On the left, Queen Elizabeth and Yoweri Museveni. On the right, Queen Elizabeth the Head of the Commonwealth
By Jerry Okungu
December 15, 2009
I have read revelations how deals were cut and executed during the CHOGM conference in Kampala a few years ago. The fact that to this date, Ugandan parliament is still hell bent on getting to the bottom of the scandal is a measure of maturity, tolerance and even transparency on the part of the executive.
The CHOGM story reads like a familiar one in Kenya. We have had our fair share of such type spanning over twenty years. The storyline is pretty familiar. There is an international conference in the offing. The organizers decide very early that there are no resources or manpower and technology to carry out such an assignment. However, the government insists the conference must go on. And here is where smart Alecks emerge from the woodworks. They develop a foolproof document complete with a budget appended for government consideration.
In most cases it is argued that the gathering such as the CHOGM is a goldmine for tourists in the country. So many heads of state and their delegations gathering in our capitals will help spruce up our dented image abroad. More importantly is the economic angle inserted in the document. Apart from millions of dollars that will be left behind by foreign delegates, it will be an opportunity to showcase our tourist and investment potentials. When the government sees the positive figures projected after the conference, it goes on overdrive.
The next face of this type of scam sees government functionaries colluding with influential power brokers. They put up a team that will source expertise outside our boundaries. Together they will quote figures to pay for foreign expertise and technology not available locally. In all these scams, figures are quoted in the usual US dollars for ease of funds transfer. In worse situations like the Ugandan CHOGM, tax payers are made to pay for UBC equipment in US dollars that are hired by the same foreigners for a song then they collect their dollars and disappear.
However, the Ugandan case can be rated as much better than Kenyan examples.
In the mid 1980s, Kenya offered to host the All Africa Games in Nairobi. To do this, the country decided that the games in Nairobi would surpass all other games held in Africa.
And in his wisdom, the then Minister for Sports advertised for an international marketing firm to market the games. What we had was an American, a Mr. Dick Berg who claimed to have marketed the Olympics and even some other World Cup tournaments in Europe and South America. When the man was hired, he rented an entire floor of a five star hotel in the center of Nairobi, all expenses paid for by the government of Kenya. The man even promised Kenyans top American artists to grace the occasion. And to his credit, he brought Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, never mind that nobody knew Jermaine as much as his brother Michael in this part of the world.
However Mr. Berg disappeared mysteriously before the games leaving a trail of debts to the Kenya government. To this day nobody knows what happened to the millions he collected from sponsors and advertisers.
What makes the Kenyan story sound like the CHOGM in Uganda are the details of the deal! In both cases, some cash was paid upfront even before the deal was signed. In both cases there were locals that headhunted and connived with foreigners to defraud the public. Foreigners never know when we have big meetings. We look them up to help us steal from our people.
The fact that the details of the CHOGM saga are coming out in the open and are freely being debated, we must use this as a vital lesson and possibly the beginning of dealing with highly placed individuals in our systems. Ugandans must be congratulated for going this far with the probe. For us the Dick Berg story died a natural death without a whimper from our parliament.
However, for this to be a learning experience for the rest of East Africa, President Museveni must muscle the courage to rise above the normal expectation. He must take to task the players that conspired, most probably in his name, with foreigners to steal Ugandan taxpayer’s cash using fraudulent means. The South Africans who pretended to import OB vans because there were none in Uganda then turned round to use the local UBC vans must be pursued by Interpol and prosecuted on Ugandan soil.
Those Ugandans allegedly close to President Museveni must not take cover in the presidency. They must be hauled in courts together with their conspirators to face justice and refund the cash they fraudulently received during the CHOGM Conference. If Ugandans don’t arrest this impunity, they will go the way of Kenyans where thieves of public funds such as Anglo Leasing and Golden Berg scams are happy to walk the streets of Nairobi and autograph children’s books!
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