Tuesday, April 28, 2009



Monday, 27th April, 2009

The signing of an affidavit by President Yoweri Museveni in defence of the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Justice Faith Mwondha, no doubt raised eyebrows in a continent where this is an unfamiliar tale.

In a continent where some leaders blatantly overrule their own courts and disregard the verdicts of their voters to suit their whims, this is a dog-bite-man kind of story.

Journalists say that when a dog bites a man, that is not news. But when a man bites a dog that is the news. Some 22 individuals last week petitioned the Constitutional Court challenging the need for Justice Faith Mwondha to appear before Parliament.

The petitioners seek a court declaration that the re-appointment of the IGG does not require parliamentary sanction. President Museveni and Justice Mwondha have both sworn affidavits in support of the petition.

The President says he was “convinced there was need for determination of this matter by a competent court of law now, given the historical determination of the NRM government to get rid of criminality and corruption in Uganda”. President Museveni is the first Ugandan leader to subject himself to judicial due process—and not for the first time. The presidential election petitions of 2001 and 2006 had the President written all over them and he obliged by registering no objections whatsoever to the petitions and also signing certain required affidavits. He only fell short of appearing in court himself—something that was not mandatory.

You get the feeling however that had push come to shove, some rule or other requiring him to be in court himself during those election petitions, he would have showed up. In the true manner of a responsible leader who shows the way not by pointing but by walking it, the President let the courts decide whether his last two election victories actually reflected the will of the people. Now he is back with more affidavits – this time defending the IGG, at a time when another leader in his shoes would be looking for what executive power exits can be taken advantage of.

Ugandans will recall that the last interaction or interface between a president and the Judiciary before the Museveni administration was in 1972. Then President Idi Amin, not amused that the Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka (RIP) would not write verdicts in a way that suited the government, ended the stand-off by having the judge killed! It was clear that for Amin, the Judiciary was nothing more than a tool to achieve his aim and if they declined, the way out was simple—kill them.

And now here we are with a president who is taking time off to sign affidavits, and letting courts determine matters pertaining to him. What this shows, inter alia, is that there is an undeniable rule of law in Uganda; governance is not carried out through bulldozing by the Executive.

Sometimes there are hiccups here and there and indeed we still have some challenges within the Judiciary. In our rural areas for example, where the majority of Ugandans live, there are reports of access to justice being determined by how much money one has; with court officials offering verdicts to the highest bidder. There is need to look into these allegations. The bottom line however is that we have a functional Judiciary that is on the whole, doing a good job.

If ever there was evidence of respect for the rule of law, especially on the part of the Executive, this is it. The President is showing that he too can be subjected to legal due process without any ado.

If the President believes in the court system, this is a critical vote of confidence for the Judiciary and something that all Ugandans can learn from.

Whatever anyone says for or against Justice Mwondha you cannot doubt the size of fight in her; her ability to tenaciously pound her way through obstacles to get to her destination. The zeal she has manifested in pulling down the strongholds of corruption is unmistakable. Her ruthlessness in tackling officials whose hands are forever in the cookie jar has sent chills down the spines of public servants in both local and central Government.

Nobody on the wrong side of the law wants a piece of her served hot or cold. Her first term of office has no doubt put public servants under pressure to embrace integrity in the execution of their mandate; to have some decent measure of respect for the national purse.

Indeed, it must be acknowledged that nobody has come out to challenge her competence or commitment to her mandate. There is unanimity that she has done a decent job; with the only contention being her refusal to be vetted by Parliament for the second time following her reappointment by the President.

However, you get the feeling that there is room for improvement in her people-relations – you need to get along with somebody, especially those that you work closely with on a daily basis. It was also arguably unwise of her to go to the press wholesale like she did —blasting individuals and institutions alike without biting her words. A bit of discretion here would have been in order. It is possible to defend yourself without attacking; put your case neatly and let the public and relevant bodies judge.

If you insult the very people that are supposed to vet you, then obviously mayhem should be expected. Going to the media could only make the situation worse, not better for her. That is why firms or institutions have public relations officers so that big people do not have to tango in the media themselves.

Our people say that when you have a dog you do not have to bark yourself; so at best she could have let other people do the talking and fighting for her, as she kept a low profile and continued with her tight schedule.Since the matter is in the good hands of the Constitutional Court, let’s wait for the learned lordships to adjudicate.