Bad governance and corruption frustrate achievement of MDGs


David Obot, DENIVA

The government of Uganda has established national strategies and plans to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and has continuously allocated resources to those schemes. Unfortunately, governance weaknesses against corruption have hampered the progresses. Only three out of the eight MDGs may be reached by 2015. The other goals would be missed due to stagnation or regression, particularly in sectors where corruption is highly concentrated and losses or misappropriations of public funds are endemic.

The National Development Plan (2010), the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (1997), and other policies and programmes on education, health, environment, and HIV/AIDS, for example, have made significant contributions and provide useful lessons for the post 2015 sustainable development agenda. But for this new framework to be successful, the government must commit itself to eliminate corruption in all sectors an at all levels.

Adherence to the 1995 Constitution and the enforcement of laws, policies and regulations under strict accountability and transparency practices, coupled with punitive measures on the offenders, are needed to restore sanity in the use of public resources if economic and social transformation and the MDGs are to be met.

 National Context

After the promulgation of the Constitution in 1995, Uganda has achieved remarkable political and socio-economic progresses. Multiparty democracy enshrined in the Constitution has opened the competition between political parties in elections at the national and the local level. The annual economic growth averaged around seven percent in the past two decades. Yet, since 1986, the authorities have spent a substantial amount of resources fighting against the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which displaced around two million people in Northern Uganda.

The Constitution orders to take “all lawful measures (…) to expose, combat and eradicate corruption and abuse or misuse of power by those holding political and other public offices”. In addition, laws such as the Public Finance and Accountability Act (2003) mandate institutions including the parliament, the judiciary, the Office of the Auditor General, the Inspector General of Government and the police to take actions against corruption. Unfortunately, various limitations have turned these frameworks and strategies ineffective, thus, eroding governance.


MDG Status

Uganda has progressed towards some MDGs, and has stagnated or moved backwards regarding others. The debt relief initiatives allowed the country to free resources to support national development programmes. The alleviation corresponding to the Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) increased from USD 77.7 million (2005/2006) to USD 126.7 million (2009/2010), while debt services were reduced from USD 117.4 million (2005/2006) to USD 60.8 million (2009/2010). The annual economic growth averaged 6.9 percent in the 1990s and 7.2 percent in the 2000s, according to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

Uganda succeeded in addressing some problems remarked on the MDGs, such as low incomes and hunger, gender disparities in primary and secondary education, access to treatment for HIV/AIDS, access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and cooperation with the private sector on information and communications.

According to the Uganda Poverty Status Report (2012) the number of the poor decreased from 9.9 million to 7.5 million between 1992 and 2009/2010. Thus, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line fell from 56.4 to 24.5 in the same period. The country had surpassed the MDG target of 35.7 percent by 2005. However, inequality measured by the Gini coefficient has increased from 0.365 (1992/93), 0.428(2002/2003), 0.408(2005/2006), to 0.426(2009/2010).

The MDGs Report for Uganda 2010 noted that the net enrolment ratio in primary education increased between 2001 and 2010 from 87% to 96% of the children aged 6-12 years, though completion rate to primary level 7 decreased from 63% to 54% in the same period. Besides, women’s empowerment is steadily making headway. There are more and more women engaged in active politics and representing citizens in the parliament and in the local councils, amidst challenges that include poor remuneration and motivation of female workers, poor infrastructure, limited skills and competence for job creation, high prevalence of household poverty that limit women’s support to government initiatives on gender equity, and early pregnancy among girls.

According to the report on HIV/AIDS submitted in 2010 by the government to the UN, 141,416 persons were receiving antiretroviral therapy by June 2008, up from 67,525 in 2005. The proportion of the population with access to safe water increased from 62.6 to 73.8 percent between 2002/2003 and 2009/2010, and 18.7 percent has improved sanitation, estimated the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2012), and the Uganda Demographic Household Survey (2011).

On the other hand, statistics show slow progresses in the MDGs related to child, maternal and reproductive health, the fight against malaria and other major diseases, and the loss of environmental resources and biodiversity.

The Uganda Demographic Household Survey reported that between 1995 to 2011 the under-five mortality rate decreased from 156 to 90 per 1,000 live births; the infant mortality rate decreased from 81 to 54 per 1,000 live births; the maternal mortality ratio decreased from 506 to 352 per 100,000 births; the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel increased from 38% to 59%; and contraceptive prevalence rate increased from 15% to 30%.

Meanwhile, HIV prevalence increased from 6.5% to 7.1%. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) global report on tuberculosis ranked Uganda 16th among the 22 high TB burden countries. Tuberculosis remains a major public health problem with an annual incidence of 330 cases out of 100,000 people and an estimate of 102,000 new infections per year.

To make things worse, pharmaceutical companies put the brake on the cooperation aimed to give Ugandan people access to essential drugs at an affordable price.

Besides, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) noted in 2010 that the environmental degradation had got worse, increasing the burden on the national economy as more resources must be allocated to stem outbreaks of diseases, to the treatment of drinking water, to resettle environmental refugees and to restore damaged ecosystems. NEMA also observed a decline in the percentage of the territory covered by forests, from 21.3 in 1990 to 18.3 in 2005.


