In the last few weeks, together with other staff in the press unit and security departments of State House, we have been combating against a wave of forged documents originated by anonymous persons and circulated, wittingly and unwittingly, by members of the public especially using social media channels.
Among the fake documents circulated was one attributed to the Senior Presidential Advisor on Security, Lt. Gen. Proscovia Nalweyiso, claiming that she had issued instructions on land in Mayuge district, dated September 27, 2021.
We have previously been bombarded with fake tweets, included those attributed to H.E the President and his Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to H.E the President, Dr. Kenneth Omona. Dr. Omona’s name was also used on a document about the Mayuge land dated November 9, 2022.
There have equally been documents or social media posts attributed to other Government officials. Usually, the first reaction is to pen rebuttals to such posts and documents, and appeal to the public to ignore them. Members of public of good judgment are trusted to understand and, indeed, disregard such forgeries but there are the gullible ones fail or those that decide to continue sharing the same forgeries without a care on the damage they cause. That is why this is now a serious security matter, partly to raise awareness to the seriousness of the pandemic of these forgeries and to stamp out the practice.
There are those documents written on headed paper made to look like that of State House or a particular institution or organisation-I believe even private companies have been affected in this fraud-then a directive is typed on made to look as if the President or another official has made such a directive. These fraudsters even “appoint” public officials and attribute them to the appointing authority, while others give clearance to certain projects where benefits such as money are involved.
Investigations reveal that the motive in this scam is multi-fold; the fraudsters are in some instances driven by personal interests, such as if they would wish to get State House clearance to undertake a project or programme. In this case, the fake documents are made to issue fake clearance for the fraudsters to achieve their target by misleading other Government officials that they have been cleared to undertake a given programme.
Of course this is very dangerous as it would involve Government funds being dished out to wrong entities and work being done by unauthorised personnel.
Others forge documents in order to sow confusion in the system and to make Government look uncoordinated and incompetent. For this crop, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to their identity and motives. These are enemies of Government out to exact revenge on the system and certain officials. It’s a tool of war against the healthy function of Government in the service of Ugandans and a continuation of the underhand methods of “opposition”. These should be unmasked. Why do they fear to come in public and say what they want to say or do instead of hiding behind computers?
Good enough, there is sufficient technology to track them and a good law to prosecute them with. Whatever people may say about the Computer Misuse Act, these acts of cyber fraud necessitate the introduction of such punitive laws. Individuals who misuse public platforms are to blame for the introduction of tighter laws, although meant to protect right-thinking and innocent members of society. In short, their acts are responsible for the reduction in the size of the public space available for ordinary people to communicate freely, which is why we must do everything to fight these fraudsters. They are a danger for human rights, freedom of speech and democracy at large.
But they also damage the reputations of established officials and make them look unserious or corrupt. Because these fraudsters are not persons of good standing in society, their thought patterns are twisted and ill-conceived.
However, they can be stopped.
Government officials should be more vigilant so that nobody serves them with forged documents purporting to give them instructions from State House or another institution. The same for members of the public.
As the State House press unit, we have already notified Government officials and members of the public whenever approached with a document purportedly from State House, whichever district/city you are in, first verify it! Approach Resident District/City Commissioners to help you.
Any fraudster found in the process of serving such documents should be arrested on sight. For that matter, we all need to be on alert so that we do not get caught unawares and suffer the repercussions of not scrutinising documentation.
Interestingly, I am told that some of the people behind these forgeries do it for fun, just to exercise the field of play afforded them by social media and easy access to digital gadgets. No matter; the law will still take its course. We need to appeal to our people to use virtual spaces responsibly, not to sow misinformation and malicious material but to share verified and usable information.
Where do people get money for MBs to create and circulation fake posts and money to print fake documents when they claim to be unemployed and poor? And when called to answer before the law, they make it political. Let’s be fair!
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary
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