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 $12.7m 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
$45m diverted from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in
2010, and the $12m 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
"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