Corruption effects on MDGs progress

Corruption in Uganda has reached unprecedented proportions and costs billions of shillings to the country, thereby affecting a significant portion of the national budget, according to various institutions. In 2005, the World Bank estimated Uganda loses to corruption at 510 billion shillings (USD 204 million), while the Global Integrity Report (2006) doubled the amount to one trillion shillings. The East African Bribery Index issued in August 2012 by Transparency International ranked Uganda first among the five countries of the region: 40.7% of the respondents said they encountered bribery incidents in the public sector.

The government newspaper Saturday Vision summarized in November 2012 some of the most remarkable cases:

■ Some 169 billion shillings (USD 63 million) earmarked for over 1,018 former East African Community employees were fraudulently paid out to non-beneficiaries between February and October 2011;

■ Some 69 billion shillings (USD 25.7 million) in donor funds meant for the post-conflict recovery of Northern Uganda were transferred to personal bank accounts of employees of the Prime Minister’s Office between 2009 and 2011;

■ The Microfinance Support Centre misappropriated 60 billion shillings (USD 22.34 million) meant to provide credits for micro-enterprises in 2011;

■ Non-pension beneficiaries received 169 billion shillings (USD 63 million) from social security funds through a sophisticated scam in the Ministry of Public Service;

■ An identity card project worth 150 billion shillings (USD 55.87 million) signed in February 2010 had produced only 400 cards so far;

■ Officials in the Ministry of Health did not account for 25 billion shillings (USD 9.3 million) given by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for buying medicines;

■ The Ministry of Local Government paid USD 1.7 million for 70,000 bicycles that were not delivered yet;

■ No one was found guilty after the spending of 500 billion shillings (USD 186.2 million) instead of the approved budget of 270 billion (USD 100.6 million) for the organization of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007.

Corruption has not spared management of natural resources, and the consequences include population displacement, migration and encroachment on fragile ecosystems of swamps and forests. Basically, all sectors are directly or indirectly affected by corruption, and such trends are likely to frustrate progress towards the MDGs.


Response to combat corruption

Uganda counts on constitutional provisions and laws currently in force to tackle corruption and with institutions entrusted with the task. The Parliamentary Accounts Committee has intensified discussions on the Auditor General’s reports and recommends actions to different bodies. However, legislation still poses some challenges regarding the recovery of embezzled public funds and other assets accumulated by illegal means.

Nonetheless, some cases have led to the interdiction of high executive officials, including ministerial permanent secretaries. The police have also put caveats on properties that may have been acquired by interdicted officials. Investigations and prosecutions in several districts are also in progress, led by the police and the Inspector General of Government.

However, the effectiveness of the institutions mandated to fight against corruption has been minimal. The failures are attributed to poor investigation, work overload in the police force and in the judiciary, use of sophisticated technologies by cyber criminals, political interferences, and lack of political will to take actions on “well connected personalities”.

Nonetheless, arising from the Auditor General’s report on misappropriation of donor funds in the Prime Minister’s Office, the governments of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom suspended in November 2012 their aid to Uganda until the case is fully investigated, the embezzled money is recovered, and the authorities introduce control systems. The reduction or discontinuing of services due to the suspension of the aid will have profound effects on the population.


Recommendations post-2015

Considering the effects of widespread corruption, especially on public services, the Uganda post-2015 development agenda must emphasize good governance without compromising accountability and transparency. The adherence to these principles will enable the design of prudent plans matched with strategies for the mobilisation of resources, focused on clear and tractable indicators of progress, and with the government committed to tackle and eliminate corruption.

The new framework must also include the strengthening of the decentralisation system foreseen in the 1995 Constitution and detailed in the Local Government Act approved in 1997, as well as enhancing the participation of citizens and media in monitoring governance and service delivery in order to help curb corruption, channel resources to development priorities, and speed up socio-economic transformation.

It is also important to continue focussing on goals and targets that enable individuals to achieve their full potential. Addressing the problems associated with low household income will reduce poverty and will allow people to choose productive resources to improve their conditions of living. Small farm holders who produce the bulk of primary commodities in Uganda should benefit from government support to agriculture modernization, access to appropriate inputs, value addition through agro processing, and for marketing their outputs.

Increasing the protection of natural resources is also required to address the destruction of the ecosystems and to facilitate climate change mitigation. An emphasis on water security will help populations in different locations for purposes such as food production and livestock farming.

A continuous focus on universal and functional primary and secondary education and on skills enhancement would keep on narrowing gender gaps in education, employment and income.

Progress recorded so far in the promotion of child and maternal health should be enhanced to aim at the reduction of infant mortality, maternal health and to reduce HIV infections.



Progress made by Uganda in reaching the MDGs is commendable in several areas. However, corruption has affected the extent of achievements, which should have been more than those reached since the Millennium Declaration was agreed in 2000. The misappropriated resources would have contributed to poverty reduction, narrowing of gender gaps, improvement of health, education and other social services, access to safe drinking water, and addressing the environment sustainability. The post-2015 development agenda therefore demands good governance practices and appropriate actions in curbing corruption and mismanagement of the national resources to enable the realization of socio economic transformation of Uganda.


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