In recent weeks, Ugandans have watched, transfixed, details from the commission of inquiry into mismanagement in the roads sector. We have learnt that roads can actually be shorter than the officially-stated length, that public land can fetch private titles and hefty sums of money in compensation from the public coffers, and that fuel cards be easily misused.
To many Ugandans concerned about poor public services in other sectors, these revelations have been as shocking as annoying. To others, however, this frustration has been tempered by a sense of optimism – hope that at least, at last, someone seems to be doing something about waste in one of the best-funded government sectors.
But we need to be on record now, that this optimism should not be squandered. At risk of sounding cynical, we need to remind the government that its record on commissions of inquiry is rather dismal. So dismal it’s often joked that the best way to kill off an issue in Uganda is to form a commission of inquiry about it.
Our recent governance history is littered with public inquiries – sometimes under the legitimizing leadership of tough-talking High court judges – that raised our hopes only for those hopes to be buried in inconsequential reports.
We can go back to the Ssebutinde commissions on the Uganda police and URA, the David Porter commission on the UPDF role in DR Congo, or even parliament’s inquisition into the 2001 election violence.
The government needs to ensure that the revelations coming out of the Bamugemereire commission are thoroughly investigated by competent police detectives with a view to punishing convicted fraudsters and recovering as much as possible of the stolen public money.
Otherwise, these inquiries feed into a kind of tragicomedy of corruption, with suspected thieves catapulted into the limelight for the venting benefit of the public.
The Judiciary can also consider refusing to lend credence to more probes if all they are going to do is to hoodwink the public, soothe the corrupt and window-dress a political leadership doing too little about graft.