One of the joys of being in Kampala is de-coding the print edition of the Daily Monitor, which today reads like an alarming tip sheet on self-dealing by Ugandan public servants. On page 3, the Monitorsâ€™s Grace Matsiko casually mentions a rather shocking practice in public finances by a government whose revenues continue to be heavily subsidized by â€œaid transfersâ€ from the taxpayers of wealthy countries. Matsikoâ€™s story describes a simple robbery of about $20,000. The robbed was a Gen. named Aronda. The robbers were two of his aides who absconded with what the newspaper demurely described as the generalâ€™s â€œresearch purse.â€ By way of explaining why the soldier carried so much money on him, the Matsiko explained that all senior officers in Ugandaâ€™s army received piles of discretionary cash on a monthly basis. The money is for his personal use! Weirdly, the astounding practice does not merit news; only the robbery does. The writer does not even muse aloud about why such â€œresearchâ€ funds are necessary, since army officers are indeed paid and have some official expenses reimbursed. Obviously the robbed money funds some unaccounted for activities by army officers. The question of course what are these activities and do any support national security or the public good? And why do wealthy donors not insist on a halt to handing out piles of cash to soldiers?
In the same issue, on the next page, readers learn that one of President Yoweri Museveniâ€™s private secretaries received a payment of roughly $150,000 from a businessman who purchased land from the government. The evidence suggests that the Museveni aide helped to facilitate the land deal in exchange for a bribe. There is no evidence to suggest that the buyer of the land received a sweetheart deal. Indeed, the transaction, made five years ago, may simple have been business as usual. The attorney for the accused private secretary, according to the Monitor, does not deny his client received the money only that the prosecution case is faulty; he claims the wrong penal code violation is alleged.
Uganda of course is home to one of the â€œgoodâ€ African governments. Just this weekend, President Museveni, prodded by officials in the U.S. State Department, forged a compromise with the Congo government in a bid to halt a dangerous dispute over oil reserves found in Lake Albert, which is shared by the two countries. Museveniâ€™s reliability in international relations â€“ heâ€™s also dispatched troops to Somalia â€“ make him an excellent ally of the Bush White House. The President is smart, talented and tactically gifted. Yet the persistence of official corruption in his government, while possible occurring without his knowledge and without his direction, raises questions about his management abilities, if not his character.