Saturday April 5 2014

Why an inquiry into Uganda’s numerous inquiries is needed

An illustration of probe reports piled up on

An illustration of probe reports piled up on the government desk. illustration by Alex Kwizera  

By Emmanuel Ainebyoona

Since 1986, the NRM government has set up several commissions of inquiry into alleged crimes. But what has become of these government investigations?

That is the question many Ugandans keep asking and wondering if they were worth the time and money.

In 1986, the government set up an inquiry into alleged human rights violations during the past regimes. Then there was another into the murder of two Makerere University students in 1990, followed by one into alleged corruption in the Uganda Police Force in 1999. In 2000 there was a probe into the Kanungu mass murder orchestrated by Joseph Kibwetere and others.

In 2002, the government also set up a commission of inquiry into the purchase of four junk military helicopters. Since then there have been other inquiries instituted into mismanagement of Global Fund money for TB and Aids, Uganda Wildlife Authority, inquiry into corruption at the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), inquiry into “ghost” soldiers on the UPDF payroll and mismanagement of the Universal Primary Education funds among others.

The first ever commission under the NRM government was established in 1986 by the then Justice minister and attorney general Joseph Nyamihana Mulenga, now deceased. The commission was assigned to inquire into alleged human rights violations which had taken place from independence on October 1962 to January 1986 when President Museveni took over power.

This commission was led by Justice Arthur Oder, his team included Mr Edward Khiddu Makubuya, Mr Jack Lugobya, Mr John Kawanga and Mr John Nagenda.

The current Vice President, Mr Edward Ssekandi, served as the commission’s legal counsel. It began its hearings in December 1986. However, after a few proceedings, it was brought to an abrupt halt due to lack of money.
Even before its eventual closure, logistical constraints had confined the commission’s proceedings to the capital Kampala contrary to the planned coverage of the whole country. However, a grant from the Ford Foundation in February 1988 later helped the commission to resume its hearings though belatedly in 1990.

A 720-page report was published in 1994 with findings, conclusions and recommendations.

The report recommended incorporation of human rights education in school curriculum and training programmes of security forces. Nevertheless, many people assert that the commission only served a political strategy to provide legitimacy to the NRM government which had captured power through the gun.

“I was very bitter because the one [commission] which I was a member of, the people we interviewed have never got justice,” said Mr Nagenda in a telephone interview.

However, the government spokesman, Mr Ofwono Opondo, disagrees with this view. Opondo says the commission achieved a lot, including providing a foundation for the drafting of the 1995 Constitution, establishment of the permanent Uganda Human Rights Commission and several reforms in the Judiciary.

Makerere shooting
The commission was followed by another into the police shooting of two Makerere University students in 1990. The incident occurred on December 10, 1990, when university students protested the government’s abolition of stationery and travel allowances. Police fired into the crowd of the protesting students, killing two - Patrick Okema and Patrick Onyango.

Mr Opondo said the two police officers involved in the shooting together with their commander, Henry Tukahirwa, were arrested and prosecuted.
“Mr Tukahirwa was later acquitted and was taken up by the force again but he has not commanded any operations,” Opondo says. But the report was never made public.

Aruu County MP Odonga Otto told this newspaper that commissions of inquiry are a state tool used to distract public attention from sensitive issues.
About the same time another commission was set up to investigate the abduction of 43 school girls from Sacred Hearts School near Gulu by rebels in July 1991.

According to Amnesty International, the inconsistencies in the inquiries raised doubts about government’s commitment to addressing human right violations before and after the NRM took over government.

Despite the numerous commissions of inquiry, not much has changed in terms of public perception of the ills the investigations were meant to cure. A cross-section of the population from academicians to politicians believe the commissions of inquiry are a deliberate ploy by government to defuse public rage on prevailing wrongs by the state.

Kanungu cult massacre
For instance, after the mass murder of more than 1,000 followers of Kibwetere’s Restoration of Ten Commandments of God cult in a church in Nyabugoto in Kanungu District on March 17, 2000, the government followed up on December 2, 2000, with formation of a seven-member judicial commission of inquiry led by Justice Augustus Kania to investigate the homicide. The commission has never started work. The members say their work ended at receiving appointment letters.

The inquiry was re-launched last year after locals from Kanungu petitioned Parliament. March 17, 2014, marked 12 years of the Kibwetere mayhem, but no perpetrator has ever been arrested. So, nothing has ever come out of this commission.

Dr Ruhakana Rugunda told the media in 2009 before leaving his job as Minister of Internal Affairs that the inquiry failed to take off due to lack of money.

Commissions are guided by the Commissions of Inquiry Act Cap 166 Laws of Uganda. Section 14 states: “Commissioners appointed under this Act shall not be entitled to any remuneration, unless the remuneration has been specially granted by the minister, beyond the actual expenses incurred in holding the inquiry, but the minister may direct what remuneration, if any, shall be to the secretary, and other persons employed in or about any such commission.”

The Act adds under the same section, clause (2): “Such sums, so directed to be paid, shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament.”
Taxpayers have never been given an explanation on these failed or fruitless commissions of inquiry.

The Justice Ogoola-led commission investigating the abuse of the Global Fund money for HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis implicated three Health ministers in misappropriation of Shs113 billion ($45 million). The commission recommended prosecution against three ministers who were later acquitted although they lost their jobs in Cabinet.

“The accused ministers were taken to court and tried. The then cabinet minister of Health Jim Muhwezi was tried although court acquitted him,” Mr Opondo says.

But Soroti MP Mike Mukala, who was then minister of State for Health, was last year convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling Sh210 million by the Anti-Corruption Court but the conviction was later quashed on appeal.

