Ugandan Senior Officials Caught In A ‘Golden Handshake’
Close to 50 government employees are facing a public grilling after recent revelations that they took home thousands of Ugandan shillings from a multi-million dollar oil tax settlement that was owed to the National Treasury.
According to critics, this was a sign of the “resource curse”, in which free-flowing petro-dollars lead to corruption and unrest.
The scandal dates back to 2015 when President Yoweri Museveni in a letter to the Uganda Revenue Authority asked that an “adequate reward” by paid to the team that successfully represented Uganda in the Capital Gains Tax Case against Heritage Oil and Gas even though the team had already been paid for their work.
Beneficiaries of the so-called “golden presidential handshake” include senior officials of the country’s tax agency, energy, finance and justice ministries. Some of them, individually, received bonuses topping $100,000.
“As you are aware,” Museveni wrote in the letter, “the government of Uganda won a case against Heritage Oil Limited in London arbitration and was awarded $434 million (about 1.5 trillion Ugandan shillings). I met with a team of officials that handled that case and they requested to be considered for a reward in appreciation of the work done.
“Given the amount of money that was recovered, it was agreed that the government pay them … a token of appreciation,” the President wrote. “I therefore direct that the team of 42 government officials be paid $1.5 million each. The applicable taxes should be deducted.”
Doris Akol, Commissioner General of the Uganda Revenue Authority concurred.
“… the amount recommended will enable the beneficiaries to use the funds for something tangible i.e. to leave a legacy to remind them and their offspring of their contribution to the nation. For instance, the recommended amount could enable one to either acquire a decent plot of land, pay a deposit on a mortgage or perhaps facilitate finishes on a home.”
At least one top official reportedly disagreed with his peers, comparing this to previous high profile corruption cases. “That money is ours and was blessed by the President to be given to us,” the official reportedly said, according to sources of the Daily Monitor Ugandan newspaper.
The story, now leaked, has shocked Ugandan citizens who shared their views on social media and on radio talk shows, asking why well-paid civil servants had to be rewarded for doing their job.
“Here is why this thing stinks to the high heavens,” wrote Ugandan lawyer and politician Norbert Mao in a recent editorial. “The money is public revenue. It belongs to the citizens of Uganda… Therefore the (senior officials) who received the (monies), whatever the excuse, did so illegally. What they did is nothing but highway robbery…”
Independent lawmaker Wilfred Niwagaba told Reuters he planned to introduce a parliamentary motion this week demanding the bonuses be returned and the recipients prosecuted. Public officials are prohibited from soliciting or accepting monetary rewards in the performance of their work under the Anti-Corruption Act.