Study calls for overhaul of police top brass 

Former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, hands over office to his successor Martin Okoth-Ochola in Kampala in 2018. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • For instance, Sebutinde discovered that some officers had participated in robberies and others destroyed evidence that could have led to the prosecution of murder suspects. She also recommended the improvement in the welfare and salaries of police officers.

A study undertaken by the Network of Public Interest Lawyers (Neptil) on police reforms has called for the overhaul of the current police leadership, which should be “replaced with competent officers of proven integrity and ability to enforce discipline”.

If implemented, this study could breathe life into what critics view as an unprofessional, lethargic, police force under military capture. Public trust in the police continues to languish in the basement, 22 years after Justice Julia Sebutinde’s report, among others, unravelled incriminating evidence implicating senior police officers to the criminal underworld.

For instance, Sebutinde discovered that some officers had participated in robberies and others destroyed evidence that could have led to the prosecution of murder suspects. She also recommended the improvement in the welfare and salaries of police officers. But most of her recommendations, including those that adversely named senior police officers and demanded their resignation, were shelved on the premise that they lacked ‘incriminating evidence’.

The Force currently under the leadership of Martin Okoth-Ochola—hailed by Sebutinde as an honest man—faces a legitimacy crisis as it attempts to shrug the shackles of military capture.

The study entitled ‘Reflections on the Progress of the Implementation of Civilian Oversight Police Reform Initiatives in Uganda’ observes that citizenry trust in the police force continues to diminish as the President has used “every opportunity at his disposal to disparage the institution as incompetent and infiltrated with criminals”.

The study also reveals that there are “undertones of disgruntlement relating to recruitment, favouritism in promotions based on allegations of ethnicity/ nepotism, and general disparities in deployment, among other challenges, continue to filter through the corridors of the institution”.

Reform initiatives During the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, three reform initiatives have been undertaken, including the Justice Oder commission of Inquiry into human rights violations between 1962 and 1986; the Justice Julia Sebutinde judicial commission of inquiry into corruption in the police force, 1999; and the 2010/2011 police review process.

“It is not enough for these internal police accountability mechanisms to exist, but they must be transparent, accessible and unless justifiable circumstances demand, their deliberations on specific cases of accountability they are handling must be made public,” the study’s leader researcher, James Nkuubi observes, adding: “This is important not only to send the desired deterrent effect to other police officers on the likely consequences of unprofessionalism and breach of the police standing orders, but also more fundamentally to elicit mutual trust within the citizenry in the institutions and its ability to discipline its officers.”

The study argues that “the openness of such mechanisms is important for fairness and justice for the accused, considering that sometimes, these mechanisms are used as witch hunts platforms of junior officers against senior officers to settle personal unknown scores”. These reforms, in his view, are more pronounced to salvage situations of general poor management and organisation of the police institution often common in post-conflict countries and/or regions within a country transitioning to normalcy after decades of peace fragility and insecurity and no accountability.

“This is true of Uganda’s turbulent history and more recently in certain regions [like] northern Uganda, Karamoja region and Kasese region where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the cattle rustlers and Allied Democratic Forces rebel/terror group respectively have sustained civil wars and insecurity against the civilians,” the report observes.

The lead researcher proffers that reforms could increase public confidence in the police, noting that “it may elicit faith and trust in the police. Besides, it equips the public with the confidence to lodge more complaints about police officers the moment there is a semblance of a fair and transparent process of holding the errant officers accountable. But also, the action of civilian oversight is consistent with the quest for rule of law, and participatory democracy where the consumers of services of the police – the citizenry – take part in its governance.”

Other recommendations

The report also recommends that the Inspectorate of Government should “investigate officers implicated in corruption and those who acquired wealth fraudulently should be prosecuted and dealt with sternly”.

It also recommends that the appointing authority cherry-pick suitably qualified persons of high moral character, proven integrity and experience to fill key posts in the force and that gender balance be considered.

 “The government should implement a carefully planned and phased recruitment policy. The process of recruitment should be continuous and regular, not exceeding 500 students a year. The initial training should be for a duration of 12 months,” the study indicates.

Assuman Mugenyi, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, told Sunday Monitor that “the calibre that is being recruited these days, I am sorry with due respect, are lacking.” Recruits, he added, “should be thoroughly vetted,” noting that “these days the challenge is nepotism.”

Specifically, the study implores the Internal Affairs minister alongside the Public Service Commission to develop guidelines to be “be followed in the appointment of the Inspector General of Police [IGP] and deputy Inspector General of Police.”