On March 7, Kampala Minister Beti Olive Kamya suspended at least seven Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) law enforcement officers for ‘brutal’ arrests and ‘violation’ of human rights.
Her decision was triggered by cumulative complaints from street vendors who accused the law enforcement officers of brutality.
Ms Kamya’s decision has resurrected debate on the operations of the law enforcement officers who majority of the public say are unreasonably harsh.
Although KCCA prides in client care, integrity, teamwork and excellence, the public say its enforcement officers’ brutality contradicts the values.
The 2017 highly publicised death of Olivia Basemera who plunged in Nakivubo drainage channel while being pursued by KCCA law enforcement officers exposed the brutality in their operations.
When KCCA took over management of the city in April 2011, one of the key priorities was to enforce order on the streets. When government banned street vending, law enforcement officers were deployed to ensure sanity in the city.
How they operate
However, their iron-handed nature in enforcing the law has created more hatred than the orderliness they intended to restore.
Donning their signature outfit, a yellow shirt and black trousers or skirt, the law enforcement officers comb city streets in company of armed police officers and other plain-clothed and stout men to arrest whoever defies the trade order rules.
When you meet them manning streets, they cut an ordinary look. However, this suddenly changes to menacing faces upon seeing any activity of street vending.
At the sight of these menacing uniformed men, the poor vendors, majority of them women, ran in different directions, abandoning or dropping their merchandise of ripe bananas, fruits and other items to escape arrest.
Unlucky ones are arrested and bundled on trucks and taken to Central Police Station (CPS) or City Hall Court.
They are fined between Shs200,000 and Shs300,000 and released. Those who cannot pay the fine are sent to Luzira prison for two or three months.
Daily Monitor spent several days undercover, investigating the composition and operations of KCCA law enforcement officers. We talked to some law enforcement and KCCA technical officials on condition of anonymity, interviewed victims of the arrests and tracked some of the officers to understand how they operate.
The harrowing tales of victims are just heart-rending.
“Two months ago, KCCA law enforcement officers found me on Ben Kiwanuka Street and brutally arrested me. I bled profusely. When I was taken to Mulago Hospital, I suffered a miscarriage and lost my twins. When I went to report the brutality case at CPS, I was referred to KCCA. I gave up,” said Ms Rose Nalujja, a street vendor.
Mr Mugisha Okwera, the councillor representing Nakawa II area at City Hall, wonders how the law enforcement officers are recruited.
“I have never seen any advert in any newspaper inviting people to apply for vacancies of law enforcement officers. How then do they end up here? What are their job descriptions?” Mr Okwera says.
A source in the KCCA directorate of human resources said law enforcement officers are recruited internally and their minimum qualification is Ordinary Level certificate of education. They serve four-month renewable contracts and are only answerable to the executive director through the legal directorate. They earn a gross salary of Shs550,000 per month.
The public may doubt their competence in enforcing trade order in the city but they are headed by Mr Rusoke Kituma, a police officer. Mr Kituma joined KCCA five years ago on request by former KCCA executive director Jennifer Musisi to then Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura.
Since joining KCCA as head of operations, Mr Kituma has been accused by the public of failing to instil discipline among his enforcement team.
Last year, KCCA council resolved that he and the entire team be disbanded, with some councillors arguing that their stay at City Hall was illegal since they were not recruited through the right structures.
“If his [Kituma] people are brutalising Ugandans on city streets, why can’t he be prosecuted alongside them? How did he even join this institution in the first place?” Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago charged.
However, Mr Kituma is still in charge. Mr Peter Kaujju, the KCCA director of public and corporate affairs, insisted the law enforcement officers undergo training. He said they are trained for two months but did not explain where they train from or who trains them.
“We acknowledge the fact that there is a need to improve our law enforcement but we should also appreciate the fact that they have helped in enforcing trade order in the city. Otherwise if we didn’t have them, the city would be very messy,” he told Daily Monitor on Wednesday.
Mr Kaujju said whereas people only blame the enforcement team, they should also appreciate that some of these officers have been beaten up by vendors as they try to enforce the law.
“We have a guy who has been in comma at IHK hospital for some time now and he sustained these injuries while on duty. It is, therefore, important to appreciate the work of the enforcement team,” he said.
Mr Kaujju said about 100 law enforcement officers have been dismissed for indiscipline but did not say whether they were prosecuted.
The 2010 KCCA Act does not provide for regulation of the law enforcement officers. The Act only states that there shall be a metropolitan police force for the capital city comprised of persons appointed under the Police Act and trained by the Uganda Police Force.
However, the metropolitan police has not been constituted nine years later after the law came into force.
Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said police partly trains the KCCA enforcement officers for three months. He declined to give further details about the training and referred this reporter to Mr Kituma, who also declined to speak to us, saying he does not speak for KCCA.
Mr Onyango denied claims that some police officers with some KCCA law enforcement officials have turned the entire enforcement into an extortionist squad.
Every morning, all the law enforcement officers gather at City Hall for a briefing and deployment thereafter.
Some are deployed to man streets while others roam around the city with a police van. Those deployed on streets ensure the city is clear of any vendors and when they confiscate merchandise, the patrol van picks it up.
Law enforcement officers wear uniform but there are impersonators who wear civilian clothes to arrest street vendors and demand money to set them free. One of the law enforcement officers confirmed they are grappling with cases of impersonation on the streets.
Different city traders also told Daily Monitor that the law enforcement officers have opened up sham offices where they take the suspects with their merchandise and demand money to release them or else take them to Central Police Station or City Hall court.
Kampala Central Division mayor Charles Musoke Sserunjogi said he recently bust a clique of KCCA law enforcement officers in a dimly-lit office at Namayiba Taxi Park asking for bribes from vendors they had arrested. “They establish illegal offices in the city, which they use to torture, cheat, and steal people’s merchandise. The last time I stormed their offices in Namayiba and it was all over TVs,” he said.
Mr Sserunjogi said city divisions do not have powers to punish errant law enforcement officers. However, Mr Kaujju insisted all confiscated merchandise is used as exhibits during trial in court. Mr Sserunjogi said the city needs a professional enforcement team that should be attached to the divisions so that they are headed by the respective division authorities.
Daily Monitor has learnt that a law to regulate the operations of KCCA law enforcement officers is being drafted by the legal directorate and the political wing.