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Strike looms in Ugandan courts

A cross section of lawyers and prosecutors at the High Court. Prosecutors have vowed to go on strike over poor pay and lack of promotion. COURTESY PHOTO

Insiders say lack of prosecutors will paralyse justice system

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Prossy Ayebare was recruited as a state prosecutor in 1999 and has since never been promoted. In the last 18 years, her salary has only been doubled—when she started, she was earning Shs270, 000. She now earns Shs600, 000. On top of this, her earning is charged income tax—she ends up with Shs540, 000 a month.

“It is so demoralising especially given the amount of work we do,” she told The Independent.

Ayebare is not alone. She shares these circumstances with 90 other state prosecutors– the lowest in the Directorate of Public Prosecutions—recruited at the same time as her. And her group is part of the 420 members of the Uganda Association of Prosecutors, who on June 23 threatened to go on strike if government does not increase their pay, promote them and ease the taxes they pay.

The prosecutors and attorneys want the government to resolve what insiders are calling a crisis. The ultimatum ends on July 11 when they said they will lay down their tools and then strike, which could paralyse activity at courts right from Grade II to Supreme Court, starts.  When the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Kahinda Otafiire met them in Kampala and tried to dissuade them from the strike, they booed him instead. In their view, the minister was behaving like a bureaucrat; totally oblivious of their desperation.

“Something needs to be done to make prosecutors feel worthwhile. It is not just about the pay but putting in place structures for people to experience career advancement,” says Ayabare. But many hurdles block that path.

In Ayebare’s case and some others, problems stems from not having a law degree. She has a diploma in law, another diploma in criminal prosecution and a degree in International Relations.  But these don’t count much. “Not having a degree in law means we are not attorneys,” says Ayebare.

So she emphasises the workload she and her type carry in the justice, law and order sector. They mainly work starting in the Grade II courts up to Chief Magistrate’s courts.

“We are deployed in hard to reach areas,” she says.

“When you look at the data we as state prosecutors generate on a monthly basis, you realise that we do much of the prosecution,” she adds.

She works in the Research Department at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Kampala and says only her love for prosecution keeps her going. Although her degree in international relations could possibly have opened up opportunities for her in another field, she has kept in the courts.

Due to her experience, she also gets some contracts with international organisations and has represented the office of the DPP on a national team discussing the Global Fund grants to the health sector at a conference in Kampala.

Baxter Bakibinga, the chairman of Uganda Association of Prosecutors told The Independent that the issue of poor pay runs throughout the public prosecutors’ ranks.

A state prosecutor earns Shs540, 000 after taxation, a state attorney Shs850, 000, senior state attorney Shs1.2 million, Principal State Attorney Shs1.6 million, Senior Principal State Attorney Shs2.4 million, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Shs2.8 million and the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Shs3.9 million.

Comparatively, Bakibinga noted that principle senior state attorneys should be at the same level with directors at the Inspectorate of Government and other organisations like Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) but that has not happened. He says directors at these other related institutions earn nearly four times than principle senior state attorneys.

Bakibinga says another disadvantage prosecutors and attorneys suffer is paying income tax unlike other employees in the sector like judges and magistrates and officers; prisons, police and the army.

He says they should be restructuring every five years, because the 1995 constitution made the office of the DPP independent from the office of the Attorney General.

But since 2000 when government came up with structures to suit changes proposed by the 1995 constitution, Bakibinga added, it was only implemented once from 2000-2005, and that was at the macro level.

The changes resulted into the deputies of the DPP, assistants, an undersecretary and a principal auditor. “State prosecutors did not get a scalar chain,” Bakibinga says. “In the judiciary, they have Grade II, Senior Grade II, Principal Grade II and Senior Principal Grade II magistrates.

Two years ago there was a push to implement the structure that would put in place the positions of senior state prosecutor, principal state prosecutor, and senior principal state prosecutor.

“It was meant to promote people who had stagnated for years but it was just done on paper,” he told The Independent.

“There was Shs820million to push prosecutors up the ladder but the money went back to the treasury,” he says.

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