be, ranked Uganda 130 out of 176 on a scale of least to most corrupt. The CPI also ranked Uganda 30 out of the 48 sub-Saharan Africa countries, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2012-2013 also has Uganda low on its spectrum of competitive economies, scoring it 123 out of 144, a drop from the previous year. Out of 16 factors, corruption was identified by business people surveyed as the most problematic issue for operating in Uganda. The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) shows Uganda as having made no improvements over the past six years to control corruption.
Calculating total losses due to grand theft of state resources presents significant methodological challenges. According to one metric, the 2007 African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Report, Uganda loses 510 billion Ugandan shillings ($258.6 million) a year due to corruption and procurement malpractices. Given the fact that Uganda’s Auditor General has identified procurement as an area vulnerable to corruption, the true amount could potentially be much higher.
Concerns for the Future
The recent discovery of oil in the Albertine Rift on Uganda’s western border and the development of Uganda’s nascent petroleum sector have renewed concern about the pervasive levels of corruption. It has also led some to question if Uganda is likely to become yet another model example of the so-called “resource curse” in Africa, the phenomenon by which, despite plentiful non-renewable natural resources, the country ultimately has lower rates of economic growth and poorer development indicators than countries without natural resources. Experts point to various causes, including corrupt state institutions and the opacity and ease of diversion of extractive revenues. This specter increases the need for robust efforts to root out corruption by top leadership and ensure that oil revenues meaningfully contribute to Uganda’s development.
Patronage Politics and Lack of Political Will
“Corruption has become embedded in the survival of the regime. It is a regime that depends on making everybody a client. And because of that, they go around paying everybody—civil society, politicians, voters, religious leaders.”
—Augustin Ruzindana, first Inspector General of Government, May 22, 2013
“You will point out corruption, but whether something happens depends on how well-connected they are politically. If they’re deemed important to the establishment, then nothing will be done.”
—David Makumbi, Ombudsman Affairs Director, Inspectorate of Government, May 24, 2013
Fighting corruption and ensuring accountability for theft of state resources is challenging given the entrenched patronage network that ensures loyalty over the duration of the president’s long stay in office, now over 27 years. In order to maintain itself, President Museveni’s government has rewarded devotion with financial enrichment. One lawyer noted that, “Corruption is a tool of management in this country. This country runs on a web of patronage.”
The 2011 elections were, by many accounts, extremely expensive for the National Resistance Movement, as money was handed out to various groups to buy support. Some analysts believe President Museveni and his party spent $350 million for his campaign, the majority of it from state coffers. Weeks before those elections, in January 2011 parliament passed a $250 million supplementary budget, allegedly to be spent on the campaigns. Parliament also awarded each member of parliament $8,500 just before the election.
Since the 2011 elections the media has repeatedly published reports about the government doling out cash without clarity on the budgetary source or the motive for the allocation. For example, in April 2013, the president was widely criticized when his office distributed a photo of him handing out a large sack of money said to contain 250,000,000 Ugandan shillings ($100,000) to a partisan youth group from Eastern Uganda. Commentators noted the tragic comedy of the photo—for several days #sackofmoney was trending on Twitter in Uganda—particularly because it was quite obvious that the bag of cash was so heavy that the young man struggled to stay upright as he carried it away on his head.
The president’s public rhetoric regarding rooting out corruption is frequently belied by his public statements on specific cases. These comments are often seen as tacit signals to witnesses, prosecutors, and in some cases, judges. The local anti-corruption organization, Uganda Debt Network, recently summarized several instances when President Museveni undermined prosecutions or the potential for successful convictions of members of his inner circle or other high-ranking members of his government. For example when then-Security Minister and current Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (and Secretary General of the ruling party) was implicated in corruption allegations related to a land sale to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). President Museveni was quoted in the media about the case saying, “I will not run away from old friends.” Mbabazi was never charged related to those allegations.
In another example from 2011, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was charged with abuse of office related to allegations of having profited from the hire of luxury vehicles for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2008. While the case was pending, President Museveni was quoted in the media saying that the Attorney General had informed him that the case had “no merit.”  As Uganda Debt Network rightly flags, public remarks from the head of state undermined the case brought by the Inspectorate of Government. This case was especially sensitive in that it was against the highest-ranking member of President Museveni’s government ever to be charged in his 27-year rule. The Inspectorate of Government later withdrew the case against Bukenya citing lack of evidence.  Bukenya told the media that he was grateful for the president’s support, though Museveni denied to the media that he played a role in the case. 
Most recently, Hon. Mike Mukula, the former state minister for health and current member of parliament and vice chairman of the ruling party for the key electoral constituencies of Eastern Uganda, appealed his conviction and four-year sentence for embezzling 210 million Ugandan shillings (around $80,000) from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI Alliance). Leaders from Eastern Uganda allegedly lobbied the president to ensure Mukula was freed. Ultimately, the President publicly offered to pay 100 million Uganda shillings ($50,000) for his legal fees. The payment was confirmed in the media by the presidential press secretary. Media reports noted that the president did say that he could not influence the judiciary, and that he had come to power to restore rule of law, but obviously coming in to support the defense in a highly controversial and long-standing corruption case mired it further in partisan politics. Ultimately Mukula was acquitted on appeal. As one prosecutor in the Office of the Inspectorate of Government said, “If the head of state comes out openly to offer to pay for someone’s lawyers, what kind of message does that send to us? We know we cannot win.”
The Impact of Corruption on Human Rights
Corruption is a direct threat to the rule of law and accountability as well as an illegal diversion of available resources away from basic services that are needed to meet fundamental rights obligations. The misappropriation of state resources budgeted for public services, including life-saving health treatment or infrastructure projects to deliver clean water, negatively impacts the realization of the right to health. Unplanned or off-budget expenditure used for patronage spending seriously undermines government obligations to protect and fulfill human rights by diverting money from essential government services such as health and education, causing consistent and dire underfunding of these sectors.
Scandals have rocked the delivery of immunizations and essential medicines to fight HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria particularly. The facts are all too well-known in Uganda; in 2005, health ministry officials allegedly embezzled over $4.5 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Mid-level managers faced prosecutions but the implicated ministers resigned only to return recently to key posts in government. In 2007 the Inspectorate of Government detected an estimated $800,000 missing from the GAVI Alliance under the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. Ultimately none of the implicated former health ministers served jail time, though Alice Kaboyo, a former private secretary to the president, pled guilty to charges of misappropriation of funds, returned the money, and paid a fine.
Some health rights activists call the Ugandan health care system “dysfunctional” because people die of lack of services and medicines that they saw would have been available, had the money been used as directed. Life expectancy in Uganda is among the lowest in the world at 56 years; one in every 49 women dies as a result of giving birth. In national healthcare facilities, only half of all posts are filled. The World Health Organization estimates that around half of the population does not have any contact with modern healthcare facilities. Some 70 percent of Ugandan doctors and 40 percent of nurses and midwives are based in urban areas, serving only 12 percent of the population. Despite significant donor spending on the health care sector over the years, the government often fails to supply sufficient drugs and equipment countrywide.
The Auditor General reports have found that health centers lack simple medical equipment, such as rubber gloves, experience shortages or stock-outs of essential drugs and supplies, receive inadequate water and electricity, and that there is a lack of ambulances or other forms of adequate transport to transfer patients to larger hospitals for operations.
In Bundibugyo hospital on Uganda’s western border, for example, in 2011 the media reported that the sewer system broke down several years ago and had never been fixed and the fire extinguishers installed in 1969 had never been replaced so the hospital resorted to using sand to put out a fire.But also in 2011, the National Drug Authority reported that more than 100 “ghost” health centers had been created by corrupt officials which had been “receiving” medical supplies and equipment on a routine basis according to submitted paperwork.
