62% of Uganda's forensic experts untrained, AG report

Scene-of-crime officers examine the scene where gunmen tried to kill former Chief of Defence Forces and now Works minister Edward Katumba Wamala on Kisota Road in Kisaasi, Kampala. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  • Only 14 of the 37 technical staff in the institution have undergone training ranging from basic to classified

An audit of the goings-on at the Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratories (DGAL) has revealed that 23 out of the 37 technical staff in the institution that is meant to provide forensic evidence in mostly criminal matters, have never undergone basic training in forensics.

Only 14 of the available staff had undergone training ranging from basic to classified, a situation that Mr John Muwanga, the Auditor General (AG), says has limited the department’s capabilities to execute its mandate.

“The failure to conclude investigations in time erodes public confidence in the laboratory and the criminal justice system, while delays to conclude and communicate results of investigations slows down the criminal justice system,” the report covering the period ending June 2023, says of a department meant to, among others, analyse samples that are often crucial to the outcome of investigations and prosecution of cases.

Mr Andrew Mubiru, the acting director of the Forensics Department, told Sunday Monitor that their forensic experts are postgraduate degree holders.

“When the Attorney General comes, that is what he looks at, but for you to have that degree, you need something like Shs500 million,” Mr Mubiru said.

Specialised labs
The forensics unit has four laboratories, one for chemical, biological and radiology tests, another for the study of questionable documents, one for criminal investigations and one for cybercrime and digital forensics.
It has, however, emerged that the technical staff in some of those specialised labs, and in some cases all the staff in some laboratories, are neither trained nor qualified to work there.

The department is at the same time dealing with a shortage of staff, with 42 percent of the approved positions unfilled. The report indicates that only 37 out of the approved 64 positions have been filled.

Mr Mubiru, however, says although the positions are not filled as per the public service structures, it has been growing.

“In 2019, there were about four people, but now they are 28 and we even have two PhDs. So we are progressing. It takes time. It is a gradual development,” he says.

In 2018, Mr Mubiru says, the directorate had 159 personnel, which has since grown to 572 officers, 474 men and 98 women. At least 148 of the staff are based at its headquarters in Naguru, Kampala. A dozen are away on attachments, 10 are attending in service training, four are on study leave, and one is attached to a UN mission in Darfur, Sudan. Another 397 officers are deployed countrywide as scenes of crime officers.

Whereas the report does not link the staff shortages to the pace at which analysis and investigations are carried out and reports issued, it seems to suggest so. It indicates that whereas the expected turnaround time is meant to be 90 days, evidence shows that the time from receipt of a request to the completion of investigation takes 121 days.

“Out of 1,981 forensic cases received by DGAL for forensic analysis and investigation during the year, only 1,163 (59 percent) cases were concluded, leaving 818 (41 percent) cases pending,” the report notes.
This suggests a slight improvement in the performance that was put at less than 50 percent in the previous year’s audit. Last year’s performance revealed that only 714 out of the 1,069 cases reported that year had been analysed and concluded. At the time, the laboratories also had a backlog of 1,161 cases.

The report further notes that the forensics unit had failed to dispatch 41 percent of reports of its investigations to those people who had contracted it for analyses.

“Out of a sample of 1,981 investigations completed during the year, only 1,162 reports had been dispatched to clients, representing a performance of 59 percent, while 819 reports were yet to be issued at the time of my audit,” the report notes.

It further notes that it on average took the department an average of two months to dispatch reports following the completion of a forensic investigation.

The report partially blames the department’s poor performance on underfunding from the government. The government, the report says, extended only 20 percent of the department’s required budget.

“Only Shs4.49b was released/warranted out of the approved budget of Shs21.8 billion, representing a 21 percent performance. As a result of under release of funds by [the Ministry of Finance], the [Directorate of Analytical Laboratories] could not provide all the planned forensic services to support the administration of justice,” the report notes.

Mr Muwanga notes that he has since advised the concerned authorities to engage the Ministry of Finance and Parliament for purposes of ensuring the directorate is provided with adequate financing to fix most of its challenges.

Mr Aggrey Wunyi, the accounting officer of the Police Authority, told Sunday Monitor that he has been engaging the House and the Ministry of Finance about the issues raised by the AG.

“We are waiting and hoping that we shall be availed with the funds to address the issues raised, including providing training, recruiting staff, improving storage facilities and carrying our regular maintenance service on equipment,” Mr Wunyi said.

The report further notes that storage areas for samples and exhibits are neither adequate nor conducive.

The sizes of the stores were notably small and they were too poorly aerated and lacking fume extraction systems to allow for safe storage of exhibits and equipment. Besides the fact that closed circuit televisions (CCTV) cameras were also found to be lacking at the facilities, which often store samples that are often crucial in determining the outcomes of major criminal investigations. It was also found that power regulators for some of the cooling and refrigeration facilities in the forensic biology and microbiology and bioterrorism laboratories were found to be inadequate.

The department was also found to have fallen short in terms of carrying out maintenance service.

Expired licenses 

The report further revealed that the operating licenses for the computer forensic tools used by Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED) were out of date.

At the same time, the online subscription library of the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and AIM microscope, which are used in food, drugs and the general chemistry laboratory, were found to have expired as far back as 2019.

The report also indicates that only 219 out of the 2,982 forensic and general cases received were registered on the laboratory information management systems. Out of the 219 cases, 10 were acknowledged as received on the system by different laboratories, but none of those were reported on using the system.

“Inadequate storage facilities, failure to train staff, failure to maintain equipment all affect the credibility of the investigation results,” the report concludes.

Mr Muwanga notes in his report, that he had advised Mr Wunyi, under whom the laboratories fall, to review the laboratory’s processes and eliminate delays in investigations and communication of results of investigations.