"The Judiciary should be facilitated well like other arms of government in order to avoid corruption tendencies."
PIC: Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, the executive director of LASPNET, says courts need adequate facilitation. (Credit: Michael Odeng)
KAMPALA - Ugandan activists have appealed to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Gen. Kahinda Otafiire to table the Administration of Justice Bill before Parliament so that it is passed into law.
"We call for the immediate passing of the Administration of Justice Bill by the Executive and Parliament," Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda told reporters in Kampala.
According to Kagaba, the piece of legislation, which seeks to provide for and strengthen the independence of the Judiciary, is currently under the Ministry of Public Service, which in essence puts it under the Executive arm of government.
They are also asking government to increase funding to the Judiciary, saying it will increase staffing levels and adjudication of cases.
Recently, Minister Otafiire disclosed that he was preparing to table before Parliament the Administration of Justice Bill.
The budget for Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) in which the Judiciary lies, has been reduced from sh1, 103.6b in FY2016/17 to sh950b in FY2017/18.
'A recipe for corruption'
According to Kagaba, the implication of budget ceiling is that only lawyers who have failed private practice are hired into judicial service and also results to case backlog.
She told a press conference at their offices in Ntinda that the lack of retirement benefits and guarantees also tempt judicial officers into corruption tendencies, especially those approaching retirement age.
"The Judiciary is not an independent arm of government as it ought to be, hence it is compromised as the third arm of government. A Judiciary that is not independent is only a recipe for corruption," Kagaba said.
Government Data Tracking Mechanism (2014) shows that 71% people paid a bribe to access judicial officers.
Meanwhile, the East African Bribery Index (2014) also puts the prevalence of corruption in the judiciary at 39.8%, up from 27.9% in 2013.
Kagaba attributed the unflattering trend to weak and inefficient systems to foster transparency and accountability in the judiciary.
The activists are also proposing that a salaries and remuneration board or commission be established to review and harmonize salaries for all public servants including judicial officers.
Lawyer Francis Harimwomugasho, a Uganda Law Society (USL) council member, said judicial officers should be supported to do their work just as the other arms of government.
"For instance, the proposed sh19.9b for the Speaker's chopper can purchase around 190 vehicles for magistrates to facilitate their movement in the dispensation of justice especially those in hard-to-reach areas," he argued.
Harimwomugasho said if the bill is passed, the Judiciary will have its own budget allocation and will have the powers to recruit their own judicial officers and discipline them.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which is mandated to appoint judicial officers, is under the Executive.
On her part, Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, the executive director of LASPNET, said courts are not facilitated sufficiently in terms of resources and hence curtails the functionality of the institution.
She also called for speedy disposal of land cases in courts, saying if such cases delay, government loses economically because land is a basis of income-generation and prosperity.
"The Judiciary is part and parcel of economic making in Uganda. It should be facilitated well like other arms of government in order to avoid corruption tendencies."