The discovery of $12.7 million embezzled donor funds from Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister’s was destined for the 2009-2012 Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for Northern Uganda. Northern Uganda is emerging from a two-decade war where, at one point, over one million people were living in internally displaced persons camps in life-threatening conditions. This recent theft of reconstruction and development assistance via the OPM (what has become known as the “OPM scandal”) therefore has serious consequences for a variety of human rights protections. The PRDP assistance aimed to re-establish the rule of law in the region by supporting key justice institutions, such as the courts and prisons, as well as the rehabilitation of infrastructure systems, such as water, and providing improved access to information and counseling services to the affected population—all crucial areas to restore civil, political, economic, and social rights in a region that was finally in a position to benefit from Uganda’s economic growth.
The OPM money was also destined for development efforts in Karamoja, Uganda’s poorest region and home to one million agro-pastoralists who have faced successive government programs of “forced disarmament,” which have been rife with serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The development assistance was to focus on various projects, including improving access to water and food security. Karamoja faces cycles of drought and deluge that have made consistent access to food a significant challenge. In 2013 alone at least 46 people in Kaabong district in northern Karamoja were reported to have starved to death. The theft of the money intended to realize the right to food and water in Karamoja potentially further placed residents in life-threatening jeopardy.
Civil society activists have often noted that sectors crucial to realizing basic human rights such as health and education services consistently struggle with underfunding when significant spending in other areas, such as the military, continues. Massive off-budget expenditures have prompted the government to seek repeated supplementary budgets to provide basic government services and allocations are often late. Over the last two years the Office of the President has requested 121.8 billion Ugandan shillings ($47 million) in supplementary budget allocations while delaying payments of salaries to health workers and teachers.The Anti-Corruption Coalition has called the Office of the President “more of a liability than an asset to the citizens of Uganda” and “a bottomless pit that will never be filled up.”
Uganda’s Anti-Corruption Mechanisms
The Anti-Corruption Court
Established in 2008 the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court was formed as “a result of public demand for a specialized court to try high profile corruption and related offences.” In 2009 the Chief Justice issued a practice directive to formally operationalize the Anti-Corruption Court (ACC). The ACC has exclusive jurisdiction over offenses under the Anti-Corruption Act of 2009, and can also hear cases under the Penal Code Act, Leadership Code Act, or any other law related to corruption. The ACC has one court building, located in Kampala, though the court holds sessions in other parts of the country on an ad hoc basis. The ACC is supposed to have five magistrates and three judges, but it currently has only four magistrates and one judge.
The Office of the Inspectorate of Government
The Office of the Inspectorate of Government (IG), headed by the Inspector General of Government (IGG), is mandated by the Ugandan constitution to fight corruption and abuse of authority and of public office. The IG can prosecute only government officials, while public prosecutors from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions can prosecute both government officials and private citizens. Beyond this, however, no law sets forth any guidelines for when each agency is supposed to take on a case.
The Auditor General
The auditor general has powers to audit public accounts of courts, the central and local government, and public institutions. The office of the auditor general reports its findings annually to parliament.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament scrutinizes and monitors the use of public funds on behalf of parliament. The PAC may call any minister, public official, and private individual “to submit memoranda or appear before them to give evidence,” and can enforce the attendance of witnesses as well as compel the production of documents.” The PAC conducts its own investigation of cases of misappropriation of funds identified in the annual Auditor General’s report to parliament, and then recommends action for Parliament to take in response, including prosecution, recovery of misappropriated funds, and dismissal of public officials. A majority of parliament must approve any such recommendations.
Directorate for Ethics and Integrity
Located in the Office of the President, the Directorate is tasked with coordinating government efforts to fight corruption, “set ethical standards for rebuilding ethics and integrity in public office,” formulate anti-corruption policies and legislation, and monitor the observance of ethical standards and anti-corruption legislation. Recent leaders of this office, including Hon. Nsaba Buturo and Hon. Simon Lokodo have focused primarily on fighting against the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people under the auspices of protecting Uganda’s “integrity.”
“It is not for the lack of strategies, laws, or institutions that corruption has thrived; it is rather the lack of political will and commitment to the full implementation of the laws and policies.”
—Uganda Debt Network, May 2013
“We don’t need anything other than to be allowed to do our jobs, but we cannot. We are kept deliberately weak so the big fish can swim.”
—Human Rights Watch interview with a prosecutor, Kampala, July 26, 2013
Political pressure and limited resources have weakened Uganda’s multiple anti-corruption institutions and curtailed their ability to systematically address corruption, particularly at the highest levels of government. The president’s failure to fill key positions has made prosecutions cumbersome, causing delays and a large case backlog. Despite a legal requirement that leaders are required to make public statements about their financial assets—a crucial factor of transparency in governance—the system to enforce the obligation has not been established. Instead, as one Ugandan journalist noted, President Museveni has established a system “in which disgruntled elites and donors are able to feel that something is being done to stop corruption while letting corruption proceed with little effort to curb it.”
Lack of Appointed Personnel
Throughout the justice sector, long delays in filling key vacancies have made timely prosecutions very difficult. This problem has affected the prosecution of corruption cases in multiple ways and demonstrates a fundamental lack of commitment to robust anti-corruption mechanisms. According to the public relations officer of the IG, “We don’t have full funding. We don’t have full staffing.… There is a big backlog because of insufficient staff.”
By law the Inspectorate of Government is headed by the Inspector General of Government and two Deputy Inspector Generals. The second deputy position has been vacant since the IGG was originally established in the 1995 constitution. While clearly creating a burden for other employees, the vacancy also became a structural obstacle to accountability when three ministers were charged by the IGG with abuse of office and causing financial loss in connection with the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government scandal. The three defendants brought a challenge to the Constitutional Court, questioning the legal power of the IG to prosecute cases while not being “fully constituted,” that is, that it has vacancies. In April 2012 the court ordered that the IGG’s office cannot prosecute cases so long as it is not “fully constituted” and the three ministers were ultimately acquitted of all charges. The IGG appealed to the Supreme Court, but the lack of judges appointed to that court meant that the appeal has yet to be heard. The prosecutor called the judges’ ruling “absurd” and is optimistic that the Supreme Court will eventually overturn the decision.
The Constitutional Court decision also meant that the IGG became subordinate to the DPP and could not prosecute anyone without the express written permission of the DPP. The DPP had to sign off on every charge sheet initiated by the IGG. This left the IGG at a significant disadvantage, as it lacked prosecutorial independence and became mired in the politics of the DPP’s office as well as creating the obvious manpower problems. According to one current DPP prosecutor, the then-director of public prosecutions expressed hesitation in prosecuting “personalities, when we’re dealing with the public interest cases, where there is a lot of money involved.”
From the time of the Constitutional Court decision in April 2012 until recently, the president took no action to appoint someone to the position of second deputy IGG so that the IG office could be functional and also did not ensure that appointments to the Supreme Court occurred in a timely fashion. It was only in the wake of the OPM scandal, when donors raised the lack of a second deputy IGG as a key action point, that President Museveni moved to fully compose the office of the IG. In July 2013 President Museveni appointed Mariam Wangadya as second deputy IGG and she was confirmed in August. This is now the first time in the IGG’s 25-year history that all three leadership positions have been filled, but it was clearly prompted solely by donor pressure. It is a significant step forward, but insiders voiced concern that this might be short lived given high turnover in the office and the possibility that other vacancies may not be filled quickly. “We have waited for six months for some people to be sworn in to office here and the files just accumulate. It will happen again,” said one prosecutor.
