How soiling judiciary endangers the whole country
The late former prime minister Professor Apolo Nsibambi was an outstanding man. He spent a lot of time for most of his life at Namirembe Cathedral where he prayed and played the organ. Among the things church personnel remember about Nsibambi was his blend of modesty and effective style.
A story is often told how Nsibambi would use the ‘ordinary’ toilets instead of going to the ‘VIP’ conveniences yet if anybody in the Namirembe congregation qualified for the VIP tag it was him. Whenever people tried to direct him to the VIP toilets Nsibambi would scoff and bluntly tell them that there was nothing VIP about what he did in the toilet, “Tekiriimu bukungu”. Of course as a church elder, Nsibambi’s going to the cathedral’s ‘public’ toilets had its advantage. It meant that the cleaning staff had to always ensure that they were clean.
Now the people who are soiling the name of the judiciary couldn’t have picked a more (in)appropriate image to manifest their mischief. The media has just exposed the dirty toilet at KCCA court inside which hundreds of millions of shillings change hand every week, from distressed relatives of petty offenders seeking non-cash bail to officers of the law and court.
And then in the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, it gets revealed that judiciary officers ‘spent’ sh400 million to fix a ‘flush toilet’ the chief justice’s house. The revelation has ignited uncharitable jokes on social media about the judiciary. Had Professor Nsibambi still been around, he would certainly have wondered what it is that the chief justice does in the toilet to merit such expenditure. The toilet, that is where corrupt officials are sending the image of the judiciary.
The judiciary finds itself in a place quite similar to where the central Bank of Uganda is. As regulator of the monetary sector and supervisor of all banks and financial institutions in Uganda, the central bank is expected to beyond reproach and above suspicion as it executes its mandate. The disclosure, also in a parliament committee that it did not even produce a report for any of the seven commercial banks it closed over the last three decades left the sector operators and all people of good will stunned at the level of recklessness at Bank of Uganda. If ,however ,reports were produced but were made to disappear it is even more frightening for it signifies a determination for continued criminality in the running of the central bank.
For the judiciary, the sh400 million toilet was the smaller revelation, if not the smallest, during the PAC session. There is sh32 billion paid into individual private accounts, sh4.4 billion of bail money not traced and failure to computerize/ put online file case management because the money was diverted to purchasing luxury vehicles. The litany of financial abuse is long.
However, cleaning up the image of the judiciary before it sinks in the sewer where the corrupt officials want to sink it can be easily done in a couple of days, in fact. If CID complies with PAC’s directive to investigate the accounts where the sh32 billion was paid, that would be a big public relations coup for both the judiciary and the police, two key institutions in the Justice Law and Order sector. It is a simple operation because the judiciary PS just has to avail the list of the accounts as ordered by PAC and, with a court order of course, proceed to trace the transactions over the amounts on those accounts. And since this was public money for public activities, there would be nothing wrong whatsoever for the transactions to be made public.
The new police Criminal Intelligence Director (freshly appointed from UDPF) will have made his grand entrance. The judiciary in which public confidence is under threat of being eroded will also have shown that misdeeds are individual and not institutional.
When Uganda was placed under colonial rule a century and three decades ago, checks and balances in governance were introduced. In spite of whatever positives attributes the pre-colonial rulers had, they were anything but democratic. The king had final say over the making of laws, their application and interpretation as well. Today, the separation of powers between Executive, Legislature and Judiciary is the safeguard modern states count on to prevent mad men and women doing as they please with power. Even dictators like Idi Amin have to first abolish the legislature and subdue the judiciary (which can include killing the chief justice as happened in Kampala in 1973) before exercising absolute power. For the people look up to the judiciary the stand determine who is right and who is wrong in any dispute, and to provide appropriate remedy.
Therefore ,when the judiciary is made to appear like another habitual offender and corrupt abuser of public resources, confidence in it to dispense justice is eroded. And that is how the seeds of mob justice and ultimately anarchy are sown.
The judges and magistrates in Uganda are largely men and women of integrity. Research by media and NGOs like LAPSNET indicate that corruption in the judiciary is largely conducted by court clerks, state attorneys and bureaucrats. At the lower courts, prison warders and policemen with court support staff and unfortunately, state attorneys are the key culprits. State Attorneys in particular are the biggest vendors of non-cash bail because when a prosecutor expresses no objection to a bail application, it is very unlikely that the magistrate will reject it. The state attorney can therefore keep collecting bribes in the name of an unsuspecting magistrate.
The principle judge’s office must be aware of such poorly kept secrets that are tarnishing the name of the judiciary. He is free to deal with them and save the institution, and ultimately the nation.