By Mike Ssegawa
Let me make these two observations; It has long been warned that it is wrong and stupid to place gold before pigs. They would just trample upon it. That is the first one.
The second one – Every editor’s nightmare is getting the story in every bulletin that can hold the attention of the audience. However, more important for the media profession – is setting an agenda that could change the situation and set a new direction. A better direction.
The story of Iron Sheets diverted from the Ministry of Karamoja under the Office of Prime Minister to private residences or constituencies of big shots in Cabinet has shaken the country. It has been long since a story about corruption got hold of a country’s imagination that people are talking about it for more than a month-long and maybe – still making Page One.
At some point – several journalists believed corruption stories sold no more. It seemed the country’s imagination were never sensitive to headlines of theft of public funds or its resources, until The New Vision broke the story of relatives of a minister being arrested over labelled iron sheets by State House Anti-Corruption Unit – a unit in the President’s Office which has courageously investigated ground breaking corruption cases across the country with less staff and resources. No wonder President Museveni in his latest comments about the Iron Sheet theft saga – commended the work of the Anti-Corruption Unit. The President went ahead to write on Tuesday;
“The mabaati story was the work of the whistle-blowers and the State House Anti-corruption Unit. I am considering another Anti-corruption Unit in State House to only deal with Village issues. The present one has got involved, positively, in broader issues. The issue of corruption, is a “musota muntamu” -the removing of the snake from the clay cooking pot without breaking the pot. The NRM has handled bigger issues. That is why Uganda no longer has a refugee problem. Everybody knows that he cannot be falsely accused and even the ones who are accused, are safe in custody. Therefore, some Game Wardens have failed themselves and become poachers, but the system is working. All these layers- District Councils, Parliament, Resistance Councils (LCs), Public Barazas, were put there deliberately by us on account of what we have been witnessing since the colonial times – officials betraying the People. If one layer does not work, the other one will.”
What more proof of the President’s commitment to ending graft and misuse of public funds and abuse of office does one want, especially with the Minister of Karamoja sleeping in Prison at the time of writing this article (1am).
It has been some years since we witnessed a big corruption scandal since the notorious northern Uganda funds which fell hard on some accountant Geoffrey Kazinda in the Office of the Prime Minister. However, ministers were never mentioned.
What makes this scandal unique is that ministers and other powerful people shared iron sheets meant for the poorest region in the country. The president went ahead to argue that the diversion of these resources was akin to subversion and causing insecurity in the region, known for its gun driven cattle rustling.
In all this – the villains are well mentioned. However, not the heroes.
Whereas the State House anti-corruption unit has already received commendation from its commander in chief – little is said of the publication of this courageous set of stories that has set the country on fire. And possibly – sending shocks in the corridors of power.
New Vision newspaper are winners of the courage prize. It is not easy for a largely government owned newspaper to report about its own. The chief executive Don Wanyama and editor in chief Barbara Kaija and team take the honours.
It is understandable that there are pressures which come with the job especially when one is reporting about the people who call the shots. However, the newspaper’s consistency – a proof of their good sourcing – is journalism for good.
Already – the story has got parliament acting. Big shots including parliament speaker Anita Among have committed to pay more than they received. Some minister has removed the roof of shame from his cowshed. The president has promised political action just as police and courts are doing their part.
The naysayers have run out of words. The government setting the government ablaze over corrupt tendencies – is a new thing. The support the president has given this investigation is commendable. The willingness of some ministers to return the loot should equally be recognised as a sign of remorse and call for behaviour change. The Karimojong iron sheets have almost taught everyone a lesson in government. It is possibly a story everyone needed to read at this time.
And the media fraternity have joined New Vision to shut down and tell off the ‘thieves’.
For editors at the government paper who saw to the story seeing the light of day – as well as the great follow-ups – this has been gold in the good hands of editors on Second Street in the Industrial Area.
Kudos to you all. Let’s continue having journalism for the good of Uganda. We should together condemn corruption in all its forms across the government, private sector, religious institutions – et al.
Mike Ssegawa is a veteran journalist and now working as Deputy RDC Mukono District.