Ironically, in May 2013, the president appointed Richard Buteera, the long-serving DPP, and his deputy as Appeals Court and High Court judges, respectively, which meant that until the DPP vacancies were filled in August 2013 it was not possible for any corruption-related prosecutions to proceed. Activists questioned why the president would appoint someone to a new position without ensuring that his previous post—especially one absolutely essential for a functional justice system—was filled.
Not only should these positions clearly not be allowed to remain vacant for unduly and unjustifiably long periods but a temporary vacancy should not cripple the functionality of the institution or render it impossible for prosecutions to proceed. These loopholes should be urgently addressed in law so as to keep institutions strong and functional.
Lack of Disclosure of Financial Assets
Existing Ugandan laws require “leaders” to disclose financial assets. This is an enormously important obligation that, if it implemented, would greatly enhance the transparency of public officials’ finances and likely deter public graft. The public also has a right to information (deemed in the public interest) under the constitution and the Access to Information Act. Despite the numerous laws, however, Uganda’s regulatory framework to combat corruption fails to apply the requirement of asset declarations to presidential appointees and other high-level officials, the tribunal to challenge the content of declarations has never been established, and there is no system for the public to access information regarding financial assets of officials.
The 2002 Leadership Code Act requires a wide range of national and local political leaders to disclose their financial information, including income, assets, and liabilities, as well the financial information of their family members. The IGG is tasked with inspecting disclosure and can request clarification if discrepancies are discovered. Failure to comply with the IGG’s request for clarification can, according to the law, lead to dismissal from office, though this provision has faced serious challenges in the courts and is currently not in force. The act also prohibits a number of corrupt practices, including acting in a public capacity with conflict of interest, acceptance of certain high-value gifts, acceptance of government contracts, abuse of public property, and misuse of official information.
On its face, the Leadership Code Act appears to set up a fairly strong two-pronged anti-corruption framework by requiring financial disclosure for public officials and establishing a Leadership Tribunal to enforce a code of conduct for political leaders. However, such a body has never been formed, rendering the Leadership Code unenforceable in practice and crippling the IGG’s ability to ensure accurate declarations.
According to those working in the Inspectorate of Government, most leaders do generally make asset declarations. One told Human Rights Watch that they have “about 30,000 files” but they lack both the resources to monitor the content of those declarations and, without an established Leadership Tribunal, there is no forum for the IGG to challenge the content itself. In 2007 a judge ruled that the IGG cannot address violations of the Leadership Code Act because it is not the appropriate body to adjudicate cases for breaches and that this must occur in the non-existent Leadership Tribunal. The judge argued that it should be urgently established to enforce “values of integrity and proper conduct in the leadership of this country, values which I consider to be critical in the pursuit of development, democracy, good governance and the promotion of the rule of law,” and so that the “Leadership Code of Conduct can be effectively enforced.”
In addition, courts have drawn a distinction between presidential appointees and government employees, thereby shielding ministers from asset declaration. In 2002 the Constitutional Court ruled that the Leadership Code Act does not apply to presidential appointees, rendering the act irrelevant for a large number of the highest-ranking officials. In that case, the IGG had dismissed Presidential Advisor Major Roland Kakooza Mutale for failure to make a financial declaration. He subsequently challenged his dismissal before the Constitutional Court, which ruled that the Leadership Code Act is void with respect to presidential appointees. The court ruled that these provisions violate the constitution’s procedures for disciplining appointees and violated the president’s discretion. Ultimately this decision has meant that the IGG no longer has power to terminate or recommend the termination of presidential appointees and the president himself is not obligated to fire people who fail to report their assets.
Cabinet has impeded progress on establishing this crucial anti-corruption institution. A few years ago, then-acting IGG Raphael Baku, officials from the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity, and others formed a task force which formulated the legislative basis for the Leadership Tribunal and submitted recommendations to cabinet for approval. According to interviewees there has been no progress since that time.
Lastly, there is no mechanism to make any financial declarations available to the public. In 2002 the then-IGG made some records public only to face a barrage of criticism from politicians. Ministers then wrote a petition to the attorney general asking if the IGG had acted properly by releasing such information. At the time the Access to Information Law had not yet come into force. The attorney general’s position was that such information had not been released in the proper “prescribed form,” but such regulations have never been drafted or come into effect. Since the Access to Information Law came into force in 2005, the attorney general has argued that law cannot be applied to release asset declarations to the public. This has not yet been tested in the courts. Interviewees from the Office of the Inspectorate of Government noted that, because the attorney general defends the IGG in court, it is difficult for them to test his legal advice in the courts.
A draft bill establishing the “prescribed form” to release information is also pending with cabinet, but in interviews with Human Rights Watch credible sources voiced considerable skepticism about its passage in a timely fashion, pointing out that the recently passed Anti-Money Laundering Bill floundered in cabinet for eight years. Ultimately, Uganda should urgently develop a system to ensure that financial assets of government leaders are scrutinized and available to the public. “In the absence of the leadership tribunal, we cannot enforce that act,” said one prosecutor. “We need regulations and law because we need a system to make such information available to the public.”
Overlapping Mandates of the IGG and DPP
“You have so many people working on the same thing. They’re not coordinating. Because of that, they clash…. Sometimes you don’t know which unit answers to whom. Sometimes there’s overlap … so there’s no clear unit in charge of anti-corruption.”
—Human rights lawyer and anti-corruption activist, May 20, 2013
Uganda has a fairly robust set of laws to address corruption, but knowledgeable sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch flagged some areas of concern within the legal regime which if addressed could help to clarify roles and insulate prosecutors from political interference.
The Anti-Corruption Act grants both the Inspectorate of Government and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions the power to prosecute offenses under the act. As a result, prosecutors from both offices can prosecute cases before the Anti-Corruption Court. By law the IGG can prosecute only government officials, while the DPP can prosecute both government officials and private citizens. Beyond this distinction, however, no law sets forth any guidelines for when each agency is supposed to take on a case.
Current and former government officials in the DPP and IGG reported that the agencies have frequently discovered that they are both investigating the same case. Once parallel investigations are discovered, the DPP and IGG coordinate informally and let the agency that is farther along in the case take over. But the lack of systematic coordination between the DPP and IGG contributes to a confusion of responsibility since neither has complete ownership of anti-corruption prosecutions. Because resolution of these occurrences is not formal and based purely on the personalities involved there is no guarantee that in the future the agencies will coordinate with each other in an effective manner.
This reliance on “after the fact” coordination also creates inefficiencies during investigations, wasting limited resources and personnel capacity. Prosecutors from the Inspectorate of Government use their own investigators, whereas prosecutors from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions rely on police to lead their inquiries. The police are widely perceived to be poor at investigating corruption cases. Prosecutors said a common problem is that police tend to arrest first and investigate later, sometimes violating the rights of defendants arrested without legally sufficient evidence. Individuals investigated by both agencies have also reportedly cited the duplicative efforts to claim that they are the subject of a “witch hunt,” which damages the credibility of both the IGG and DPP.
The overlap also makes it difficult for the public and other key stakeholders to identify which agency is accountable for failures to investigate and prosecute specific incidents of corruption.
