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The untouchables

By Ronald Musoke

How corruption thrives as the rich and powerful delay justice

Hearing of the corruption case against Geoffrey Kazinda, the former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister was scheduled to resume at the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala on Jan.7.  It failed – for the third time.

Instead of Kazinda appearing, a prison officer, Sgt. Boney Okello showed presiding Justice David Wangutusi a medical form showing that Kazinda, who is in detention at Luzira Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Kampala City, is too ill to stand trial.

Sgt. Okello said Kazinda was “stressed, had a soft neck, his words were low, and he was withdrawn”.

Justice Wangutusi was unimpressed and summoned the Luzira Prisons doctor to appear the next day to explain why Kazinda falls sick each time he is scheduled to appear in court.

When Dr Alex Kakoraki from the Murchison Bay hospital showed up on Jan. 8, he told court that medical tests had found Kazinda to have “a pattern of abnormal sleeping habits, coupled with incoherent speech.” He concluded that Kazinda was suffering from severe depression.

The doctor said the prison hospital had sought a second opinion from Mulago National Referral Hospital and been advised to have Kazinda re-examined at Mulago and Butabika National Referral Mental Hospitals.

The Mulago Hospital doctors ruled out depression. They say instead, Kazinda was suffering from obesity. They said Kazinda is mentally and physically fit to stand trial.

The back-and-forth jostling has led anti-corruption crusaders to say Kazinda and the government could be delaying justice deliberately.

Another case is that of Hassan Basajjabalaba, the city businessman who has been playing the waiting game with the corruption prosecutors.

In 2011,  he was accused of forging a consent judgment used in avoiding taxes on the Shs 142 billion he received in compensation from government after a reversal was made on the then Kampala City Council’s decision to sell markets of Nakasero, Shauriyako, St. Balikuddembe (Owino) and the Constitution Square to him.

The compensation process was marred with irregularities and led to the resignations of then- Attorney General Kiddu Makubuya and Finance Minister Syda Bbumba.

Although the Basajjabalaba forgery file was submitted to the CIID, the tough-talking director, Grace Akullo, is yet to succeed in arraigning the suspect before court. Basajjabalaba has been summoned numerous times to CIID but has never appeared. He is untouchable.

Even Internal Affairs minister Hillary Onek, who says he wants Basajjabala tried and is in charge of the investigating arm, appears powerless as DPP Buteera continues to foot-drag.

In another case, three interdicted civil servants from the Ministry of Public Service; David Oloka, the former Assistant senior Accountant, Christopher Obey, the Principal Accountant and Jimmy Lwamafa, the Permanent Secretary, who are accused of swindling over Shs 300 billion in pensions, have not been arraigned in court.

Weak cases

Cissy Kagaba, the head of the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) says the delay tactics are used whenever high-profile government officials are involved. She named the cases involving ministers who were committed before court for allegedly swindling government money during the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007 and the earlier 2005 Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) in which three ministers and a State House official allegedly swindled up to Shs1.6 billion. The cases dragged on until 2012 when all suspects but one were acquitted. Sometimes the suspects file un-ending appeals, and challenge the jurisdiction of the courts.

As a result, although the World Bank estimates that Uganda loses about Shs 500 billion in corruption every year, the prison cells still have few convicts.

Kagaba says although the government brings suspects to court, it does not mean it is fully committed to apprehending its corrupt officials because cases tend to be withdrawn on legal technicalities or flimsy reasons, and prosecution calls witnesses who are weak, coached, or incompetent.

Kagaba recalled the proceedings against former Vice President, Gilbert Bukenya’s case about a US$3.9 million deal to supply cars during CHOGM.

Bukenya was charged in court and remanded to Luziira Prison in 2011. But the IGG withdrew the case against Bukenya when President Museveni publicly announced that his former deputy was innocent.

Last November, Justice Paul Mugamba of the Anti-Corruption Court said the Director of Public Prosecution, Richard Buteera had presented a weak case against the three ministers; Sam Kuteesa, John Nasasira, and Mwesigwa Rukutana. The trio was accused by the Inspectorate of Government for causing a loss of Shs 14 billion in CHOGM funds. During that trial, all prosecution witnesses turned around and exonerated the suspects.

Kagaba says it does not help that the police and judiciary; the government institutions which are central to the successful conviction of corruption suspects are not squeaky clean themselves.  Transparency International’s 2012 East African Bribery Index report ranked them among the most corrupt.

“The judicial system is not very different (from the other institutions) in terms of corruption. Corruption has eaten up every sector in government,” says Gerald Kafureeka Karuhanga, the youth MP, Western.

Karuhanga says the delays in delivery of justice are deliberate and are because the process is corrupted.

Old regime

Godber Tumushabe, the executive director of the Advocates Coalition on Development and Environment (ACODE), a Kampala- based policy think tank, says failure to fight corruption is a consequence of government failure.

“Governments fail because the systems that constitute them fail,” he says.

He says when the police’s Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID) or the Inspectorate of Government fail to do their job properly, this failure is automatically transferred to the judiciary.

Tumushabe says the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal remain ineffective because they have never been fully constituted by President Yoweri Museveni and Parliament.  “What this means is that corruption cases which are meant to be taken to these respective courts have been put on hold,” he says, “Such glaring failures are basically a consequence of government failure.”  He blames government failure on regime longevity.

In some cases, Kagaba says, only “small fish” are successfully prosecuted.

In the GAVI case which involved the three ministers, and top health ministry officials, only two suspects were found guilty; Fred Kavuma, a former employee of the state broadcaster (UBC), and  Teddy Seezi Cheeye, a then-jobless former director of Economic Monitoring in the President’s Office.

However, some observers like Medard Lubega Ssegona, a lawyer and MP for Busiiro East in Wakiso District, says it is wrong to expect a standard procedure for delivering justice and that each corruption case, including that of Kazinda, should be looked at on its own merit.

Ssegona says he is aware of the popular adage that justice delayed is justice denied but he adds that it is also important to appreciate the fact that justice hurried is justice buried.

“Would you expect court to try Kazinda when he is dying?” Ssegona asks, “If we are not careful, Kazinda could die and the mafias whom he has implicated will be happy.”

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