Every Monday. Without Fail. I still wear Black.
Why? I am part of the Black Monday Movement, which is a citizen protest against theft of public funds, with impunity, in Uganda. The Black Monday Movement started about three years ago. It was sparked off by reports of the theft of up to 50 billion shillings from the Office of the Prime Minister. The money stolen was meant for the rehabilitation of Northern Uganda, which had undergone a devastating civil war for over 20 years. The theft of this money was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and the Black Monday Movement was born as a response to say ‘enough is enough’, that we could not go on with business as usual – with the press reeling off story after story of stolen public funds, without causing much of a hiccup, let alone a ripple, from civil society. We decided to gather and morn the many lives lost from the wanton theft of public funds. We decided to wear black as a symbol of our morning, but also as a symbol of our protest at Government’s lackluster response to theft of public resources.
Last week, a story that broke in the press reminded me of the callousness of corruption and the corrupt. About two years ago, 165 billion of pensioners money was stolen from Ministry of Public Service. Several high ranking officers were arrested and arraigned before court. But last week, the case against the officials was dropped. Why? Due to lack of evidence. Why? Because some people involved in the theft of that money, had bribed some policemen to write a report with contradictory evidence from a report that had earlier been the basis of the charges against the officials who stole the money. With two contradictory reports, the court had nothing to do but to dismiss the case.
Right after the report of the theft of the 165 billion shillings two years ago, The Monitor Newspaper ran several stories of pensioners, about how many of them live lives of poverty and squalor, about what many of them have endeavored to access the pension due to them – often with great trouble and little success, many of them having to bride some official here and there over several years to enable their files to be found and processed. The stories were heart breaking to say the least. One could not read those stories and stay unmoved by the plight of many senior citizens who, having served their country diligently as civil servants, then have to encounter a system that robbed them of their hard earned pension.
It was with heaviness of heart that I read that the case against those that stole pensioners money was dropped. Just like that. And to read that once again, corruption had reared it’s ugly head, as it was used to tamper with and defeat justice. It’s even sadder that there hasn’t been so much of a sneeze, let alone a huge public outcry at this travesty of justice. Maybe it’s because our population is largely made up of young people, many of them struggling to find jobs, so the story of those who stole pensions getting off the hook does not move them much. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know enough pensioners to care what happens to them, to care enough that anyone would steal their money and get away with it. Or maybe it’s we have become so accustomed to stories of stolen money and the lack of prosecution of the ‘big fish’ involved in these scandals, to care when another story ends up just like the thousands of other stories before it.
But we must watch that we do not become desensitized to the theft of public resources. This is our money, meant to serve us. We can’t afford not care. We can’t give up and let this evil win. We can’t look away and go on with business as usual. It must remain unusual that so much money is stolen and very little, if any is ever recovered, and very few, if any, of the people responsible for the theft, are made to answer.
Corruption is a mountain we all have to face and scale. It will not go away by us ignoring it. We have to deal with it head on. We must make it extremely risky and uncomfortable for anyone to steal public funds and get away with it. We must act now – for our own good, and for the good of posterity. We must not let this mountain overwhelm us.