Vague Legal Definitions
Many definitions of the over 20 offenses enumerated in the Anti-Corruption Act of 2009 are excessively broad or vague. Some offenses contain clear standards on the state of mind or intention of the offender, such as “intentional,” “knowing,” or “negligent,” but several offenses do not. Two egregious examples of excessively broad and vague offenses are “abuse of office” and “causing financial loss.” The definition of abuse of office is “any arbitrary act prejudicial to the employers, in abuse of the authority of his or her office.” By using the term “in abuse of the authority of his or her office,” to define the abuse of office offense, the statute provides essentially no guidance as to what behavior constitutes a crime. Among the 88 anti-corruption cases analyzed by Human Right Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic, abuse of office was the most common charge (42 percent). One Ugandan criminal defense attorney said, “Under that law, it is possible to charge anybody.” In contrast, the UN Convention Against Corruption defines a similar offense with greater specificity, as “the performance of or failure to perform an act, in violation of laws, by a public official in the discharge of his or her functions, for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for himself or herself or for another person or entity … when committed intentionally.” The UN definition requires intention to commit a crime, a nexus with violation of a separate law, and that the offender have the objective of obtaining undue advantage, thereby constraining the circumstances in which a charge may be brought.
“Causing financial loss” refers to employees of the government, a bank, insurance company, or credit institution who, in the performance of duties, knowingly (or having reason to believe) commits an act or omission that “causes financial loss” to the organization. This language encompasses a broad array of activities, including decisions that carry financial risk that are common to the banking and insurance industries, as well as decisions concerning public procurement and regulations. About one quarter of defendants in the 88 anti-corruption cases analyzed by Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic were charged with “causing financial loss” (26 percent). A higher threshold of “intentional” conduct rather than the lower threshold of “knowing” conduct would constrain application of the law in such a way that is neither abusive nor wasteful of prosecutors’ and courts’ time given the constraints and case backlogs.
The result of these broad and vague provisions is that the DPP and IGG enjoy great discretion to interpret the law that may allow for political motivations to drive investigation and prosecutorial decisions.
Security of Tenure
The IGG is appointed by the president with the approval of parliament for a term of four years with the possibility of a single reappointment by parliament for another four year term. Some interviewees noted that the brevity of these terms is problematic given the complexity of the litigation, which often takes years to complete. The shortness of the terms also results in reduced job security and therefore greater susceptibility to outside influence. Some also noted that the mechanism of re-appointment via parliamentary approval could potentially deter an IGG from prosecuting ministers who would likely be present and could take the opportunity to embarrass them and/or rally others to deny them reappointment.
The Office of the Inspectorate of Government has encountered numerous rotations and in recent years, no person has served as IGG for the full eight-year term. Justice Faith Mwondha refused to go before the parliamentary appointments committee in 2009 which resulted in her serving only one term. She argued that parliamentary approval was not required for her reappointment, given that the president had approved it himself. Deputy IGG Raphael Baku served as acting IGG for three years before Justice Irene Mulyagonja’s appointment in July 2012. Baku left office as Deputy IGG in 2009 due to his completion of two four-year terms, the maximum allowed in law for that post too. The head of the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court, Justice Paul Kahaibale Mugamba, noted that this “lack of continuity and consistency” in the leadership of the IGG affected the competence of its prosecutors. One former IGG prosecutor pointed out the difficulties in turnover, stating, “You have a drastic turnover of top leadership at the IGG so you have a top guy who doesn’t understand the internal dynamics and can’t put in place the programs necessary.”
Both the IGG and the auditor general are appointed by the president with the approval of parliament. And both may only be removed from office for exceptional and enumerated reasons: infirmity, misconduct, or incompetence. But the auditor general has no time limit of the term in office, giving the office relative security of tenure. According to Auditor General John Muwanga, “Security of tenure enables me to comment and criticize freely, without worry of being fired, of getting no contract.” The Office of the Auditor General is widely considered one of the more effective anti-corruption bodies in Uganda. It was the office of the auditor general, for example, that revealed the existence and extent of the OPM scandal in 2012.
Extending the term of the IGG and recusing any ministers under investigation from participating in the reappointment process would give the IGG greater job security and ensure that the appointments process is free of conflicts of interest, as much as possible.
“Political pressure on the IG [Inspectorate of Government] coupled with bribery of court officials hinders prosecution.”
—Inspectorate of Government, Report to Parliament, June 2012
“I left [the Inspectorate of Government]…. Within me, I got this contradiction that I can’t keep working with a government that protects top officials against prosecution while I go prosecuting teachers and accountants.”
—Former investigator for the Inspectorate of Government, May 20, 2013
The vast majority of individuals convicted in Uganda have been low-level, local government officials. Prosecutions of ministers and influential individuals—the “big fish”—are rarely successful. Only one minister, Hon. Mike Mukula, has ever been convicted at trial, and that conviction was overturned shortly thereafter. Instead, ministers are censured by parliament, lose their positions, are prosecuted and acquitted, and then are reappointed, in what one donor called “a game of musical chairs.”
The Record of the Anti-Corruption Court
The Anti-Corruption Court is the key institution to bring perpetrators of corruption to account. In the 88 first instance cases analyzed by Human Rights Watch and the Lowenstein Clinic, the Anti-Corruption Court convicted defendants 68 percent of the time, but these convictions are concentrated among low-level, local government workers. Local government workers made up the majority of defendants (65 out of 106 defendants, or 61 percent), and the amounts of money that they were alleged to have illegally acquired in their cases were low (the average was $1,300).
Of the 106 defendants, 3 were nongovernmental workers who were all convicted and 62 individuals convicted were local government workers. Representing conviction rates of 100 and 80 percent respectively, these are the highest rates whereas the lowest conviction rates were for central government leaders (33 percent, n=3) and central government workers (20 percent, n=5). Only one central government leader, former State Minister for Health Mike Mukula, was convicted—and his conviction was overturned on appeal. The average amounts that leaders—at both central and local levels—were accused of illegally taking are the highest among all cases ($120,000 for central government, $25,000 for local government).
Fifty-seven out of 106 defendants (54 percent) were prosecuted for amounts less than $1,000. Interviewees corroborated the lack of prosecutions of high-level government officials. Only seven ministers have ever been charged with crimes for corruption-related behavior and all were eventually acquitted. “It’s a statement by the president,” a prosecutor at the Anti-Corruption Court said. “‘Look, we’re taking them to courts. We don’t control the courts.’ But we know that’s not true.”
As a private criminal defense attorney told Human Rights Watch, “the petty corruption is prosecuted beautifully in Uganda.” Prosecutors in Uganda deserve some praise for prosecuting petty corruption cases carefully and capably. But the contrast is all the starker given the failure to convict the “bigger fish.”
Political Influence and Corruption in the Gathering of Evidence
Convictions are highly dependent on the quality of the evidence presented before the courts. Corruption cases in Uganda are often dismissed and defendants acquitted due to lack of evidence. While problems of capacity and training undermine the ability to collect the necessary evidence, many interviewees with significant experience in the sector cited the lack of political will as the biggest obstacle to securing sufficient evidence for successful convictions. Multiple interviewees, including prosecutors, specified that interference from the president or perceived to be from him via those working in his office is a serious problem.
Political influence most often takes the form of bribes, and the low salaries of civil servants increase their susceptibility. For example, investigating police officers have the responsibility to collect evidence that will later be necessary at trial. Police officers and investigators at the Inspectorate of Government, however, are paid poorly, and often late, rendering them susceptible to bribery so that they intentionally overlook key evidence or conduct poor investigations. Bribery can thus result in a lack of evidence and be sufficient to prevent a case from going forward.
Former IG officials said they were offered bribes by high-level government officials or their agents to throw cases and faced threats if they refused. The biggest bribes reportedly came during investigations of the “big fish.” One former IG prosecutor recounted being offered 20 million Uganda shillings (approximately $ 7,800) to let a case be dismissed—with the promise of “an extra zero at the end of the figure” if all “went well.”
