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Kampala - Uganda is failing to clamp down on senior officials implicated in stealing public funds, yet has arrested and jailed anti-corruption activists, a major rights report said on Monday.
The study, conducted by Human Rights Watch and Yale Law School, said no high-ranking government official, minister, or political appointee has ever served a prison sentence despite investigations into numerous corruption scandals over many years.
“Corruption scandals have had a direct impact on human rights in Uganda over many years. Donor funding worth $12.7 million (9.3 million euros) was stolen from the office of the Prime Minister in late 2012. The money was earmarked for rebuilding northern Uganda, a region ravaged by a 20-year war, and Karamoja, Uganda's poorest region,” the report said.
“Other scandals have rocked health programmes, like the $45 million diverted from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in 2010, and the $12 million stolen from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations in 2006,” it added.
The 63-page report, “Letting the Big Fish Swim: Failure to Prosecute High-Level Corruption in Uganda,” documented what it said were the potentially “disastrous consequences” of the theft of resources intended to help realise fundamental rights to justice, health, water, food and education.
“Scandal after scandal, the government's patronage politics and lack of political will undermine the fight against corruption in Uganda,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Throughout President Yoweri Museveni's 27 years in office his promises to tackle corruption have proliferated while officials responsible for graft at the highest levels go free.”
The report follows research by Human Rights Watch and Yale Law School's Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic from May to September 2013, including interviews with 48 people with “substantive knowledge of anti-corruption efforts in Uganda”.
Human Rights Watch said there were “deeply rooted patterns of graft among certain elites” in Uganda, and that government bodies set up to fight corruption have only managed to tackle case involving “small amounts of money”.
“These bodies have not had the support or resources they need from Museveni, his cabinet, and parliament to get the job done,” said the report, alleging that “political interference in the work of anti-corruption institutions has also derailed high-level prosecutions”.
“Instead of being brought to justice, people accused of stealing millions and millions of dollars in Uganda are often just shifted to other government positions,” Burnett said. “Uganda's national game of musical chairs needs to stop. Corrupt officials shouldn't be able to wriggle out of the prosecutors' grasp.”
The report also said that the Ugandan government has “arrested at least 28 anti-corruption activists who were distributing information to the public”, and charged some of them with inciting violence and unlawful assembly.
It also urged foreign donors, who in 2012 provided for approximately 30 percent of Uganda's national budget, to “promote accountability at the highest levels of government”.
“The government and its donors need to work harder to ensure that President Museveni's administration lives up to its pledges to tackle corruption,” Burnett said.
“That means putting members of government, including political appointees, behind bars if they are guilty of corruption,” she said.