Wandera Ogalo agrees with Oloka. He says Museveni’s interests shifted since he abolished Presidential term limits. He says Museveni then did not fear an efficient Judiciary and respected the recommendations of sitting Judges but now cannot even respect the recommendations of a constitutionally established Judicial Service Commission.
“The Judges would identify competent persons from among the lawyers and invite them to join the bench,” says Ogalo. “But appointments are now through lobbying. The Mulenga’s didn’t get to the bench or be promoted through lobbying. The judges were clean those days and they did not have baggage.”
Ogalo is nostalgic about the days of Judges like Alice MpagiBahigaine, Constance Byamugisha and John BoscoKatutsi. “Judges like Katutsi rose through the ranks,” he says, “I can’t remember the last time I read a judgment like Katutsi’s.”
Ogalo suggests that the retirement age of Judges be revised from the current 65 and 70 years to retain such good Judges.
“I think 70 years is too early to retire Judges and that has made us miss out on the best judges,” he says, “Judges like Katutsi, like Wako Wambuzi, and others were exceptional Judges who retired when they were still able.
” Although the Judicial Service Commission is constitutionally mandated to select and nominate names for Museveni’s appointment, the lawyers do not have much faith in it and acknowledge that its powers are limited. Museveni often overrides the Commission when it sends him names and their rating and he asked for a bloated list and picks people that had not performed that well.
Part of the problem, Opio says, is the Commission’s composition. He says having a sitting Judge as the chair of the commission and another sitting Judge as one of its members is problematic. “Imagine one of the judges who was lobbying to be appointed DCJ sits on the Commission.”
Opio also says that the Attorney General who is part of the executive and the Solicitor General should not be members of the commission.
“A Commission composed in that nature cannot be impartial,” he says. “So there needs to restructure the process of arriving at who sits on that commission.
Otherwise, Opio says, Museveni is determined to have the Judiciary under his control both through appointments and financial control. But the lawyers say Museveni’s political appointments aren’t the only problem killing the Judiciary. They say the Judiciary is deteriorating because of other issues like financing.
Ogalo says the budget of the Judiciary can’t facilitate an efficient and effective judiciary even if it had the most competent and independent Judges.
“So the choice of people like OwinyDollo and his colleagues isn’t the problem because they would also be good enough if there were enough resources, both financial and human for them to deliver.”
Ogalo says the judiciary is treated like “a distant cousin” of the government and that’s why it is given peanuts. Opio has the same concerns. He says the Judiciary isn’t treated as the important arm of government that it is.
“It is clear that the judiciary isn’t priority in this government,” he says and adds that this has not only eroded its independence but also made the bench unattractive for capable and efficient officers.
“And that affects the delivery of justice and undermines the confidence of the public in the judiciary.”