Justice Catherine Elizabeth Bamugemereire is tough. Many people formed this image of her when she led the tribunal investigating affairs at Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) in 2013 that found Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago incompetent. She was possibly toughest when leading the commission of inquiry into corruption and mismanagement at Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) that found that up to Shs4 trillion was possibly lost.
Throughout the six months of public hearings, she often came off as determined and not one to be intimidated. As a result officials and witnesses appearing before the panel were often seen sweating and panicking and gulping bottle after bottles of water. She is remembered for telling off a witness who addressed her as `aunt’. “I am not your aunt,” she corrected. She also threw out of the hearing a female lawyer who turned up in a pair of black trousers and white blouse ordering her to go back and dress properly.
When asked about it, Bamugemereire told The Independent that the toughness comes from the environment in which she was raised. The mother of two and wife to Deputy IGG George Bamugemereire says growing up on Plot 31 Court Road in Mbale town meant that she became aware of the stark difference in life of people who lived in `senior quarters’ and the low end dwellers. She says this primed her to be hard working as she always admired the more successful people. She says many of the people who grew up in the same neighborhood have become serious judicial officers; including Julia Sebutinde who was their next door neighbor.
However, although her father was a magistrate the Justice of the Court of Appeal never thought of being a lawyer until her Advanced level when law became the best course to get out of her subject combination. She had always wanted to be a teacher because her teachers lived in nice houses and would play the guitar.
Now, one of the things she prides in is the mark she made in the Anti-corruption Division of the High Court before leaving in 2013. She says her orders for compensation still stand as the highest government has got back from institutions and individuals.
But despite all her achievements and her work especially at the commission her fears were always that people might be harmed or they may lose their jobs for speaking the truth. This she says she always thought about during the UNRA inquiry because they were faced with a lot of challenges. She says viruses were sent to their computers and they got threats to their lives.
“I received several anonymous calls someone asking me whether I want to be like Joan (State Prosecutor Kagezi, who was murdered),” she recalls.