Capt Mukula was co-accused with Dr Alex Kamugisha (then State minister for Primary Healthcare) and Ms Alice Kaboyo, an employee at State House by then. On June 12, 2012, Ms Kaboyo pleaded guilty to all charges. She was later convicted and fined Shs20 million. Dr Kamugisha’s charges were dismissed.

The spokesperson in the office of the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Ms Ali Munira, confirmed to the Sunday Monitor that Capt Mukula refunded Shs210 million, and Ms Alice Kaboyo retuned Shs250 million with a lot other small monies also being returned.

A few other people were convicted from the findings of this commission and are still serving their sentences. They include former publisher of Uganda Confidential news magazine Teddy Seezi Cheeye.

Mr Opondo, who doubles as the NRM deputy-party spokesperson, says the problem is the law does not provide for attachment of property of the accused person to recover the stolen money but was optimistic that this may be sorted out soon.

“There is a private members’ Bill seeking to create a law to attach property of officials convicted for corruption,” he said.
Late last year, Human Rights Watch and Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein released a 63-page report titled, Letting the Big Fish Swim: Failure to Prosecute High-level Corruption in Uganda

The report accused the government of failing to punish senior officials implicated in theft of public funds. The report cited the Global Fund scandal of 2010 as one of the failed investigations.

The probe into the Global Fund scam was not any different from the Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the police in 1998.

Sebutinde probe
The Justice Julia Sebutinde commission exposed a lot of rot in the police, but there was no fundamental change in the character of the force. Apart from the dismissal of the then Director of CID Chris Bakiza and his officers George Garyahandere and Byamugisha, and the transfer of a few senior officers, the force remained largely the same. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the offences they were implicated in.

In 2002, Justice Sebutinde again chaired another commission of inquiry into corruption in the Uganda Revenue Authority before being appointed judge with the International Court of Justice. At that time there was general public outcry about corruption in URA. President Museveni declared URA a ‘den of thieves’ with a lot of tax revenue misappropriated by the staff.

The commission started its work in May 2002 and was expected to deliver its report three-four months later. However, the inquiry overshot its deadline. Even when it was finally presented to government in February 2004, two of the commissioners disowned the report and the public did not get access to it.

Later in August 2004, the High Court nullified the report. Another waste of taxpayer’s money on a fruitless inquiry.
However, Opondo is adamant that many reforms were made in the tax revenue body despite the report being declared a nullity.

Junk helicopters
Officials of the Commission of Inquiry into the

Officials of the Commission of Inquiry into the purchase of junk helicopters together with journalists inspect the choppers at Entebbe Air Force base on April 3, 2001.Photo by Stephen Wandera

In early 2001, Justice Sebutinde was appointed to lead another commission of inquiry into the purchase of four defective helicopter gunships from Belarus. The attack helicopters were bought in 1997 to fight the raging LRA insurgency in northern Uganda at that time.

The fraudulent chopper transaction sparked off heated debate in Parliament after it was discovered that senior army and Ministry of Defence officials manipulated the deal for personal gain. The Government lost $12m (about Shs30 billion in current exchange rate).

Justice Sebutinde had recommended prosecution of several army and ministry of defence officials. But after the report was submitted to the Ministry of Defence in August 2001, some of the implicated officials who were instead being prosecuted were turned into state witnesses to exonerate Emma Katto, the supplier of the defective helicopters.

Recently, retired justice of the Supreme Court, Prof George Kanyeihamba, said: “It seems commissions of inquiry are useless because no one listens to them.”

PAMSU probe
Justice Kanyeihamba chaired an inquiry into alleged mismanagement of funds at the Uganda Wildlife Authority. His probe team investigated the management of the Shs95 billion Protected Areas Management Sustainable Use (PAMSU) project meant for promoting tourism through improved infrastructure and training facilities.

Mr Kanyeihamba’s comment to the media seemed to indicate that his commission’s recommendations were not taken seriously.

In December 2009, President Museveni commissioned an inquiry into corruption in Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) programme.

The commission of inquiry unearthed a lot of rot including “ghost” pupils and teachers in nearly all schools around the country. The commission was chaired by Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi. It produced its report in October 2012. The countrywide investigations cost around Shs4.3 billion.
Corruption in USE and UPE had derailed the government programme. According to some educationists, the comprehensive review helped change the state of affairs in the education sector. But others hold a contrary view.

A survey by Transparency International a year after the probe showed mass enrollment into UPE schools. It signalled success of the Justice Muhanguzi-led commission. But reports of “ghost” students in schools and teachers on the government payroll still surface in the media.

other commissions of inquiry

The burning of the Kasubi Tombs on March 16, 2010, saw establishment of another Commission of Inquiry under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to probe the cause. It was headed by Justice George Engwau of the Court of Appeal. The probe team completed its findings and handed over its report to government on March 16, 2011. A group of 70 lawyers from the Young Catholic for Political Correctness sued government in April 2012 for not publishing the report two years after the inferno that destroyed the burial grounds of four Buganda Kings.

There was another Commission of inquiry into the cause of fire at Budo Junior School. The inferno that occurred on April 14, 2008, left 20 pupils dead. The findings have never been made public.

Most recent was the one set up by Minister in charge of Kampala Capital City Authority Frank Tumwebaze in June 2013 to investigate the Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago after some councillors voted to impeach him.

The commission was chaired by Lady Justice Catherine Bamungenereirwe. Unlike other probes, its work was accomplished within pre-set 60 days and the report was made public. Its recommendations saw the impeachment of the Lord Mayor.