Over the years, corruption cases in Uganda have been severe, well-known, cut across many sectors and most of them have made eye-catching news headlines.
According to the report released by Twaweza [a civil society organization working to enable children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive] last year, many Ugandans were dissatisfied with the country’s direction in the fight against corruption (70 per cent) which means that even though the taskforce was constituted, they were not satisfied by the move.
The country has a good number of bodies focused on eradicating corruption, including the State House Anti-Corruption Unit, Anti-Corruption Court, a specialized tribunal within the Ugandan judiciary; the office of the Inspectorate of Government (IG, led by the Inspector General of Government, the IGG), an office mandated by the Ugandan constitution to fight corruption; the Auditor General; and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, among others.
These institutions have ably gone for the low hanging fruited and prosecuted some low-level corruption for small amounts of money, but have remained lame ducks in as far as curbing grand scale corruption or pushing prosecutions and convictions in an equitable and apolitical manner that would be mre likely to ensure accountability of the highest-ranking members of government.
According to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, Uganda is the 149 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries.
Corruption Rank in Uganda averaged 115.45 from 1996 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 151 in 2016 and a record low of 43 in 1996.
In 2019, the Inspector General of Government (IGG) issued a list of the most corrupt government institutions and districts in a 2017 report titled; “Bi-annual Inspectorate of Government Performance”.
The report submitted to Parliament was based on complaints sent to the Ombudsman by members of the public and not conclusive investigations by the IGG.
Out of the 50 most corrupt institutions, the judiciary came ninth position with 2.2 per cent complaints [34 cases].
These were the corruption tendencies in the country that forced the Chief Justice of Uganda Bart Katureebe to clean up his house [judiciary].
In August, 2019, he set up a taskforce to probe allegations of the vice in the third arm of government.
An eight- member team is headed by High Court Judge, Immaculate Busingye was formed. Other members included, High Court Judges: Vincent Emmy Mugabo and Susan Abinyo; Ms. Rosemary Bareebe (Deputy Registrar); Ayebare Tumwebaze (Assistant Registrar); Patrick Barugahare (Principal Human Resource Officer), Solomon Muyita (Principal Communications Officer), and Eva Kentaro Mugerwa (Advocate).
The formation of the taskforce was an aftermath of media reports, which exposed acts of bribery and corruption in the courts of Uganda.
The reports unearthed a racket of court clerks, food vendors, police officers, state attorneys and prison officers who solicited for brides from desperate detained suspects in need of non-cash bail contrary to Article 23 (6) of the Constitution of Uganda which treats bail as a human right.
When a person pays for bail, the money is refundable.
However, the struggle Ugandans go through to get bail left the Judiciary stuck with shs24 billion unclaimed, according to its former permanent secretary, Kagole Kivumbi.
Kivumbi, told Parliament recently that to get money back, one needs a court order, which is hard for an average citizen.
According to an investigation by District Focus Team, in cases of non-cash bail, some officials milk money from ignorant suspects or their relatives in exchange for freedom. The task force was to investigate such cases among others.
While unveiling the taskforce, Justice Katureebe underlined his administration’s commitment to ensuring that any court staff captured receiving a bribe would be dealt with in accordance with the law.
“What has been happening is, people say they have paid money for court services, but they are usually not willing to bring the evidence to us. We encourage such audits in all courts, and we are willing to do it as a partnership. Our aim should be to take action on the culprits by the Judicial Service Commission,” he said.
In July 2019, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) announced that they had established an online complaints management system for the public to use to report complaints against errant judicial officers.
Norah Matovu, the chairperson of the JSC disciplinary committee, noted that their decision was informed by the huge number of complaints reported against the judicial officers at their registry. In 2017, alone, they had a record of 700 complaints.
She said the system was to relieve Ugandans from having to travel to their offices to register cases and was also to ensure efficiency in handling of the reported cases.
Taskforce report findings
The Chief Justice had tasked the taskforce to report back to him in a period of two months. The Chief Justice was free to extend their tenure if need arose.
However, five months later, no full report findings have been availed to the public.
Speaking to District Focus, Solomon Muyita, the Judiciary Spokesperson also one of the task force members said they concluded their work last year and handed over the report to the Chief Justice with its recommendations.
“What I know is that the Chief Justice by the time he got the report, he was proceeding to his official leave but he has returned and he is supposed to unveil to the public the report findings, recommendations and some actions already being taken in that regard,” said Muyita.
“In a few days, he should be unveiling, the report to the public. I don’t want to pre-empt what he intends to say but I can confirm that work was done well.”
However, the Judiciary mouthpiece disclosed some of the key highlights in the report and the action s to be taken against the suspects.
He said following their findings, the judiciary top management directed disciplinary action against two magistrates and five support staff.
The implicated staff include two Magistrates, two Office Attendants, two court clerks and a process server, attached to the magistrates courts of Wakiso, Goma, City Hall, Mukono and Nabweru.
“The top management directed the Chief Registrar to charge the two implicated Magistrates and refer them to the Judiciary disciplinary committee. The Permanent Secretary was also tasked to interdict the five support staff and take disciplinary action accordance with the public service standing orders,” said Muyita.
“The Chief Justice will also work with his colleagues in other government agencies like Uganda Police, Uganda Prisons to ensure that also their officers who were captured in the videos taking bribes are equally punished.”
The report also highlighted some of the other challenges affecting delivery of Judicial services, including poor infrastructure, inadequate security, inhumane sanitary conditions among others.
It’s a good initiative
According to Uganda Law Society (ULS) president Simon Peter Kinobe, the anti-corruption taskforce is a good initiative because it continues to show the commitment of the judiciary towards the fight against the vice.
“This initiative led to the prosecution and disciplinary action being taken against the errant judicial officers. More importantly it’s a message to all judicial officers that corruption is not permissible,” Kinobe said.
Citizens speak out
Moses Kajubi,27, a resident of Wakiso says he doesn’t feel that the Chief Justice and his instituted task force can do much to stop the vice since for years many civil servants have been involved in corruption and embezzlement but always go unpunished.
“In Uganda, corruption is observed as a normal thing, those who practice it, they are praised so I do not think, the taskforce dealing with corrupt judicial officers will be successful,” said Kajubi.
Sharon Kyeyune, a city businesswoman also says corruption in the country is almost becoming an acceptable social norm and she does not think the task force findings will be put into consideration given the fact that the vice is practiced right from senior government officials to juniors.
“Honestly speaking, I don’t think the Judiciary anti-corruption task force findings will be put into consideration because that the Uganda we are in now, everything is taken for granted. All I can say is that biggest punishment, those who will be found guilty will get will be a suspension and after some months, they will be back in office comfortably.”
This article has been supported by Twaweza, a civil society organization working to enable children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.