One former investigator from the Inspectorate of Government described the difficulty of pursuing “high profile cases”:
“By the time you finish reading through a case, inside you wonder, ‘Will I manage this?’ At the operational level, one, they are not paying me enough salary. Two, my staff are not trained enough to confront that fraud. Number three, the risk involved. You are going to investigate a minister, you have no security, and the amount involved is too much. And you are so sure that they won’t sit down and allow you to investigate.”
Hence, he said, “Those high profile cases, we never liked to investigate them. Those of us who liked investigating them, you wouldn’t tell anyone where you live, or where you socialize…. There is a lot of fear behind every high profile case.”
A former IGG investigator said that when he refused a bribe from a defendant, the defendant then claimed in court that the investigator had tried to exact a bribe from the defendant. “That’s when I began losing interest in taking any case to court…. From that day, I lost faith in what you would call the court system. Because if you don’t bribe the officers, somebody will be bribed in the court system, and somebody will get away.”
Threats to Prosecutors and Witnesses
Two former employees of the Inspector General of Government said that when investigators or prosecutors refused bribes, they received threats. The pressure and the scale of the threats increased during high-profile scandals, leading some to fear for their safety and the safety of their families. One former IGG prosecutor reported finding his dogs dead and receiving an anonymous call asking him how his dogs were doing. He also recounted that, after refusing a bribe from the high-level official he was prosecuting, he received a phone call from an unidentified individual asking if he was “bullet-proof,” told him the exact amount of money in his bank account, and advised him not to refuse the money.
An Anti-Corruption Court prosecutor said that the government used prosecution as political leverage to keep political cadres in line. “There are cases where somebody is being prosecuted. The evidence is there. But that’s not why he’s being prosecuted. It’s because he’s being investigated for something else. The government is trying to get him back on board. If he doesn’t cooperate, we prosecute.” When the political calculations change, witnesses retract statements, evidence falls away, and ultimately the prosecutions unravel.
In a well-known example, Hon. Mike Mukula was quoted to have ambitions to run for president in 2016 in a WikiLeaks cable. Media reports suggested that those ambitions were the reason he was initially successfully prosecuted and convicted, and that it was only once he publicly abandoned those ambitions that his conviction was reversed on appeal. At the time of his conviction, leaders from his home region were quoted in the press, saying “Mukula made a big mistake. You cannot be in Museveni’s government and say openly that you want to take his job. You will be asking for trouble.” Similarly, there were rumors that Vice President Bukenya was initially prosecuted because of rumors of a possible presidential run in 2016. As one parliamentarian noted, “The moment you stick your neck out and express interest in the top job, you’re in trouble.”
Prosecutors reported occasionally feeling pressure to manipulate the timing of cases in order to benefit certain defendants. One prosecutor felt his superiors were “on speed dial with the president” and reported receiving phone calls, both from his superiors and from unidentified individuals he believed to be associated with the government, to delay going to trial despite having strong evidence. Delays also allow for extra time to buy off or pressure key witnesses. Cases dragging on for years led to the loss of evidence and witnesses. In other cases, prosecutors reported being pressured by their superiors to go to trial before they were ready, resulting in cases being dismissed—often for lack of evidence.
Criminal defense attorneys who had practiced in the Anti-Corruption Court said that intentionally causing delays is a common litigation tactic. Attorneys said that in particular, lodging an appeal in Constitutional Court is a favored way to delay prosecution. The lack of a quorum at the Constitutional Court causes cases to stall immediately. One former IGG investigator said he was called as a principal witness in 2012 for a case he had investigated seven years earlier. Delays then resulted in loss of evidence and witnesses relocating or forgetting key details.
Some interviewees pointed out that high-profile defendants enriched by corruption could afford to pay experienced private attorneys, whereas the prosecuting state attorneys were inexperienced, overworked, and/or easily intimidated. The relative wealth of high-ranking defendants in corruption cases also provides opportunities for bribes to state attorneys. Low-level, local government workers accused of corruption often cannot afford to pay private counsel. One criminal defense attorney who had represented defendants in the Anti-Corruption Court said that his defendants, all “lower cadre [public] servants” such as police officers, could be easily prosecuted “because their capacity to fight is limited.”
High-level corruption can require the complicity of many individuals within an office acting in concert. As a result, in order to convict the top leadership, prosecutors sometimes make decisions to drop charges against some of the staff members and low-level officials so that they will testify against those at the top. However, in several prominent cases key witnesses called by prosecution ultimately flipped sides and testified in favor of the defense after taking the stand.
Interviewees cited the difficulty in testifying against a minister in open court, especially given well-founded fears that the minister is likely to remain in office or in a position of influence after the prosecution. A prosecutor at the Inspectorate of Government lamented the fact that the president had refused to suspend ministers while under investigation: “If the ministers remain in office and the witnesses are still working in the very ministries they’re heading, how do you expect some junior officer to testify in court against the minister?”
The ability of a witness to give evidence in court or to cooperate with investigations without fear of reprisal is indispensable to maintaining rule of law. Several lawyers and prosecutors working on corruption cases told Human Rights Watch that their witnesses were often bribed or intimidated into silence. The main method seems to be bribes in exchange for not testifying, with threats coming at the tail end of the witness refused to accept the bribes. One former investigator recounted the difficulty he had in getting witnesses to testify against the leaders of an eastern district. He was able to gather evidence during investigations, but all the witnesses became hostile and changed their stories once in court. He believed they had been threatened. One witness, a civil servant two years from retirement, later apologized to the prosecutor for not cooperating, saying he had been threatened with the loss of his pension or life. One long time anti-corruption prosecutor reflected on his career saying, “I realized that without a witness protection program, structural protection for witnesses, you can’t succeed with this.”
The executive’s personal and public support of ministers under investigation provides little incentive for witnesses to testify against these ministers. One donor noted the “absolute sense of impunity that they [the ruling elite] can get away with anything.” With little assurance that risking their jobs will secure a conviction, witnesses rarely testify against politically shielded ministers. Without the testimony of those who can identify high-level officials as the orchestrators of corruption, prosecutors are left with little evidence and lower-level officials take the fall.
A draft Witness Protection Bill is still undergoing technical review by Uganda’s Law Reform Commission but could be forwarded to cabinet by the end of 2013. According to those working on the draft, it draws heavily from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime Model Witness Protection Law as well as Kenyan and South African legislation.  Ensuring that such legislation can be passed and meaningfully funded and implemented might assist to mitigate some of the problems of witness intimidation in corruption trials.
“Corruption has infringed on basic rights like health, food, and a stable living. What’s made it even worse is that when we were so disgruntled, when we wanted to discuss it and talk about how to change things, we’re being told we can’t speak. My final right has been stripped away from me…. Instead of sorting the problems, they shut up the victims.”
—Anti-corruption activist, May 20, 2013
Throughout 2013, civil society activists working to raise corruption issues and educate citizens about corruption have met with government efforts to silence them. These actions belie the government’s long-standing promises to both its citizens and international donors to root out corruption.
In November 2012 a coalition of around 50 civil society groups organized a campaign known as the Black Monday movement. The participants wear black every Monday to highlight the theft of public money, raise awareness of corruption’s effect on citizens’ lives, and protest the impunity of government officials who have not been held accountable. Activists also publish and distribute monthly newsletters that highlight corruption’s impact on various sectors, such as education, health, youth, taxes, and the police.
Police arrested and charged at least 28 individuals handing out Black Monday materials in the first ten months of 2013. Nineteen were charged with inciting violence; five with possession of prohibited publications; and three with spreading of harmful propaganda. Most of those 28 were stopped from distributing Black Monday materials and held between three and ten hours in police detention before being released without charge. Of those charged, all were eventually released on police bond and continue to report to police on weekly or bi-weekly basis, for one or two months, as a condition of their bond.
