chapter  10
Politics and the ineffectiveness of anti- corruption institutions
Pages 18

African countries have set up specific institutional mechanisms to scrutinize the activities of public officials. In recent years these mechanisms have in recent years included anti-corruption agencies or inspectors-general with powers to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. There are also requirements for asset declarations by politicians and state officials. And there are as well parliamentary oversight committees and judicial commissions, which investigate cases of alleged corruption. Generally, their track record in combating corruption in Africa has been poor. In several studies, the World Bank has attributed their failure largely to lack of capacity and resources, as well as the absence of ‘political will’ and ‘high-level political support’ (World Bank 1998a, 1998b). Certainly the lack of administrative and legal capacity has affected anti-corruption work, particularly when, as in Uganda, limited financial resources are spread over many institutions.1 Donors have often stressed the lack of ‘political will’ to account for limited action against high-level state malfeasance. But it is difficult to understand the meaning of such an explanation, especially in a country such as Uganda, where the present government has been promising for years to take action against corrupt state elites but has hardly prosecuted any top leaders. An emphasis on the absence of strong ‘government commitment’ to control elite corruption needs to be linked to an explanation as to why top state elites have not been charged and brought to court. Academic analysts have pointed to the importance of political factors in explaining the failure of anti-corruption mechanisms: they have mentioned such factors as the ‘lack of independence from the executive’, as well as agencies and institutions being susceptible to ‘improper’ pressure (Coldham 1995: 120). In Uganda we argue that deliberate actions of the political leadership have also been behind the failure of institutional attempts to minimize corruption. Top political leaders have influenced, manipulated and pressured anti-corruption institutions in ways that have constrained their effectiveness in checking highlevel state wrongdoing. Moreover, an important factor underlying the work of combating corruption is the nature of a country’s political system. At the time of writing, Uganda has had a quasi-authoritarian regime for much of the last twenty-seven years (Tripp 2010). A dominant ruling party and a powerful president have constrained the possibilities of the legislature and judiciary holding

the executive accountable for its actions. Institutions seeking to scrutinize state officials have been subjected to much political pressure as well as manipulation. But, as we also argue, individuals within Parliament and anti-corruption agencies have not been immune from corruption; they have wanted to benefit from executive inducements in carrying out their activities. Our Ugandan case examines the direct institutional mechanisms for tackling corruption since the 1990s. It discusses how political leaders have managed and manipulated anti-corruption institutions, particularly in situations where senior state officials have been accused of corrupt behaviour. Successive sections of this chapter examine the IG, the Leadership Code, parliamentary committees and judicial commissions of inquiry, as representing institutional attempts to control corruption. We discuss how the ability of these institutions to check high-level corruption has been undermined by actions of the political leadership as well as by the fact that they too have been captured by corruption.