Interview

Wednesday, 04 December 2013 07:06

Written by Sulaiman Kakaire

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It is one year since the Black Monday campaign that was launched by civil society organizations, to expose and fight corruption.

ARTHUR LAROK is the country director of ActionAid and one of the architects of Black Monday. Sulaiman Kakaire asked Larok about the ups and downs  and the future of Black Monday.

One year later, how far have you gone with the campaign?

This is one of the most sustained campaigns civil society has run. We have been key in the anti-Mabira giveaway campaign, the restoration of term limits, anti-GMO legislation and many more. But Black Monday is different because of the nature of the problem it is addressing.

Unlike other campaigns which have been timely and short-term as they expire with an activity, Black Monday is a long, protracted struggle. Secondly, we have designated every first Monday of the month to have a newsletter that comes out and I am happy that the newspapers have partnered with us on this.

So, despite the challenges we faced at the beginning and up to now, I think we have rallied Ugandans, like never before on the subject of theft, which we decided to use rather than the concept of corruption.

Is the campaign meeting its expectations?

The first expectation we had was to demystify the idea of corruption. You know corruption is a corrupted concept and this is due to the fact that the media has been awash with scandals of corruption, something that has made the public embrace it as part of life. For instance the corrupt have been adored as the role models of the community, like elected leaders steal and share with their voters.

That’s why when a minister is convicted, the voters mobilize themselves and go to the president to ask him to forgive their leader. So, we have to change that attitude and what we have done is to market the idea that corruption is theft. People realized that this is a bad thing because nowhere in Africa is theft condoned.

Secondly, we have managed to sustain the newsletter which acts as the flagship of the campaign. Whereas they arrested some of us at the beginning, we have managed to sustain this. There are nineteen of us who have been arrested and we still report to police even when some charges have been dropped…

The other thing is that we have managed to run an affordable campaign and this is a good thing because when we were conceiving this idea we wanted something which is not very expensive to run.

In the conceptualization of this campaign, we simply put down four points, and these were: wear black every Monday, speak to ten people about corruption, reject all acts of corruption, shun all thieves of government money and their businesses. All these don’t require money.

What challenges have you encountered so far?

The first is a logistical one. You know NGOs have been blacklisted as agents of foreign interests and so on. So, we made a decision that this campaign should be funded by us as NGOs and not go to donors, and this explains why the activities of the campaigns have not been spread throughout the country.

If we had a lot of money from donors we probably have been in the villages, media and even produced the newsletter every week rather than every month. The second problem that we have faced is that we have encountered interference from security.

The third one is that corruption is so systemic and what we are trying to do is like a drop in the ocean. To trace the success of this movement without underplaying the achievements we have made has been difficult. Why? Because more pressure and attention has been put on government which has led to the exposure of more corruption cases and this can be very frustrating if someone is not analytical about this, you may think that we are fighting a lost battle.

The fourth is that government, who is the major duty bearer, is lukewarm because people who are arrested are released, the Anti-Corruption court is not functioning and many other institutions that are designated to fight this vice are not functioning.

The last challenge is that internally, not every Ugandan is persuaded about this campaign because there are people who are beneficiaries and these have posed a big threat to the campaign.

Sometimes one wonders if your message is not understood – we are seeing more corruption scandals…

I think these cases are due to the pressure that has come against corruption. I think that the overall message we have passed has in a way led to the unearthing of these cases. But, the second explanation can also be understood by the fact that we are more like in a bubble yet-to-explode.

You see there are people who have become richer due to corruption and they have in turn posed a threat to those in power. So, because of that, government is trying to control those who have obtained wealth due to corrupt acts and if you are not close to those in power, you are exposed, which is a blessing in disguise.

The third reason can be attributed to the donors who withdrew the budget support, this put government on pressure and it has helped in exposing the scandals.

But China has come in to bridge the funding gap… You see, China does not put money in the basket. They win a contract and build infrastructure, they are not like western donors. The idea that china does not care is not true; they manage their resources. It is more difficult to steal China’s donation as opposed to donations from the West.

You appear to be preaching to the converted as the newsletters are accessed by the elite who already know…

I do think that we should have a step down and we have invested in this; that is why we partnered with Utoda to have the newsletter distributed to people who board taxes.

In fact, we have also come up with a proposal to have the newsletter published in all local languages and this will help us in reaching out to the rural populace. The logistical issues have limited us though it will be addressed in future.

How are you addressing the question of governance?

I do think that the struggle against corruption is done in isolation. I think that the fight against corruption is going hand in hand with issues of accountability and governance. The works that the citizens coalition is doing is addressing the legal reforms on governance, we are involved in issues of budget tracking and the issue of restoring term limits. These are all governance issues which we are partly involved in.

What are your views about MP John Ssimbwa’s bill proposing amendments to the Anti-Corruption Act?

We welcome the bill and I think that it is good to provide for mandatory confiscation of property owned by persons convicted on corrupt-related offences. However, the current issue of corruption is not lack of legislation. It is lack of political will to give effect to the legislation.

Government has of recent come up with stringent laws to gag NGOs; do you think you will survive the whip?

The environment of the NGOs has worsened over the years. But, you see, what government should know is that behind the NGOs, there are individuals. Even if they gag NGOs or close them, we shall not stop to talk about the reforms in society. Actually, this will make us more resilient.

But, why do you think government is resorting to this, is it true?

That’s a tired argument. It is a fact that we get 95 per cent of the funding from donors; should we deny that? You see even the government which is complaining receives funding from donors; should we say that it’s serving foreign interests?

What should we expect from Black Monday going into the second year?

Now, we are talking about Black Monday campaign reloaded. We [launched] that one at the Anti-Corruption Convention on Monday and we are going to focus on greater access of our message, particularly the local people.

Secondly, we want to run a campaign about the greater connection between this and the tax justice system. This is about helping people understand the relationship between corruption and tax payment. It will also involve linking the two to service delivery. Finally, we want also to spice up this campaign by recognition of people with integrity so that we have champions of integrity.

skakaire@observer.ug

http://observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28948:black-monday-has-energised-war-against-corruption–larok&catid=53:interview&Itemid=67

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