"We have come up with a plan, which will help us have our premises built by 2016. The architectural designs are out."
The Judiciary is part of the Justice Law and Order Sector, a 17- organisation sector comprising four government ministries and 13 institutions, which deal with the different facets of justice delivery. In 2013/14, the Government allocated the sector sh551.b or 5.4% of the national budget. Out of this, the Judiciary got sh83b, which it says was not enough for the sector to improve services to stakeholders.
ANNE MUGISHA talked to the Judiciary’s undersecretary, Ngene Muhindo, the registrar Planning and Development who is the Judiciary’s senior economist, Immaculate Namara; as well as Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine about their needs.
Q: What were the indicative figures the Judiciary was given from the Ministry of Finance?
Muhindo: The Ministry of Finance budget allowed us sh83b for wage and non-wage bills, but our projects were bigger. For the wage we were given sh24.5b, non-wage was sh49.7b and the development budget the ministry received was sh8.7b.
How much money did you budget for?
Namara: I will give you examples. To what was allocated, we needed an extra sh1.5b for rent. Now we spend sh7b for rent. We needed an extra sh0.1b for vehicles, sh4.6b for court recording equipment and computers and sh2.6b for construction. The recurrent expenditure is rent. The rest are development items, which means, they are a one-off expenditure. There is also a need to facilitate judicial officers in the lower courts in hard-to-reach areas. They need vehicles or at least motorcycles. The judiciary also needs to replace the old fleet of vehicles to help it function well. This year we had wanted to do that but it was not possible. There is also need for ICT equipment in addition to hiring new judges to start work.
How much was released?
Muhindo: By the end of the third quarter in March 2014, 72.1% of the allocations had been released. We are in the last quarter.
Were the releases timely?
Muhindo: The releases were not timely, especially at the beginning of the first quarter. The other two months of the quarters were okay.
How did that affect your priorities?
Muhindo: Our priorities were affected in a way that certain activities delayed. This is because of the vote on account. The first quarter is usually the worst because releases can delay for up to three weeks. The others are better because the releases delay for about two weeks at the maximum.
High Court premises. The Judiciary plans to construct premises for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal
What were your budget priority areas?
Muhindo: Our major priorities are three though we had and still have others. One is facilitation for recruitment of new judicial officers, dealing with the case backlog and construction of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal at the headquarters to stop renting. No construction took place. We needed sh42b for construction and it did not come. The plan was that by 2016 the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal would have their own home here at the headquarters. The architectural designs are out.
How much of the priorities did you achieve?
Muhindo: We managed to recruit judicial officers both on the lower and upper bench, but we still need more. On the case backlog, we still have a big problem, but we have a plan and we hope to implement it to reduce the backlog by about 50%. We will organise manpower from the upper and lower benches to see how we tackle the problem.
But there was a proposal sometime back that senior lawyers could be appointed on temporary basis as judges specifically to handle the case backlog and eliminate it. What happened to that?
Muhindo: That proposal was floated, but it is not as easy as that. The Parliament has to approve it before anything can be done. Otherwise, it is a good idea. However, the Principal Judge would be in position to tell you more about that proposal.
Bamwine: (In a separate interview): Recently we gave views on areas of amendment in the Constitution. We offered acting judges as one of the recommendations. You know that requires a constitutional amendment. It has benefits that the Government would not have to spend a lot on judges appointed on a permanent basis. It would also help decongest prisons because cases would be disposed of very quickly, reducing the number of remand prisoners and also get civil matters out of the way. In prison currently, we have 1,449 pending criminal appeals in the Court of Appeal, alone as at the end of April. Then there are constitutional petitions, over 100 of them. The criminal appeals and other criminal cases pending in other courts means all these are inmates on remand.
What are your priority areas for 2014/15?
Muhindo: We still think we will construct the court buildings. We have come up with a plan, which will help us have our premises built by 2016. The architectural designs are out. We will contract it out to a contractor to build and ask the Government to guarantee the loan through the Ministry of Finance for the construction. The funds that we are using to pay rent would then be used to pay for the loan until it is completed. Also, though we have failed to get funding for construction for other courts, we will reduce on the renting through the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS). When it establishes its home, JLOS will house some of the divisions of the High Court, which are renting until such a time when we are able to build for them.
Recommendations of the Parliamentary Budget Committee to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to provide in addition to the sh83bn earmarked for the Judiciary in the 2014/15 budget
- Provide sh14,729,990,000 to mitigate Court operational shortfall occasioned by inflationary effects which is affecting opening of new courts.
- Provide sh4.8bn every year for 10 years starting with 2014/15 for construction of four magistrates’ courts a year. At the end of the period, there will be 40 new magistrate’s courts.
- Provide sh4.6bn for expansion of ICT in the courts to ease work.
- Provide sh12,250,177,294 to cater for newly appointed judges and attendant costs like Clerks, secretaries and drivers.
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