The faceless mafia should be unmasked

Last week, the former National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Managing Director Richard Byarugaba made a startling revelation about what he called the “mafia who have turned NSSF into a hunting ground”.

Mr Byarugaba spoke about the shadowy dealings of the mafia when he appeared before the ongoing Parliament inquiry into suspected irregularities at the Fund. He said: “From the bottom of my heart, I don’t know who these people are. All I know is that they are there, they have camps write anonymous letters, align to company A and backstab company B. They get the documents of A, analyse them and send letters to PPDA to halt the process”.

Also shocking is Byarugaba’s revelation that of the 20 companies that bid for NSSF Pension Towers contract, only 10 had the ability to do the work, and the rest were middlemen, or part of the mafia clique who align themselves to genuine companiescontractors and try to influence the process.

The reference to mafia has become synonymous with big contracts in public works and projects involving huge sums of money. The problem arises from individuals who form rackets to benefit from lucrative deals either through kickbacks or hefty commissions as agents.

In an interview with Sunday Monitor in 2011, former Works and Transport minister John Nasasira decried the growth of a cartel, which he said is ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to win contracts aertised by government.

Mr Byarugaba’s revelation last week reiterates what Nasasira said in 2011 – that the cartel is largely composed of middlemen who use their connections within government to secure contracts for firms that pay them a commission.

These confessions by key public officials mean the government is well aware of the activities of the said mafia cliques. The question is why has the government left the cliques to operate freely to the extent that they are now threatening, intimidating and blackmailing some government officials to give them lucrative deals. It beats logic that some officials entrusted with management of a public works project only lament about the mafia after things have gone wrong. It is also possible that some of them use the ‘faceless mafia’ as a scapegoat for their incompetence.

To get to the root of the this problem, officials should name the mafia (read middlemen) who are, to use Mr Byarugaba’s phrase, turning public offices into “hunting grounds”. Without identifying the mafia, authorities such as the PDDA, IGG, Police CIID, etc, cannot take appropriate actions to bring the culprits to justice.
Equally important is the need to close loopholes in the procurement system to make it difficult for mafia cartels to manipulate processes.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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