There is little to no effort to educate the Ugandan people about their constitutional rights and what is contained in the many good laws that have been enacted by parliament. The end result is that many people continue to suffer silently.
Since the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by President Yoweri Museveni took power in Uganda, significant inroads have been made in putting the country on a constitutional path. It is imperative therefore to examine how the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) - a sector wide approach that brings together 17 institutions responsible for administering justice, maintaining law and order and promoting the observance of human rights - has performed in the last 10 years.
Following the 5 year war and the accession of the NRM to power in 1986, the revolutionary body immediately suspended the existing constitution as is the case in most revolutions, and, among other things, vested the National Resistance Council (NRC) with the supreme authority of the government and the legislative powers of Parliament.
Legal Notice No. 1 – the document that established the legality of the NRM government - stipulated what kind of leadership the NRM wanted to implement. Since constitutionalism was one of the grievances that led Museveni and his fighters to the bush to wage a protracted war against what was perceived to be a dictatorial government led by the late President Milton Obote, it was planned that the country would employ a national constitution where the views of the people would be considered.
And in 1995 Ugandans came up with this constitution which effectively ended the operation of the NRM Legal Notice I. By any standards the 1995 constitution, which was promulgated after country wide consultations and fierce debate in the Constituent Assembly, was a good document. It provided for fundamental human rights, the separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature and the executive and more significantly provided for presidential term limits.
Once the constitution was in place, the government, through parliament, went ahead to enact many good laws to fight corruption, ensure public accountability and transparency, protect the environment and natural resources, ensure public order, security of persons and property and uphold the rule of law generally.
More still, the 10 ten last years have seen government implement two Strategic Investment Plans (SIP) and it’s now rolling out SIP III for the next five years 2012/13-2017, to ensure the rule of law and justice for all Ugandans irrespective of their gender, age and social status.
New innovations, some of which have won international awards, have been brought on board such as the Chain Linked Initiative to fast track justice, and community policing to prevent crime. On the whole it can be argued that great strides have been made in the realization of the rule of law and administration of justice. This is evidenced through the creation of specialised divisions of the High Court, including commercial, land, family, criminal, anti-corruption and others.
While the justice sector remains under-funded, the number of magistrates and judges on the bench has more than doubled and judicial facilities have been renovated and new ones constructed. But although government has made tremendous effort in ensuring a functioning and fair justice system in the country, there many inherent weakness and in some cases outright violations of the spirit of our national constitution: some of the subsidiary laws enacted have tended to take away some of the rights protected under the constitution .
The constitution itself has since been amended to remove term limits a decision that has been widely criticized. Since 1999 the Constitution has been amended 48 times setting a new record. Although, among other amendments to the constitution, was the establishment of a multi-party democracy. But on many occasions the presidential and local elections held under the pluralism system have been disputed for alleged lack of democratic political space, violence and voter bribery.
The government also seems weak in implementation of the many laws that have been enacted and once it has come out to apply the law it has been in many cases selectively done so.
The Inspector General of Government (IGG) report produced together with the Economic Policy Research Center of Makerere University in 2010 noted the poor implementation of laws that are supposed to ensure justice for all. It was reported that Uganda had almost 90% weak implementation of laws, especially anti-corruption legislation. There’s also poor facilitation of agencies that are supposed to provide justice and law. The police is poorly facilitated thus being ranked as one of the most corrupt institutions. In the process justice is defeated and hence denied.
The judiciary too has lamented over poor pay. The Chief Justice recently advocated an increase in the salary of judicial officers. This has affected the justice system in the country.
Last year the IGG’s report mentioned the judiciary as one of those agencies that have been hit by corruption. With poor pay of judicial officers corruption related cases have been reported against some judicial officers and yet they are supposed to be custodians of our laws. Justice cannot be delivered where the judiciary is perforated with corruption.
The IGG office was established to ensure accountability among public officials and fight the corruption vice. But the office started off on the wrong premise as it was placed under the President’s Office hence its independence was questioned. It is now a constitutional office. The Leadership Code is among the tools the IGG is meant to enforce against public servants so that none has ill gotten wealth.
It is still an uphill task to implement. Article 235A of the Constitution establishes the Leadership Code Tribunal to handle cases involving politicians that violate the Code, however 7 years later it has not been constituted. The Office of the Auditor General is now independently able to regulate its funds and recruit staff in order to monitor government expenditure. The office is still thin on the ground.
Proposals to amend the Constitution to deny the right of bail have gone a long away in threatening the justice doctrine enshrined in our constitution that a person is presumed innocent until proved guilt. Further still, there is little or no effort at all to educate the Ugandan people about their constitutional rights and what is contained in the many good laws that have been enacted by parliament. The end result is that many people continue to suffer silently.
Implementation of the enacted laws should be adhered to otherwise they cease to address the purpose for which they were enacted and end up being rendered redundant. Performance contracts should strictly be implemented and adequate funding towards JLOS institutions and their over site agencies should be revised upwards. Justice must be seen to be done.