Transitions

Ugandans are tired of forgiving

Whoever it was who said "forgive those who transgress against you" surely wasn’t thinking of Uganda. Now, amid yet another corruption scandal that is rocking the ruling party, there is talk of forgiving the implicated ministers. In 2010, the government decided to introduce a National Identity Card (since Uganda still does not have such cards ...

ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/GettyImages
ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/GettyImages

Whoever it was who said "forgive those who transgress against you" surely wasn’t thinking of Uganda. Now, amid yet another corruption scandal that is rocking the ruling party, there is talk of forgiving the implicated ministers.

In 2010, the government decided to introduce a National Identity Card (since Uganda still does not have such cards for its citizens). A German firm, Muehlbauer High Tech International, was contracted to supply the equipment and training to implement the project. The deal cost 205 billion shillings (64 million Euros, or $80 million), but since its inception, the only IDs Ugandans have seen was the official card of the prime minister printed in the newspaper. In two years, only 400 identity cards have been produced (though none have been distributed).

According to reporting from the Ugandan newspaper New Vision, the government has paid Muehlbauer 51 million Euros, but still owes them 13 million.

Another paper, The Observer, reported in April that some of the equipment for the project has been stolen or damaged, and that the losses could have been avoided had the equipment been insured. (The reported missing equipment includes: 30 laptops, 14 cameras, six monitors, 13 extension cables, 10 signature pads, a finger printer scanner, two main switches, 10 camera batteries and 26 batteries, 93 tripods, nine signature pad tables, and three Hub cables. Damaged equipment: 645 background screens, 28 signature pads, and 41 main switches; with missing equipment: 1,582 enrolment equipment, 36 battery chargers, 746 cameras, and 10 laptops.) The legislators who commented on the report stated that the Attorney General and Ministry of Internal Affairs should be held responsible for the losses.

During the reading of the national budget last month, the finance minister said that Ugandans would collectively share the cost of producing the IDs. Ugandans do not have a problem paying for the IDs; we already pay for our passports and all other documents. But it’s odd that we should be made to pay for the IDs because the money for the initial project was embezzled or mismanaged. It was therefore satisfying to read that members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) rejected a proposal by party leaders to forgive the implicated officials and ministers involved in the scandal. 

Last year, the ministers implicated in a major scandal were forgiven: They had been accused by a member of parliament for accepting millions in bribes from oil companies operating in Uganda. But that case, which got Ugandans very excited, has since gone cold.

We are done with forgiveness. We want the stolen money returned from the bank accounts where it has been stashed. Yes, we can forgive, but only if the money is returned back the public and the project it was allotted to. Only then can we agree to forgive the "wayward" officials.

Why do our officials embezzle public funds? Why can they not "forgive" us ordinary Ugandans by simply using the money we give them for the intended purposes? When our corrupt officials learn to "forgive" us, then we, too, shall forgive them. Until then, we want them openly prosecuted and the funds recovered.

The ruling party should be feeling the disgruntlement of the populace by now. (The picture above shows police confronting demonstrators in Kampala last month.) The NRM keeps losing seats in by-elections. The people are sending a strong message. The more the party protects it unscrupulous members, the more it should fear losing elections. It’s only a pity that the common Ugandan’s voice is heard only once every five years — through the ballot.

Follow Jackee Batanda on Twitter @jackeebatanda.

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