What next after Police sulks over crime fight?

Author: Odoobo C. Bichachi is the Nation Media Group (NMG)-Uganda public editor. PHOTO/FILE.

What you need to know:

  • Apparently, police was reacting to the Constitutional Court ruling the previous week that declared  “vagabond and rogue” offences under sections 168 (1)(c) and 168(1)(d) of the Penal Code Act null and void on account of being vague and inconsistent with the presumption of innocence.

A reader drew my attention to the story, “Police stop arrest of sex workers, beggars” (Daily Monitor, December 6) and asked whether prostitution and petty theft is now allowed in Uganda.

She is an old woman whose only source of information is newspapers and television. This was her understanding of the story. 

I looked at the headline and was as intrigued. The story was an accurate representation of police spokesperson Fredrick Enanga’s pronouncement at a press conference on December 5. The press conference was presented similarly by other media.

Apparently, police was reacting to the Constitutional Court ruling the previous week that declared  “vagabond and rogue” offences under sections 168 (1)(c) and 168(1)(d) of the Penal Code Act null and void on account of being vague and inconsistent with the presumption of innocence.

There are many ordinary Ugandans – in the village, in the towns, and even in the police – that listening to this interpretation of the ruling and are now resigned to a new situation of possible public mayhem.

If you know what happened when police a few years ago stopped physically regulating traffic at junctions following a KCCA resolution to the effect that it [police] was being “idle” by not letting the lights regulate traffic, then you can understand what was going on in the old woman’s mind. The fear of what is coming when petty criminals, prostitutes, etc are left to operate freely anywhere.

When police stopped working as “human traffic lights”, the city came to standstill following massive traffic jams at all junctions, thanks to Ugandans’ careless driving. The public begged them to return!

Last week, I wrote about subsidised news from press conference that is reported as is and argued that journalists must strive to add value to what has been said so as to answer any questions that may arise in the people’s mind.

This was not done with this story! There was opportunity for journalists to explore and explain this story beyond what police was saying, and holding them to account on their constitutional mandate of ensuring law and order.

Should police just fold their hands and walk home because the Constitutional Court has struck down one vague provision in the Penal Code?

Journalists, therefore, ought to have reported what police said but also gone ahead to ask them whether there are no other provisions giving the institution latitude to protect the public from petty crime? 

For example with regards to prostitution, sections 136 and 139 of the Penal Code were not struck out by the Constitutional Court. Section 136 titled “Person living on earnings of prostitution” states that:  “(1) Every person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution and every person who in any place solicits or importunes for immoral purposes commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.”

Section 139 titled “Prohibition of prostitution” states: “Any person who practices or engages in prostitution commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.”

I spoke to two lawyers and they both acknowledged that the “vagabond, rogue and idle and disorderly” provisions have been an easy and useful tool for the police to use in fighting crime or suspected crime – and they have often abused them. However, they said, the Penal Code has countless provisions that the police can use to enforce law, order and good conduct in public spaces. As is popularly said, there are many ways to skin a cat!

The challenge for journalists is now not to simply move to the next story but to return and ask police, the courts, government, etc what happens to the spirit of the law so that this old woman and many other Ugandans puzzled by the turn of events get some reassurance that we are not headed into lawlessness?

                                         *****

Apollo Wangalwa: Refer to your article, “Of ready-to-eat noodles and ready-to-air stories” (Daily Monitor, December 2). Ready to print stories indeed. I am always dismayed by what reporters and editors do. Why would one give a detailed profile of one of the lawyers the Chief Justice hired against Justice Kisaakye and two lines of another in the same team? Does the reporter know how two lines undermine the face of a detailed profile? Good report you have today.

Send your feedback/complaints to

call/text on +256 776 500725. 

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.