KAMPALA, Uganda – Uganda's top anti-graft official says he plans to take a corruption case against three influential government ministers to the Supreme Court after a lower court ruled that he lacked the ability to try the suspects.
The case, once seen as a test of the government's resolve to fight official corruption, appeared to collapse last week after the Constitutional Court sided with the suspects and ruled that the official who targeted the ministers did not have the authority to handle the case.
The three ministers, who have close personal ties with Uganda's president, were indicted by an official known in Uganda as the inspector general of government. The official, Raphael Baku, has a constitutional mandate to prosecute corruption cases but has served in acting capacity — and without deputies — for over two years, raising concerns that the government is deliberately weakening his office.
"We are going to the Supreme Court because we think that the decision was made in error," Baku said Thursday. "There is no breathing space for the suspects. Nobody is off the hook. These are criminal matters and they must be resolved through criminal procedure."
The court's decision has been criticized by anti-corruption activists who see it as politically motivated. Some said the judgment, announced on the eve of Good Friday, was intended as a gift to officials accused of causing financial loss during preparations for the 2007 Commonwealth summit in the Ugandan capital.
The three officials include Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, a wealthy politician seen by some as one of President Yoweri Museveni's favorites as a successor; Government Chief Whip John Nasasira; and a deputy labor minister, Mwesigwa Rukutana.
"It's ridiculous that the inspector general of government has to be the one to defend himself," said Godber Tumushabe, who heads a policy think tank called Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment. "It's like now the judiciary is an agent of the state. It has done its job and ruled against the IGG."
Museveni said last month that he was taking his time to confirm Baku or appoint a new inspector general of government because he does not want to choose "a game warden who is a poacher."
Corruption is rampant in Uganda, where Western diplomats frequently threaten to cut aid if the government does not do enough to stem it. Transparency International puts Uganda at 143 out of 182 countries surveyed for its Corruption Perceptions Index.
Analysts say the government, which often depends on Baku's office to investigate complaints against officials, is only interested in cases involving low-level suspects and cannot tolerate those that threaten the careers of powerful politicians. The three ministers had "stepped aside" from their posts, saying they would return after their names were cleared.
"What the judges are actually saying is that the Inspectorate of Government should wind up," said Augustine Ruzindana, a former inspector general of government who is a prominent critic of official corruption. "It is wrong. It's quite an astonishing judgment. The implication is that the institution should not be undertaking any of its functions. It's an error and it should be rectified as soon as possible."