Bridge policy enactment gaps to fight corruption

The Inspectorate of Government (IGG) recently released the Fourth Annual Report on Tracking Corruption Trends in Uganda, which includes data from the National Governance Baseline Survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos).

The report clearly shows that corruption is still widespread in Uganda and remains a major constraint on economic development and poverty reduction. At least eight of every 10 Ugandans believe that corruption is a serious problem. The government has demonstrated its willingness to address this challenge by putting in place a robust institutional and legal anti-corruption framework. However, the full implementation of anti-corruption laws and accountability mechanisms remains a challenge.

While substantive progress has been made in addressing corruption, the efforts have principally focused on detection. Much more needs to be achieved in the way of concrete enforcement actions such as the recovery of misappropriated assets and the application of sanctions, which remains the weakest link in the accountability chain.

The World Bank acknowledges the government’s ongoing efforts to strengthen public finance management and procurement systems, including the decentralisation of the civil service payroll. We also welcome the government’s leadership in fostering demand for good governance, as demonstrated by the implementation of the budget transparency initiative and IG’s social accountability monitoring programme (SACM).

Government’s efforts
Likewise, the government should be commended for providing a conducive environment for media to report on corruption without hindrance. On the legislative side, in the last two years the government has amended the public procurement and disposal of assets legislation to enhance enforcement, improve local content, and strengthen mechanisms for redress by aggrieved bidders. It has also passed the Anti-Money Laundering Act to prohibit and prevent money laundering.

Government efforts are beginning to yield positive results. For instance, the detection and deletion of 8,000 ghost workers from the payroll saved the government at least Shs3.7 billion in just three months. Similarly, anti-corruption agencies have been successful in recovering and saving funds as a result of investigations and prosecutions.

The IG saved funds worth Shs25.6 billion in 2013. In addition, The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) reported at least Shs4.1 billion recovered as a consequence of corruption probes within the National Agricultural Aisory Services (NAADS) and Global Fund projects. These are just a few examples of resources that could have better supported Uganda’s economic development.

What is required
More needs to be done to bridge the implementation gap in the fight against corruption. On a regular basis, and through the annual audit reports, we see significant leakages of public resources and a worrying disregard for systems and procedures put in place to ensure value for money.

For example, an analysis of the Auditor General’s report for FY 201213 indicates that more than Shs280 billion worth of expenditure had not been properly accounted for. The recently discovered payment of Shs24 billion to a road construction company without proper due diligence suggests the systems developed by the government are not being effectively implemented by accounting officers.

Disseminating information as widely as possible and empowering citizens to hold the government accountable is a strong anti-corruption tool. In this regard, the government should fully implement the Access to Information Act as a key enabler of demand for good governance, as well as follow the example of its budget transparency platform to cover all public resources, including revenues from the extractive industry.

Moreover, the common misconception that corruption can only be tackled by anti-corruption agencies enables other government agencies to relinquish their role in enforcing accountability systems. The Fourth Annual Report on Tracking Corruption Trends highlights that absenteeism by health and education workers in Uganda is widespread. This form of quiet corruption should be dealt with by the responsible accounting officers to ensure effective service delivery.

Offices and individuals with management and oversight functions should play a significant role in addressing the “soft” corruption tendencies and help tackle prevention aspects, allowing the mainstream anti-corruption agencies to focus on the “harder” forms of corruption.

The report also notes that failure to sanction public officials accused of corruption, or to implement audit recommendations, is undermining the government’s efforts to eliminate corruption. The government should thus go beyond identification and improve its track record regarding administrative and criminal sanctions.

Recovering misaapropriated money
Finally, the implementation of measures to facilitate the recovery of misappropriated funds and assets creates strong disincentives for those likely to engage in corruption. In this regard, we commend the IG in their efforts to recover funds in convicted cases. The effort by the Judiciary and DPP to freeze assets of individuals in suspected cases of embezzlement is also a step in the right direction.

To further bolster work in this area, however, Parliament should expedite the passage of the Anti-Corruption amendment Bill, which contains a clause to facilitate the confiscation of assets and recovery of misappropriated funds. In addition, the failure to pass the Leadership Code Amendment Bill inhibits IG’s enforcement of the asset declaration clause under the Leadership Code Act.

The fight against corruption in Uganda requires the implementation of measures that will deny the culprits the proceeds of their crimes and a stronger commitment towards the application of sanctions.

The writer is the World Bank country manager for Uganda.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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