This article looks at the thorny trends in the political – donor–CSO relationship within the CSO operating environment. This chapter highlights some current difficult issues in these relationships. It gives a synopsis of several corruption incidents and challenging factors for CSOs in their relationship with government, and CSO perspectives on donor funding modalities.
Launching a civil society Black Monday campaign
Black Monday may remind many people of the 1987 collapse of the stock market, but for Ugandans today, every Monday is a Black Monday, a citizen’s “social movement against escalating theft of public money without shame.”
The Black Monday Movement, launched by civil society leaders in 2012, is an anti-corruption campaign encompassing several citizens’ actions, including wearing black on Mondays to mourn large-scale corruption, distributing information and education materials on corruption to the public, and communicating with the state, alongside several other activities aimed at encouraging the public to shun corruption and corrupt officials.
CSOs in Uganda maintain that the abuse of public funds has reached insurmountable proportions over the years, criticising government for taking ineffective action and being lacking in political will, despite the existence of anti-corruption institutions and laws. In a Black Monday publication, civil society documents 24 incidents and scandals between 2000 and 2012 in which in excess of US$1 billion in public funds have been lost in government ministries, agencies and bodies. The scandals include allegations of widespread theft of money, from primary education funds, school facility grants, health services, Global Fund money, funds to train soldiers, police payments, pensions, social security funds, the money for national identity cards, the private sector, Kampala City Council and several others. In a related document, the government’s Auditor General’s 2012 Value For Money (VFM) audit report revealed a massive diversion of public funds by civil servants in the Office of the Prime Minister, meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme for Northern Uganda. The Auditor General discovered embezzlement of funds, use of personal accounts for the implementation of activities, diversion of funds and lack of accountability for funds. The report reveals that over 50 billion Uganda Shillings (about US$20 million) was diverted and paid to civil servants, some through personal bank accounts, with no accountability, used by some for personal gain. The Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda is responsible for all government business, charged with ensuring that all government programmes and projects in all Ministries are implemented as planned. This report also revealed that the funds stolen were donor funds mostly from Denmark, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. The amount of funds pocketed in this case is almost negligible compared to the amount of public funds lost each year. For example, the World Bank estimates indicated that over US$500 million is lost each year in Uganda through corruption.
Donors reacted together to the Auditor General’s Report by withdrawing or suspending about US$300 million in aid to Uganda, among them Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU). The Government of Uganda, facing a serious but non-life threatening scandal that dented an already ailing image, arrested and prosecuted the implicated officials, subsequently paying back some of the stolen money to some donors and vowing to recover and pay all of it back.
Civil society, at the risk of suffering the wrath of government, renewed their advocacy and took to the streets with the Black Monday Movement. On Monday 7 January 2013, civil society leaders distributed Black Monday newsletters during the busy Kampala morning traffic. This resulted in the arrest of the Country Manager of Action Aid International Uganda and an independent activist. Citizens, who need to be understood as the people most impacted on by corruption, are disillusioned by the impunity of public officials. Some are apathetic, some are angry and others are watching how this will eventually play out.