Several of those arrested are long-standing, well-respected members of civil society. Police arrested anti-corruption activist and Executive Director of Action Aid Arthur Larok, and Leonard Okello, the Executive Director of the Uhuru Institute and the former director of Community Health Alliance, in January for distributing a newsletter about corruption on the street. Police also arrested a nearby airtime seller for receiving and reading the newsletter. They were detained for a few hours and eventually released. In October, Job Kiija, who works with Uganda NGO Forum, was arrested after giving an interview to the press while handing out Black Monday materials to market vendors in Kampala’s Owino market. He was charged with inciting violence and unlawful assembly, detained for a few hours, and released.
Another anti-corruption activist who had been arrested separately in January 2013 for passing out the same newsletters at a church described her arrest: “I thought only criminals were arrested until it happened to me…. Just being in the police car itself is terrible. Going into the cell, taking off your shoes. It was dirty, stinking, it smelled of urine.” She was released on police bond and continues reporting to police. “Chances are that’s what they do so that they keep you in fear and frustrate you,” she said.
In February 2013, police arrested religious leader and former bishop David Zac Niringiye along with nine students for handing out newsletters near the campus of Makerere University. After their arrest, the activists were interrogated and detained in total for around nine hours at a police station. Police released them on bond under the charge of “incitement to violence.” The activists then had to report to the police on a weekly basis for around two months before charges were dropped. Bishop Niringiye, referring to the over ten police officers sent to arrest him, noted, “The priority in building capacity for police has been to improve the capacity to arrest us, not to investigate [corruption].”
This spate of arrests in 2013 is pernicious in that it demonstrates a concerted effort on the part of police to obstruct citizens’ access to information about how corruption affects government services. So far, no one has faced trial but the arrests themselves accomplish multiple objectives; the distribution is obstructed so that people do not access the information unless they seek it on the internet, which is out of financial reach for many Ugandans. Others are discouraged and intimidated from joining the Black Monday Movement for fear of also being arrested and charged with crimes. And the activists themselves are significantly inconvenienced. Over half of them are still required to report to police on a weekly or monthly basis as a condition of their bond, wasting their time and requiring money for transport. Some were purposely forced to report to police on Mondays, preventing them from organizing and taking part in regular weekly protest activities.
Donors have routinely discussed the importance of increasing the “demand side” as part of supporting accountability efforts. But donors have been relatively weak in publicly condemning the arrests of Black Monday activists or pushing police for any evidence of wrongdoing. One donor told Human Rights Watch that he had voiced concern for the arrests with members of government, only to be told that though the government agrees with the Black Monday Movement messaging, they don’t like the “way in which it is done.”
Arrest and harassment of anti-corruption activists has escalated in recent year as civil society across multiple sensitive topics have faced threats of deregistration and closing down of meetings and workshops. For example, in February 2011, days before the presidential elections, at least 10 activists were arrested for passing out leaflets protesting Museveni’s dispensing of 20 million Ugandan shillings (approximately $8,500) to each parliamentarian under the guise of funding oversight of a national agricultural program. The leaflets were part of the Respect Your Honor and Return Our Money Campaign, aimed at getting parliamentarians to refuse the money. One activist arrested during this campaign said, “What we realized is that the regime feels embarrassed to be seen arresting anti-corruption activists, but they also feel that corruption is actually the only thing that can bring them down.”
In 2009 Reverend Jasper Tumuhimbise, former director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), went into hiding after publishing a survey on officials Ugandans perceived as corrupt. He received menacing phone calls and visits from security personnel questioning who the ACCU’s donors were. A minister threatened Tumuhimbise on public radio, saying he would “crush him.”
Journalists reporting on corruption have also experienced harassment and intimidation from government officials. In one recent instance early in 2013 a journalist at a Kampala media house reported facing harassment by a government minister to drop coverage of alleged corruption. The government minister reportedly called the journalist’s editor, demanding that he be fired or that the paper would lose advertising contracts in the future.
The “OPM” Scandal 2012-2013
Donors reacted assertively following revelations in mid-2012 that more than 12 million euros had been misappropriated by the Office of the Prime Minister. The four countries directly impacted by the graft—Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark— responded by immediately suspending outstanding aid to Uganda. Ireland and the UK also sent their own forensic audit teams to Uganda to investigate the corruption.
In the following months, the other donors providing direct budget support to Uganda also halted their aid. In addition, the European countries whose funds had been stolen demanded repayment from the Ugandan government, a demand that was satisfied by early 2013. The donors also negotiated a high-level “matrix” with the Ugandan government containing eight action items necessary to restore donor confidence and resume normal funding.
Along with recovery of funds, donors also demanded that Uganda levy administrative sanctions against public officials involved in the corruption, seek legal remedies including prosecutions, overhaul its financial management systems, fully constitute the IGG, and strengthen anti-corruption legislation relating to anti-money laundering and take steps toward establishing the Leadership Code Tribunal.
In June, 2013, the accountant working for the OPM, Geoffrey Kazinda was convicted and sentenced to five years for abuse of office.  He has appealed that decision.  Investigations into the OPM scandal continue.
International donors have played a significant role in the political economy of Uganda, but have a mixed record of applying meaningful pressure on the Ugandan government to address endemic corruption that leads to poor governance, failures of service delivery, and human rights abuses. Over the past decade, nearly three dozen bilateral and multilateral donors have pumped over $13 billion into Uganda, comprising about 10 percent of the country’s total yearly gross national income. 
Foreign aid has slowed or halted at various times in response to high-profile corruption scandals, but each time it has resumed after largely cosmetic reforms. In 2005, for example, donors suspended $200 million in aid  at the revelation that health ministry officials had embezzled over $4.5 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,  and then worked to support the IGG to improve anti-fraud investigative capacity while pressuring the Ugandan government to prosecute and convict those responsible.  Money eventually flowed again, despite the prosecutions of relatively low-level officials and other scandals ensued.
In 2010 a group of donors providing direct budget support again cut some funding on the heels of the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scandal, involving 6 billion Ugandan shillings (around $2.4 million) and allegations against the former vice president and three government ministers. The donor cuts amounted to over 10 percent of their $360 million in direct budget support. Most recently donors again stopped direct budget support at the end of 2012 and ultimately received repayment of the $12.7 million that had vanished in the OPM scandal.
Despite increased pressure on the Ugandan government to address corruption, the donor community’s own weaknesses—self-interest, inconsistencies, and poor coordination—have contributed to a failure to protect donor aid from graft in Uganda. Several knowledgeable sources suggested to Human Rights Watch that the best course of action for donors would be to stop financial support to the Ugandan government given the lack of concrete progress to root out high-level corruption, but none entertained the thought that this was a realistic option.
If international donors continue providing financial support to Uganda, particularly to bolster social and economic rights such as health, education, water, sanitation, and land tenure, a more concerted long-term effort focused on accountability for grand scale corruption—particularly of high-ranking members of government—would improve their ability to successfully attain their development objectives. Showing a long-term dedication to high-level prosecutions would not only assist in punishing perpetrators but it would also set an example to other high-ranking Ugandan leaders and perhaps stem the tide of theft of donor aid.
Strategic Need, Economic Considerations, and Entrenched Self-Interest
“Countries are not just here because of altruism; they also have to promote their interests.”
—Donor official, May 2013
International donor commitment to fighting corruption in Uganda is compromised by other competing interests that soften their stance and dilutes their criticism. This must be addressed head-on if donor money is to achieve its stated goals of poverty alleviation and effective development assistance.
