New Civil Society Report on Uganda calls for stronger anti-corruption bodies, enhanced civil society participation and effective asset recovery laws to advance the fight against corruption

14 December 2021 –

A recent report from Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda finds that Uganda has undertaken significant steps towards implementing the provisions of Chapter II (Preventive Measures) and V (Asset Recovery) of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).  Yet, while Uganda enacted comprehensive anti-corruption laws and established several anti-corruption bodies, the actual implementation of this legal and institutional framework remains weak. The Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda produced its report, which is intended as a contribution to the UNCAC implementation review process in its second cycle, with technical and financial support from the UNCAC Coalition.

Key challenges identified in the report include the limited capacity of anti-corruption bodies to carry out their mandate due to insufficient human and financial resources and political interference in their work.  Gaps in the whistle blower protection framework and the absence of a witness protection law have further hindered the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases and contributed to impunity for corruption offences among government officials. While some civil society organisations (CSOs) have been consulted during the development of national anti-corruption policies, several civil society activists as well as journalists working on anti-corruption have faced government attempts to silence their work, including threats, censorship and even arrest. There are also concerns that extensive reporting obligations under Uganda’s 2013 Anti-Money Laundering Act are overburdening CSOs.

The ongoing second cycle UNCAC review in Uganda was scheduled to begin in 2017. However, the country visit by the two reviewing states, the Central African Republic and Bosnia and Herzegovina, initially scheduled for 2020, was not conducted due to Covid-19 restrictions, and is still pending.

Read the full civil society parallel report here.

Main findings

 The following are some of the report’s main findings:

Preventive anti-corruption policies and bodies

Uganda has enacted several anti-corruption laws on topics such as access to information, whistleblower protection and anti-money laundering and has adopted a Zero Tolerance to Corruption Policy and a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2020 – 2024), which were developed in consultation with civil society.

However, the implementation of these laws is hampered by limited political will, insufficient human, technical and financial capacities amongst anti-corruption bodies as well as overlapping mandates and limited coordination between anti-corruption authorities. The absence of a comprehensive law on asset recovery and witness protection has further hindered the anti-corruption fight in Uganda.

Measures relating to the judiciary

The government of Uganda established the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court in 2008 to adjudicate corruption cases. The Anti-Corruption Act also mandates the Inspectorate of Government and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to prosecute corruption cases. The 2019 Constitution (Recusal of Judicial Officers) (Practice) Directions, regulate issues of ethics, integrity and conflicts of interest among Judicial Officers. Training and capacity building on accountability, transparency and integrity has been provided to judges and prosecutors both internally and by external actors like CSOs.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is mandated with disciplining errant judicial officers. However, disciplinary measures have mostly been applied to low-ranking judicial officers and prosecutors. Although high-profile cases have been reported to the JSC against judges, the outcome of these cases has not been made public. Moreover, while judges and prosecutors are required to declare their wealth under the 2002 Leadership Code Act (as amended), these declarations are never made public and there is little follow- up to verify their authenticity.

Public reporting and participation of society

Uganda enacted an Access to Information Act in 2005 and adopted the Access to Information Regulations in 2015, which lay down detailed procedures through which citizens can request access to official information. In practice, however, lengthy procedures, exorbitant access fees and limited awareness of these processes amongst the citizenry restrict the access to information. Moreover, draconian laws like the 1964 Official Secrets Act, still hinder effective access to information.

Selected civil society organisations are consulted during legislative drafting processes, whilst CSOs and members of the public are invited to provide input and memoranda into bills, mostly at parliamentary committee level. Yet, collaboration between government and civil society on anti-corruption is mostly ad hoc, save for a few cases where partnership agreements have been signed.

The State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU) has created a toll-free, multilingual line which allows the public to confidentially report corruption cases. Since its inception in 2018, over 60,000 reported cases have been received and at least 26,000 resolved. At the same time, the government of Uganda has intensified its crackdown on journalists and activists reporting on high-profile corruption cases by means of legal harassment, the revocation of licenses and arrests.

Anti-money laundering

Uganda enacted the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) in 2013 and also established the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA). The mandate of the FIA is to combat money laundering activities. The Anti-Money Laundering Regulations were enacted in 2015, to facilitate the implementation of the AMLA. Uganda has also put in place cross-border cash declaration requirements, established measures to detect and monitor the movement of cash and conducted a national risk assessment. However, although the risk assessment did not cover the third sector, NGOs have nevertheless been included as reporting entities under the AMLA, which is overburdening many organisations.

Asset recovery

The 2013 Anti-Money Laundering Act as well as the 2015 Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act allow for cross-border asset recovery and international cooperation for purposes of confiscation. However, Uganda lacks a comprehensive mutual legal assistance framework for asset recovery across borders as envisaged under Section 67C of the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2015. Moreover, under current laws, asset recovery is conviction-based only, which puts a high burden of proof on the prosecution. Moreover, to consolidate the different asset recovery departments that currently exist in various government agencies, an independent institution for the tracing, acquisition, management and disposal of proceeds of corruption should be established.

Key Recommendations

The Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda submits the following key recommendations to decision-makers to address the challenges outlined above and advance UNCAC implementation in Uganda:

  1. Increase funding to anti-corruption agencies to capacitate these agencies to execute their mandate. The additional funding should go towards specialized staff training and the acquisition of modern forensic technologies and skills to address emerging forms of corruption, rather than creating parallel agencies.
  2. Appoint heads of anti-corruption institutions through a fair, transparent and independent procedure and do so in a timely manner to avoid creating a leadership vacuum and to strengthen the capacity and authority of the IG to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
  3. Strengthen coordination between the different anti-corruption agencies. The efforts of these agencies should be put towards cooperation rather than competition.
  4. Cease its crackdown on social media and mainstream media and the misapplication of the Computer Misuse Act and the Penal Code Act. The government of Uganda should also stop the brutal arrest and incarceration of journalists, closure of media houses and threats of revocation of licenses from media houses.
  5. Enhance civil society participation in policy and decision-making processes. The government of Uganda should also allow full civil society participation in the UNCAC review process. The government of Uganda should share and make publicly available the full country report and the self-assessment checklist. There is also a need for more information, especially statistics on cross-border asset recovery.
  6. Establish a legal and institutional regime for the protection of witnesses. This should cover the phases of investigation and prosecution of corruption cases, and even the post-trial period. This legal framework should include sufficient protection and reward for informers, whistle-blowers and witnesses.
  7. Enact a law on non-conviction-based asset recovery to create a strong legal framework and an independent institution for the tracing, acquisition, management and disposal of proceeds of corruption. This law would also consolidate the different asset recovery departments that are currently scattered in different government agencies.
  8. Operationalize a comprehensive mutual legal assistance framework for asset recovery across borders, as envisaged under Section 67C of the 2015 Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act. Uganda should enter into legally binding reciprocal agreements with other countries for the purposes of cooperation in transnational asset recovery cases.
  9. Consider removing NGOs from the list of accounting entities under the second schedule of the AMLA, in line with ESAAMLG recommendations. There is also need for more awareness creation amongst NGOs on their obligations under the current AML legislation.

 

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