Why donors fear Kagame’s war on graft
By: Andrew M Mwenda
Last week I was in Kigali, this time at the heels of a cabinet decision to impound all luxurious four wheel drive vehicles bought at government expense and driven by ministers, security and military chiefs, "foreign experts" and their local handlers. In a morning crackdown, all the big men and women of this republic woke up to find that police constables along the main roads were stopping and taking away their vehicles and leaving them to walk to office.
The international donor community, known all over Africa for its corrupt and profligate life styles which they indulge in the name of fighting poverty, was this time caught with their pants down. They claim to fight poverty while riding in luxurious four-wheel drive vehicles, sitting in opulently furnished offices, earning obscene salaries and living in executive mansions. In a bold act of defiance, Rwanda impounded even those vehicles belonging to donor projects. After cleaning his own government of corruption, he has now taken on the profligacy of the international aid industry and its experts are now scared.
In a discussion with President Paul Kagame, he told me that he had looked at some of the "poverty reduction" projects and they smelt bad. "There are projects here worth only $5m and when I looked at their expenses, I found that $1m was going into buying these cars, each one of them at $70,000. Another $1m goes to buy office furniture, more $1m for meetings and entertainment, yet another $1m as salaries for technical experts, leaving only $1m for the actual expenditure on a poverty reducing activity. Is this the way to fight poverty?" he asked as I shifted with glee in my chair.
Already, the government is auctioning these vehicles and so far has gotten over $3m from the sales. Mr Kagame has now issued a new directive, saying government should not purchase cars for its officials with more than 2,500cc. But there is more: the government has placed a ceiling on mobile telephone expenses for all its ministers, military and security chiefs to 50,000 Rwanda Francs (Shs150,000), and also ordered MTN Rwanda to cut off their international roaming access.
The directive also stops the holding of workshops, seminars and conferences on poverty reduction in posh hotels like the Intercontinental, Mille Collins etc, insisting they should be in government owned buildings at no cost. The order also requires all government ministries, departments and agencies to move from privately owned buildings where they pay high rents to government owned buildings.
I told Kagame that whereas some of the most highly skilled Africans are going to Europe and North America to clean streets and toilets, our ‘development partners’ send us ‘technical experts’ on these projects at indvidual monthly salaries of between $10,000 and $20,000 a salary that could pay 12 Africans of better training and experience and save this continent from severe brain drain. In fact, most of these so-called ‘experts’ are a miserable, career-stranded lot in their own countries, but are dumped in Africa and other poor countries through foreign aid protocols.
Donors never shy from lecturing our governments on fiscal frugality yet their aid driven projects are the most profligate. Of total project aid to Uganda's ministry of Health, 93 percent of it goes into technical assistance (i.e. salaries and allowances for the experts) and overheads (i.e. four wheel drive vehicles, opulent office furniture, computers, stationary, tea and cakes).
Only a miserable 7 percent of this aid goes into purchase of drugs. Now you understand why, in spite of a huge health budget, our people cannot find drugs in hospitals. We in the media have been shouting ourselves hoarse against government corruption. It is time to expose the worse forms of profligacy which forces our governments to pile up huge sums in debt.
In fact, of the total money from the Uganda government budget to the ministry of Health, 98 percent reaches its intended beneficiaries, clearly showing that inspite of its corrupt ways, the government of Uganda is a better evil than donors. Of total project aid to Uganda, 68 percent goes into overheads and technical assistance. Only 32 percent to its intended beneficiaries.
A few weeks ago I presented the above facts to President Yoweri Museveni and asked him to act. My heart bleeds to say he is so deeply discredited by his inability to tackle corruption in his government, and his own profligate public administration expenditure that he lacks moral authority to take on donors.
The other reason is that his regime lives off this coalition of mutual deceit with donors that both are fighting to eradicate poverty in Uganda. Kagame, however, is able to act boldly because he occupies a moral high ground in fighting corruption, has ensured fiscal frugality and also because his government pursues strategies of survival - not necessarily dependant on donor approval.
In Rwanda, ministers and other high ranking public officials resign and or are fired by the week because of allegations of corruption. From the lowest clerk in a government office to the most powerful minister or military or security chief, no one is immune to jail when they steal; none close to the president, none distant from him. You steal, you get jailed.
If there is some prima facie case that you stole, but there isn’t not enough evidence to convict you in a court of law, then you are asked to resign or get fired. What a tough guy this Kagame man is!!