Museveni has shrewdly consolidated Uganda’s strategic importance as a counterterrorism ally, peacemaker, and negotiator in East Africa. Because of his commitments to provide (or threats to withdraw) peacekeeping and military presence in Somalia,  for counter-operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army, and for counter-terrorism operations in the region, some donors admit that their governments are reluctant to challenge Museveni assertively on corruption, preferring to maintain ties, thereby insulating him from some criticism. 
Trade and economic interests can also undermine the effectiveness of donor anti-corruption efforts. According to one European donor official there is an “unstated nervousness” among European donors that being too outspoken in demanding conditions and anti-corruption protections could damage their own commercial interests.  Because countries like China do not use a “stick-based” approach when providing development assistance, the leverage of traditional Western donors, the effectiveness of their aid conditionality policies, and the relevance of their budget support model is perceived to have been weakened.  As one donor official told Human Rights Watch, right now “[donors] need the government more than the government needs them.”  Furthermore, “Museveni knows. He visits China when the budget support is turned off, and this scares Western governments.”  Too often Western donors and multilateral agencies answer concerns about inadequacies in their response to corruption or their aid practices by citing a false dichotomy: it is either us or China. A global lowering of standards is not the answer.
Donor interests in trade and investment opportunities have only amplified since the discovery of oil in Uganda. A donor advisor described how one ambassador instructed other members of a donor working group to “tone down our analysis” of corruption problems because it was harmful to that country’s negotiations in securing a significant investment opportunity. Unfortunately, such trade opportunities often win out when balanced against the human rights and anti-corruption agenda.
Because many in-country donor offices exist solely for the purpose of distributing aid, continuing that aid is an imperative, no matter how grievous the corruption scandal. This problem is particularly true for multilateral agencies such as the World Bank that do not have separated diplomatic functions. The problem is exacerbated by incentive structures, which at some institutions emphasize the amount of development dollars disbursed rather than rewarding staff for advancing inclusive, sustainable development which complies with safeguard policies and avoids or mitigates human rights risks. Such agencies often argue that aid that does actually reach communities in need of development assistance justifies ensuring that aid continues to flow into Uganda, despite failed promises to eradicate corruption and the ongoing arrests of Uganda’s anti-corruption activists.
Inconsistency and Poor Coordination
Donor action on corruption has also been weakened by the inevitable personnel rotation, loss of institutional memory, varying degrees of political and historical knowledge of Uganda, and the personal relationships of the donor and diplomatic corps. Even if one head of mission is aggressive in fighting graft and speaking out about the lack of accountability, momentum in fighting corruption is often undermined or erased by a successor who is less outspoken or less quick to seize on problems. Short-term reactionary responses to scandals and a dependence on the personalities of individuals in leadership positions will ultimately fail to address Uganda’s deeply-rooted corruption.
In contrast, the Museveni regime has been in power for over a quarter of a century. The Ugandan government is well-aware of its advantages as the only true repeat player. “They understand how donors work and how slowly they work,” one long-serving diplomat told Human Rights Watch. “They bide their time until this ambassador, who is too noisy, will go.” 
Already ambassadors and other key donor officials in-country during the OPM scandal are beginning to take up new positions in other countries. Donor headquarters will need to manage these transitions, investing time and resources into ensuring meaningful hand-overs so that the positive momentum initiated post-OPM scandal is not lost.
Donor attention to fighting corruption in Uganda has also vacillated with cycles of various scandals and ultimately been disjointed. There are efforts underway to remedy this but it will require persistence in the face of increasing pressure for each country to return to business as usual. Over the last decade, international donors have tried various models to coordinate assistance and political analysis. Initially political working groups were separate from those focused on development, but this artificial distinction eventually collapsed. A merger was driven by a series of high-profile grand corruption cases that underscored the inherently political nature of development and revealed how the Ugandan government had exploited inconsistencies between the working groups. There was recognition that the donor landscape was afflicted with disharmony, duplication, high transaction costs, and a general sense of confusion.
Donors created a Joint Budget Support Framework (JBSF) in 2009, comprised of the approximately 10 countries and multilaterals that provided direct budget support to the Ugandan government. The objective was to coordinate the delivery of key services including education, health, water, and infrastructure.  Under the JBSF framework, the Ugandan government and donors established a set of benchmarks and indicators against which the donors assess Uganda’s performance annually.  This assessment then forms the basis for subsequent donor disbursement decisions. 
Anti-corruption is one of the key metrics. Specifically, this precondition measures whether there has been: a) continuous updating and improvement of anti-corruption legislation; b) enforcement of this legislation, in particular sanctioning and recovery of funds by administrative and judicial means in grand corruption cases; and c) audit reports and parliamentary review of anti-corruption measures within specified timeframes and with timely and effective follow-up. Every year, JBSF members have found that Uganda has failed to satisfy the anti-corruption benchmark. 
The Accountability Working Group (AWG)—a coalition of donors to Uganda led by the UK and the World Bank—began in 2009 and focuses on coordinating accountability and anti-corruption efforts.  The AWG developed the Joint Response to Corruption, a high-level strategy for improving donor coordination and information-sharing. Although still in its early stages of development, the Joint Response has shown promise, particularly in coordinating donor responses after the OPM scandal, maintaining a “rolling core script” during diplomatic demarches and identifying action points for the government to undertake to rebuild donor confidence. The critical question will be if momentum will be maintained over time and personnel changes, and if this coordinated response will endure over time.
Although there is no shortage of donor constellations, the actual extent and quality of donor coordination is questionable. When asked about the relationship between the AWG and JBSF, for example, many interviewees, including donor and government officials, did not have a clear sense of how or to what extent the two groups overlapped or worked together. One expert interviewee noted that while there is no formal relationship, the two share the same lead agencies and the JBSF relies on the AWG as a source of advice and analysis.  The alphabet soup of groups and frameworks, and the lack of clear roles and understandings among players within the system, suggests that a more streamlined donor coordination is required to have a meaningful impact on anti-corruption efforts long-term.
Ineffective or Incomplete Donor Demands
The Ugandan government often undertakes accountability reforms after a scandal in large part to placate donors. As a result, Uganda has developed a strong legal and institutional framework for fighting corruption—on paper. But, as stated above, nominal reforms and institutions are often intentionally understaffed and politically crippled in the long run. So while donor demands may be superficially satisfied, very little concrete change actually comes of the government’s actions. Instead, the difficult situation arises in which the Ugandan government promotes its anti-corruption efforts for public relations purposes, which are in reality “smokescreens of anti-corruption institutions that are not funded, not fully constituted, and with that laws are full of loopholes.”
Donors have displayed a lack of meaningful follow-through specifically on the issue of prosecutions in the Anti-Corruption Court. One donor official told Human Rights Watch, “Donors are often quick to swing into action and demand prosecution—but will it end in a conviction? That’s a different story.” Indeed, high-level officials have been investigated and charged, per donor demands, but then are acquitted and re-appointed to a different government post and the “musical chairs” begins.
In their desire to demand accountability, donors may unintentionally put emphasis on the wrong objectives. In the context of the Anti-Corruption Court specifically, donor efforts have created some unhelpful incentives that emphasize sheer quantity over the quality and meaningfulness of prosecutions. For example, according to one Anti-Corruption Court prosecutor, donor pressure has contributed to the focus on prosecuting large numbers of relatively low-level prosecutions, despite the many complex cases implicating higher-level officials. “Donors are concerned about numbers. They want to see that we prosecuted 95 cases. They don’t care about the content.” The donor focus on the prosecutions is clearly important and legitimate but for fundamental change, pressure should be brought to improve the potential for the highest-ranking members of government to be held accountable.
