Wednesday June 18 2014

Uganda’s very good laws are abused - IGG

The Inspector General of Government, Justice Irene Mulyagonja.

The Inspector General of Government, Justice Irene Mulyagonja. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA. 

By Fredric Musisi

What is the relationship between the Inspector of Government and the Judiciary because the most commonly held view is that your office lies within the confines of the latter?

The IG does not fall under the judiciary and I think people should stop mixing the two. The Judiciary is the third arm of the state; it is an institution of its own established by Chapter 8 of the Constitution. The Judiciary has its own roles, can adjudicate between the IG and other bodies—like the ministries and other departments. The IG on the other hand is a different institution established by a completely different Chapter (13) and the roles of the two are completely different.
The IG is the watchdog which looks into processes in the judiciary; we can investigate a judicial officer where there are allegations but our powers over the judiciary are limited by Article 19 of the Inspectorate of Government’s Act in that we do not review judgments of any judicial officer and also do not interfere with their work.

The judiciary has time and again been named as one of the most corrupt institutions and we have seen less of your counteractive efforts. Did you simply give up or are there measures we are not aware of?

The IG receives many complaints. But as you may understand the judiciary has two types of judicial officers; those under the Public Service Commission [PSC] like judges and magistrates of all the courts, and others, largely, support staff under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Service like the court clerks, whom the IGG has no power over. So if, for example, a clerk took a bribe or did something wrong it is within the role of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to punish them and not the PSC.
And I think this is one of the problems of the Judiciary. Although they appear to be an institution in charge of their processes, they have no control over the conduct of some of their officers.

So is the problem with the courts?

We have no issues with the courts especially the Anti-Corruption Court where our cases are heard; it handles them expeditiously. However in the upcountry courts, we experience lots of delays. But then those delays cannot be said to be in respect of cases of corruption, they are delays of the courts.

So who is to blame?

I cannot blame any specific person, except that the advocates (lawyers) are playing on the minds of everybody. You know we have a very good Constitution which provides rights for the people of Uganda but these people sometimes use these rights to abuse the processes of the courts and the Constitution. And the judges cannot send them away. They receive and sometimes issue orders to stop investigations and prosecutions. And most of them are interim orders which are issued without first hearing the other side.

Is this something we should blame on the framers of our constitution, and which need amendments?

I think it is better the way it is, because for some reason, judicial officers need to be independent. The Constitution says the judiciary is independent and any officer exercising the mandate ought to have a free mind. So if judicial officers are going to exercise their powers while the IGG is hovering on their work every time, it would have a bigger effect.

Its other processes outside the law that affects efforts to combat corruption. The judiciary cannot stop an investigation but can quash a report issued by the IGG given precedence or other issues. Case in point is one Karuma where they argued that we did not find corruption so why did they issue orders of quashing the process? But as investigators [Police & IGG] we are also wondering about the increasing cases of orders from the judiciary preventing investigations. Cases are so many but I am forbidden to cite any in particular.

Since you took office what is your assessment of corruption in the judiciary?

I cannot provide an answer to corruption trends because any answer has to be based on data. If as the IGG one day we do an assessment benchmarking corruption from a base year then it’s possible to assess. The only thing I can say is that corruption is a crime. In a year when you receive so many cases the assumption will be that corruption is high and when you receive less, people will say it’s going down.

So why do you think corruption is prevailing?
Because I cannot tell whether it is reducing or increasing in the same way it is hard to tell why it is persistent.

You have been quoted so many times decrying the challenges faced by the office in trying to get work. How do you keep your head up?

Of course it is not easy, the limited staff affects the timeframe for our investigations and then its leads to case backlog. Efficiency is affected by the heavy case load; the quality of work is not usually the same if you have manageable case load. Even for our staff/ the investigators, no one else trains them apart from Uganda Police but then we cannot say we will always recruit from Police because there has to be other ways like in-house training. The other challenge with investigation is the lack of modern investigation tools for surveillance, tracking and recording.

The other concern in the public domain, perhaps, by those who feel threatened is that you are over stepping boundaries in your work. You have persisted to investigate/ prosecute people even where court orders have been issued against it. Aren’t you misusing power?

The powers of the IGG are so broad and this is something confusing people. We are both an Anti-corruption agency and the ombudsman. As the ombudsman, I investigate everything where the law was broken. For example in the NSSF case it was alleged that there was corruption, abuse of office; but also there was failure to follow the law in the way processes are done. Even when you look at the provisions establishing the IG, the first provision is to deal with strict adherence to the rule of law and principles of natural justice and not corruption. Of course the general public prefers that we deal with corruption but we have a mandate we follow.

How successful has the campaign been, that you launched recently dubbed Zero-tolerance to Corruption-of people using mobile phones to report abuse of office?

It is successful in that we have spread out to several districts but we have not been successful in in bringing these cases to book. People send in the complaints but sometimes when you get back to them, you realise that either they did not use their own phones or there is no response. Sometimes when you call back to get additional information people get scared.

Do you often recover all the money you order people to pay back on your Asset Recovery Account?

Of course we do, if we tell you to pay back money and you do not oblige we follow you up to the end. If you look at our reports, we recovered up to Shs800m and in the financial years before, we recovered up to Shs1b.