Op-ed – The Judiciary must be free from corruption

By Badru Walusansa

The 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda recognizes under Article 126(2) (a), the need for the Judiciary to administer justice to all, irrespective of social or economic status. The framers of this article attempted to bar, among others, undue social and economic technicalities that could potentially thwart dispensation of justice.

However, reports of corruption in the Judiciary are getting louder and its manifestations changing according to prevailing circumstances. Evidenced by the Inspectorate of Government report 2015, the Judiciary was ranked the second most corrupt institution after Police. More still, the East African Bribery Index 2014, revealed that corruption in the Judiciary soared from 27.9% in 2013 to 39.8% that year.

Further, a recent study carried out in the police and courts in northern Uganda, showed that corruption had become a “system” in itself and a norm. The researchers from the Institute for Human Security at Tufts University, in the US, with assistance from Ugandan researchers, quoted respondents saying justice is for sale in the region.

Important to note is that corruption has glaring spillovers on the entire justice chain, ranging from impeding access to justice by the poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups to creating mistrust in the justice system by the general public.

Judicial corruption involves some court clerks entering into shady agreements with litigants, non-refund of bail, bribing court officials in order to be granted bail and having a file case listed.

On March 9, 2017, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported a story where a court official was fired for allegedly bribing a High Court judge with Ugx15 million. This is one of the so many incidents that reveal real corruption in the Judiciary.

Poor remuneration of judicial officers has been inter alia cited as the driver of corruption in the Judiciary. At the heel of poor remuneration, the budget for the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) in which the Judiciary lies, has been cut by Ugx.6.8 billion in the Financial Year 2017/18.

The ramification of poor pay of judicial officials risks inducing more corruption in the Judiciary. Therefore, deliberate efforts to increase funding to the Judiciary must be scaled up so that even the Court clerks who earn as little as Ugx.280,000 per month are not easily compromised by litigants.

Needless to say, there have been efforts undertaken by the JLOS institutions in fighting graft, such as adopting an Anti Corruption Strategy (2012) on the premise of detecting, investigating and adjudicating corruption across the 18 JLOS member agencies.

Conversely, the implementation of the JLOS Anti Corruption Strategy has to some extent been derailed by the lack of commitment of the different agencies to customize and localize it in their operational frameworks. Only three out of 18 JLOS institutions have holistically incorporated the strategy in their operational frameworks. The other 15 institutions have been sluggish in domesticating the strategy.

Apparently, the public perceives the Judiciary as an institution where justice is a commodity and that the highest bidder takes it all.

Therefore, the public through Court User Committees should be involved in fighting corruption within the Judiciary. For example, the public often interfaces with the Courts hence the need to be sensitized on how and where to report errant judicial officials.

If we remain silent about the cancer of corruption in the Judiciary, the institution will continue losing its credibility and the public will find no genuine reasons to seek justice in courts.

Mr. Walusansa is a Commonwealth Correspondent

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