Dangers of Budget Support and Inadequate Exploration of Funding Alternatives
Uganda is not receiving direct budget support at the time of writing, but it is not yet clear if or when some donors might return to this form of engagement. Many donors had centralized aid to Uganda following the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Eight years and millions of stolen dollars later, this commitment to providing discretionary funding to the central government is “in tatters,” as one donor official put it. Not only is there a growing sense that government ministries cannot be trusted to responsibly handle the money, but the supposed advantages of direct budget support—voice and influence—have also waned in light of failure to follow through and funding from “non-traditional” donors. Whether or not donors return to budget support will be a critical decision, determining the ultimate impact of the OPM scandal in the long run, indicating if Uganda donor relations will return to business as usual or if a new chapter of more effective and accountable donor engagement in Uganda will begin.
Most European donors generally argue that budget support is an important mechanism to have a “voice at the table” with the government. According to one donor, “The fact that you’re contributing to the budget gives you a say in how the budget is being spent. If you stop budget support, to an extent it takes your voice away.” This sentiment is echoed by one donor expert advisor, who noted, “Without direct budget support, there’s no obvious platform for discussing high-level reform crises with the government. There are no obvious reasons to sit down with the government.” But that platform must be used carefully and strategically over the long term to be effective, if it is to be used at all in the future.
Given the unwillingness of donors to withdraw from Uganda altogether, donors admit that there are a limited number of alternative ways to disburse aid. Some are considering scrapping direct budget support in favor of a model of program-based funding. In theory, this type of aid that is earmarked to specific sectors, programs, and projects is easier to monitor and control. Yet as one expert in donor aid to Uganda noted, the fiduciary risks of sector-based support may not be all that different from direct budget support. Because of the sheer volume of money that many donors have committed to spend in Uganda, it is unlikely that donors will move all of the money through project-based support—such as building a school, for example. Instead, they choose to rely on more general sector-based funding that in reality differs little from direct budget support in terms of control, monitoring, and supervision. For the “fall back” position of sector budget support to be ultimately effective, there will need to be a dramatic escalation in the resources devoted to quality monitoring and supervision, including frequent field visits. It is also important for donors to ensure that their staff incentive schemes include criteria such as the quality of project preparation and supervision to ensure the absence of corruption, compliance with safeguards, and avoidance of human rights risks.
Ugandan civil society could play a more meaningful role in ensuring effective monitoring and supervision, especially if supported by donors to increase technical knowledge and defended should they face threats and other forms of harassment and intimidation. Many Human Rights Watch interviewees suggested that donors should become more involved in funding Ugandan civil society organizations. A persistent refrain was the need to build local awareness of and demand for public accountability. One interviewee explained: “A woman in the village cannot connect the absence of medicine in her clinic to the grand corruption that is happening. Donors should work on building a demand side. As long as it remains weak, people cannot hold their leaders accountable. Work must be done to empower people to demand their leaders be accountable and make good investments. People need to connect poor quality of education to grand corruption at the top.”
One obvious and immediate way for donors to build more “demand side accountability” is to actively and consistently support civil society’s existing efforts to educate the public about the impact of corruption, such as via the Black Monday Movement. Donors should not wait to see if activists will face trials for these charges before speaking out. Rather, they should monitor cases of activists’ arrests, including visiting them in detention even if they are detained briefly and observing first-hand the police’s handling of these types of cases, and publicly call for burdensome bond conditions, such as weekly reporting to police, and charges to be dropped.
Coordination problems are only likely to be exacerbated with the decline of direct budget support. As donor agencies turn away from general funding to concentrate on more discrete programs and projects, this could lead to fragmentation in how donors deal with the Ugandan government and each other. Additionally, important cross-cutting issues that fail to fit neatly within a sector or project may not be adequately recognized by donors. Finally, there is a sense that narrower funding may lead to a type of anti-corruption “whack-a-mole.” One donor official admitted that although they took great pains to tighten financial controls in its projects to safeguard its resources, they represented just “a fraction of the total” funds and the corruption could simply shift to other more vulnerable and less closely monitored donor projects.
Uganda has ratified both the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. UNCAC commits Uganda to prevent corrupt practices by promoting transparency in governmental affairs, financial systems, and the political process and by establishing a code of conduct for public officials that includes financial disclosure requirements. In order to enable successful anti-corruption prosecutions, UNCAC requires states to pass legislation that protects those who report corruption to authorities and act as witnesses in judicial proceedings. Though Uganda has passed a Whistleblower’s Act, it has yet to pass the Witness Protection Bill, which at the time of writing is still being considered by Uganda’s Law Reform Commission.
In addition to international counter-corruption conventions, Uganda is party to numerous human rights conventions. Corrupt practices erode Uganda’s ability to protect civil and political rights. Bribery and improper trade in influence violate principles of equal protection of the law and right to a fair determination and remedy that Uganda is obliged to uphold under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Convention on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter). Politically motivated prosecution and/or the prosecution of low-level corruption without similarly robust efforts targeting high-level corruption potentially violate these principles.
Corruption also negatively impacts the fulfillment of socioeconomic rights. As a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Uganda is committed to “progressively realize” numerous economic, social and cultural rights, including rights to food, shelter, water, health, and education. The Banjul Charter further affirms Uganda’s obligation to guarantee the right to health and education, and has been interpreted to implicitly provide for the rights to housing and food.
The right to health is defined by the ICESCR as the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the international body of experts that monitors compliance with the ICESCR, has articulated the content of this right in more specific terms, stating that states’ efforts to realize the right to health should include the provision of “functioning public health and health-care facilities, goods and services,” such as “safe and potable drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities, hospitals, clinics and other health-related buildings, trained medical and professional personnel receiving domestically competitive salaries, and essential drugs.” Corruption in Uganda’s health care system violates the right to progressively realize the right to health, particularly when money has been earmarked to support the health sector.
The ICESCR also requires that primary education should be “compulsory and free to all.” In its general comment on the right to education, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, found that among other requirements primary education must meet certain minimum standards including providing “sanitation facilities for both sexes, safe drinking water, trained teachers receiving domestically competitive salaries, [and] teaching materials.” However, the minimum required resources are often lacking, and the completion rate for primary education is only 55 percent in Uganda, despite a Universal Primary Education scheme.
Corrupt practices, such as diversion of funds intending to mitigate poverty, prevent and combat diseases, or enhance public education, cause governments to violate their progressive realization obligations. The United Nations Economic and Social Council has declared that tolerance of corruption in the health sector is equivalent to failure to comply with the right to health. The Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights interprets the ICESCR as being violated when a government engages in the “reduction or diversion of specific public expenditure, when such reduction or diversion results in the non-enjoyment of such rights and is not accompanied by adequate measures to ensure the minimum subsistence rights for everyone.”
This report was written and researched by Maria Burnett, senior researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, and by a team from the Yale Law School Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic, law school students Julia Brower, Sheng Li, Tiffany Ng, and Jessica So, and Cover-Lowenstein Fellow Soo-Ryun Kwon. Jamie Vernaelde, senior associate in the Africa Division, provided research assistance.
The report was edited by Leslie Lefkow, deputy director of the Africa Division; Chris Albin-Lackey, senior researcher in the Business and Human Rights Division; Jessica Evans, senior researcher and advocate, International Financial Institutions, in the Business and Human Rights Division; Aisling Reidy, senior legal advisor; and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director. Jamie Vernaelde provided editing and production assistance, and the report was prepared for publication by Kathy Mills, publications specialist, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.
Human Rights Watch wishes to thank the many individuals in Uganda who agreed to be interviewed for this report.