The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

I fight corruption, and I support procurement reform.

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Even a sophisticated operation which has safeguards in place to reduce corruption and increase transparency needs local partners to hold their governments accountable.

Livingstone Sewanyana. Source: http://www.fhri.or.ug

My name is Livingstone Sewanyana, and I am a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) in Kampala, Uganda. I have worked in the field of human rights for 25 years at the national and international level. I support USAID’s Implementation and Procurement Reform, and I signed this letter to send a message to the US Congress that if they also want to fight corruption and promote development, they must work more with local people, the principal actors in the development process.

I have seen that development dollars, when directed at both the civil society groups and local governments, add more value and reduce the risk of waste and abuse. More support to local civil society actors means more support for campaigns against corruption. In Uganda, civil society groups like the Coalition Against Corruption and the Uganda Debt Network, among others, have spearheaded campaigns against corruption. Citizens are monitoring electoral votes to protect democracy, and Ugandan civil society has been instrumental in shining a light on development projects where there have been failures or misuse of funds.

In one high profile case, when the Ministry of Health misallocated funds, some of which came from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, citizen groups monitoring health care delivery discovered that funds were being misused. As Ugandan citizens, they were highly motivated, watching their fellow countrymen and women die due to lack of drugs and other related services. It was precisely because of strong civil society groups that the Global Fund was aware of the corruption. It was civil society efforts that led to an audit, which uncovered massive misuse of funds. Even a sophisticated operation like the Global Fund, which has in place safeguards to reduce corruption and increase transparency, needed local partners to hold their government accountable.

But the fight against corruption isn’t just about money—it is also about education, trust building and partnership. Groups like the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative work with both civil society organizations and local governments.

On the government side, we train local leaders, judiciaries, and Members of Parliament and their staff on human rights issues and legal procedures. This is especially important because Uganda adopted a decentralization policy in 1997 with an objective of bringing services closer to the people. While local governments are closer to the people, they do not always have the knowledge, skills and motivation to achieve this objective. So the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative has for several years engaged local government in programs that enhance their human rights knowledge, skills in budgeting and policy formulation and monitoring, and help them set up committees to develop initiatives targeting women, the disabled, and youth.

On the civil society side, we work with citizens to ensure they know their rights and can speak out when they detect problems or rights being violated. In order for these anti-corruption campaigns to be successful, there must be space for people to blow the whistle while knowing that they will be protected. Having the support of strong partners and leaders like the US can go a long way in making it easier.

As a human rights activist, I support initiatives like USAID Forward where the US government works more directly both with my government—even though it is not perfect—and through local civil society groups like mine, because direct support to these groups reaps high rewards in creating a better Uganda.

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