About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Monday, December 26, 2011

Commission of enquiry a mockery of justice.

A section of the public and critics have lately been saying Andrew Mwenda has changed. I don't agree with them, and records of my publications going back in time bear me witness. Throughout my career, I have cherished the key cornerstones of journalism - truth and accuracy, fairness and balance. I hereby reproduce some of the pieces I did back in time highlighting the position I have taken on contentious issues involving allegations of corruption. I hope this article and many more to come will guide the debate on whether I have changed at all.

This article was published in the Sunday Monitor on March 7, 2004

So the commission of inquiry into corruption in the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) became a theatre for personal fights and recriminations instead of helping us grasp the political and institutional sources of Corruption! It was apparent from the beginning that lady justice Julie Sebutinde is not a credible or reliable investigator. Why? She plays too much to the gallery. Although she became popular because of how she handled the inquiry into corruption in the police force, Sebutinde did a great dis-service to the cause of justice and due process in this country.

She declared the police officer who appeared before guilty before she could even hear their case. Sebutinde would hurl insults at them, shut down their lawyers and throw tantrums at any witness who tried to defend them. Yes, the accused police officers could have been evil men but they were entitled to due process. The public angry with, an incompetent and corrupt police force cheered Sebutinde on, and she almost became a goddess. President Yoweri Museveni, seeking to gain political advantage, played to the gallery, too calling Sebutinde "my girl"

Ssebutinde made many pronouncements that Karim Hirjr had murdered his friend Kiddu that made headlines. But she still refused pleas from Karim to appear before her commission and defend himself.

Later she wrote a report recommending that Brig. Jim Muhwezi be investigated for the murder of Lt. Shalita, yet the Brigadier’s name during the proceedings of her commission, was never called before Sebutinde to answer to these allegations.

It is this lack of impartiality that she brought into the URA investigation. She accused Jack Bigirwa of stealing money from URA to build a house in Bushenyi. Bigirwa built the house in 1984, URA was created in 1992, and he joined it in 1994. She insulted Elly Rwakakooko, shouted down Steven Akabway, no one escaped her cobra bite. Her rants and recriminations against people who appeared before her were detestable in both matter and manner; and they are a classic example of how public anger can be exploited to undermine the cause of justice.

I raised this issue during the police probe mainly on radio one’s spectrum programme, and later in articles in The Monitor. I was told that the Commission of Inquiries' Act allows the commission to adopt its own modus operandi, However, I still reject Sebutinde's style because the spirit of the law would certainly not have been to undermine the principles of natural justice that someone should not be a judge in their own case, or a prosecutor and judge in the same case. Sebutinde was carried away by public acclaim and she turned herself into a public avenger against the police, and later a public executioner of people's reputations.

However, the URA probe was going to be different because she was given the respected James Kahooza, and little known Fawn Cousens, as commissioners. Their strength of character was going to expose Sebutinde. And they did! Kahooza and Cousens did not reject the entire report by Sebutinde, but only parts of it and they stated their concerns in writing. Neither Sebutinde nor the Solicitor General, Mr. Tibaruha, has answered these issues. Instead, Sebutinde went on personal attacks against her fellow commissioners accusing them of conflict of interest. Sebutinde argues that Kahooza had a conflict of interest because his son works with URA and has used his job to accumulate wealth illigetimately.

She further says that Kahooza's wife has a company that sup- plies food to the URA and is shielded from paying taxes, Sebutinde further says that Cousens has a conflict of interest because she applied for a job in the URA, and that URA Commissioner General, Aslund Ann brit, recommended her to the commission. On this basis, Sebutinde tells us that Kahooza and Cousens reject- ed parts of her report because guilt and vested interest drive them.

I find this position opportunistic and hypocritical. If Sebutinde knew all this, why didn't she write to the minister who appointed her asking the two to be removed from the commission? I have had opportunity to read the Sebutinde report into URA and there is not a single reference in her report regarding this conflict of interest by Cousens and Kahooza. Why did she keep this vital information from the public until the two refused to sign her report? I find Sebutinde's revelations of conflict of interest against Kahooza and Cousens bordering on blackmail itself a criminal offence.

Sebutinde tells us that she knew bad things about Kahooza and Cousens but kept this information to herself. What for? To buy their silence so that she can arrogate herself power to single-handedly write the commission's report. The nation must wake up to this fraud. We trust and respect our judges in this country. There is something in law called aiding and abating a crime, Assuming that Sebutinde's allegations against her colleagues are true, and given that she kept this vital information to herself until Cousens and Kahooza disagreed with her, was she not trying to aid and abate their unethical conduct in return of their compliance?

Equally important, Sebutinde has made no effort whatsoever to answer the objections raised by Cousens and Kahooza, regarding the procedure of the commission and the contents of her report. She has rather chosen to raise matter external to the report and investigation. What does this tell us about the lady justice? Just like in the police probe and report, Sebutinde picked issues off the street and smuggled them into her report on URA which were never called upon to give their defence, I know Kahooza would never sign unto such fraud, and he refused as did Cousens. Fate, so the saying goes, is a great joker; it always laughs last!

These commissions of inquiry have been political vehicles to legitimise an extremely corrupt system by demonstrating to an unsuspecting public that some- thing is being done. This politicised and pedestrian approach to fighting corruption will not help Uganda. Year, 2000! A policeman, with a wife and four children in, Kampala is paid Shs 70,000 per month. It cannot help him survive even for a week. He takes a bribe to make ends meet. Who is being immoral here the government, which pretends to employ the policeman, or the policeman who makes a genuine attempt to feed his family? Whose morality are we talking about?

Take URA for example. The wages in that organization, were set in 1994 at II have never been revised. People are promoted on the basis of tribe, supporting The Movement or third term rather than on demonstrated competence and probity. The president constantly writes lists of people (he calls them cadres) to be hired by the organization. The URA does not offer long term career rewards, job insecurity is high. Under such circumstances, it is illusory to expect staff to pursue corporate goals. Instead, they pursue Individual maximization - steal as fast and as much as you can before you loose your job. These are the political and institutional sources of corruption that we need to deal with Sebutinde like commissions seek to name and shame the corrupt. That will not help.

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