Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has criticised the Inspector General of Government (IGG) on account of not prosecuting magistrates caught red-handed in acts of corruption.
The Chief Justice was addressing hundreds of lawyers at the Annual Law Conference at Imperial Resort Beach Hotel in Entebbe on Friday.
Justice Katureebe named two cases where the IGG arrested two magistrates involved in corruption in separate incidents but pardoned them instead of prosecuting them.
The office of the IGG headed by Justice Irene Mulyagonja is the lead government agency mandated to fight corruption.
In one of the corruption cases, Justice Katureebe explained that a lawyer called him telling him about a certain magistrate who had asked for Shs3m bribe from peasants to rule in their favour.
He said the case which the culpable magistrate was handling involved peasants and a certain rich man.
The Chief Justice did not reveal the name of the magistrate or the rich man.
He said the magistrate warned the peasants that if they failed to raise money, his favourable decision would shift to the rich man who was offering him a bigger bribe of Shs10m.
Justice Katureebe said the desperate peasants raised only Shs1.5m and handed it to the magistrate. A trap had been laid and the IGG arrested the magistrate red-handed receiving the bribe.
However, Justice Katureebe said, the arrested magistrate confessed to the IGG and pleaded for pardon, saying his name would be soiled if he was prosecuted.
Justice Katureebe castigated the IGG for pardoning the thieving magistrate although the pardon was given on condition that he resigned from judicial service, which he did with full terminal benefits.
“All that evidence was there to send this magistrate away to jail, he retired with full benefits. That shows you the problem we have,” Justice Katureebe charged.
“What happened? Even in his letter for early retirement by the Permanent Secretary of ministry of Public Service, he was praised for his dedicated service. What do those peasants think of the Judiciary; those people who saw him being arrested and expected him to go to jail, but he is instead practising law. He is actually even here,” he added.
Justice Katureebe observed that it’s such cases that breed the perception of wide-scale corruption in the Judiciary.
He cited another corruption incident in West Nile where the IGG arrested a magistrate who had asked for a Shs1m bribe in a traffic case to grant bail to the suspect in the alleged offence. The magistrate was arrested receiving the bribe.
Justice Katureebe narrated that after the arrest, the IGG came out with a bizarre report saying it would not be logical to spend millions of Shillings prosecuting the magistrate yet the evidence they had against him could only prove a corruption case of Shs250, 000 fine. “I don’t mind madam IGG whether it’s Shs250,000. Theft is theft. Whether someone has taken Shs1bn or Shs1m or even Shs50, 000, which does not rightfully belong to him, that is theft. You don’t steal money or get accused of misconduct and get away with it like that, just because you stole little. That will be difficult for us to establish how much I must steal to warrant a prosecution,” Justice Katureebe said as the lawyers cheered him in unison.
He cited a corruption case in the United States where the federal government spend over $17m (about Shs59bn) to prosecute a public official who had stolen coupons to go and watch football matches with his girlfriends.
He said despite the government spending that huge amount, the official was acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
Katureebe cited the corruption incidents above in the presence of IGG Justice Mulyagonja who also was attending the conference.
In response to Justice Katureebe’s scathing remarks on the IGG’s office, Justice Mulyagonja said her approach as a prosecutor of corruption cases may be different from that of the Chief Justice.
She explained that her aim is to clean up the Judiciary but she can apply different methods including demanding that such a given magistrate resigns from service as opposed to spending huge sums of money to prosecute a corruption case involving little amount.
Justice Mulyagonja cited the Judiciary’s new justice programme of Plea Bargaining where criminals are given lenient sentences in exchange for pleading guilty to the offences. She said Plea Bargaining is one of the mechanisms she is applying to dispose of some corruption cases.
“My priorities are different from those of the Chief Justice. As the head of prosecution, my priority is cleaning up the Judiciary. I can clean it in many ways including prosecution or asking a judicial officer to resign,” Ms Mulyagonja told Daily Monitor by telephone yesterday.
“We shall not prosecute every magistrate who takes a bribe of Shs250,000 . Prosecution is very expensive and we also have few prosecutors,” the IGG charged, adding that even the period spent prosecuting a single corruption case takes an average of two years, a period she said is too long.