Genesis. In 1971, former president Idi Amin set up a commission of inquiry into the affairs of Kampala City Council. Among the recommendations the commission came up with was the setting up of a special court for City Hall, writes Henry Lubega.
Forty seven years ago, in 1971, the government of then president Idi Amin set up a commission of inquiry to look into complaints of employees of Kampala City Council (KCC).
The more than 4,000 employees were accusing three of their supervisors of being behind the raft of problems that had engulfed KCC.
Amin, who at the time had resorted to using commissions of inquiry to resolve challenges facing his regime that had just deposed Milton Obote’s UPC government, appointed a seven-man commission to look into the employees’ grievances.
In the early days of his regime, Amin created many commissions so much that he ran short of High Court judges to chair them. He then resorted to appointing chief magistrates and heads of different presidential departments to head the commissions.
Among the commissions he set up included those to look into the affairs of the National Trading Corporation, Coffee Marketing Board, corruption in the different government departments, corruption in the General Service Unit (GSU), the disappearance of two American journalists in Mbarara, land problems in Church of Uganda and the management of KCC, among others.
One commission whose legacy still stands today was the one that looked into the management and administration of KCC, as it was known then. KCC morphed into Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in 2011.
The commission was headed by a chief magistrate, Peter Jermyn Allen, who would later in 1987 be knighted by the Queen of England. Allen was the chief magistrate of Nkole.
The commission was composed of a seven-man team. Besides its chairman, the rest were either police officers or soldiers.
Three members of the commission were superintendents of police. One of the three who came from the military included a lieutenant who was promoted to captain before the conclusion of the inquiry. The commission of inquiry into KCC sat at the mayor’s parlour and was conducted in camera.
The more than 4,000 employees pointed fingers at three of their administrators, accusing them of being the source of the council’s woes. The accused included town clerk Y. Kaduyu, assistant chief engineer SP. Okurut – who was suspended before the commission started its work – and the city engineer.
The three officials were accused of corruption, nepotism and favouritism when it came to promotions and appointments. The employees also complained of tribalism, unfair dismissal, unsatisfactory allocation of council houses and the need to have their salaries, allowances and terms of reference revised.
Writing in his book Day of Judgment: A Judge in Amin’s Uganda, Sir Peter Allen says: “With so many employees and complaints, it was obvious we could not be able to finish and produce a report within a reasonable time if everyone was allowed to appear before the commission.
“It was agreed that each department would appoint its representatives and spokesmen to appear and make submissions with whatever supporting witnesses and evidence that was necessary.”
Although only three officials were at the centre of the accusations, there were other staff members in the administration whose names came up during the hearing.
At the start of the inquiry, the three officials hired lawyers to represent them. However, the commission’s chairman saw this as a stumbling block to his commission’s work. Magistrate Allen, who had to travel from Mbarara twice a week to preside over the hearings, could not stand the lawyers anymore. He asked them to leave and summoned the accused to appear in person.
The advocates, Allen claims, had challenged the commission’s procedure, including selection of the venue. They also challenged the appointment of the commission, saying it was illegally constituted.
“I told them to go and present the complaints of the commission appointment to the president who was the appointing authority,” Allen writes in his book.
On top of the above complaints, the lawyers had also challenged the chairman’s stand on not asking witnesses to take an oath before testifying before the commission.
In his wisdom, Allen reasoned that since the witnesses would be making allegations it would not be fair to the accused to have their names publically tainted with statements that were not substantiated.
On the issue of taking oath, Allen augured that from his experience in the legal field, taking an oath did not stop a person prepared to tell a lie from doing so.
“As for the taking of the oath, I have never really put much faith in the efficacy in that. Anyway, anyone who decides to be truthful will be so, on or not put on oath, so it would make no difference to him. As for the one who decided to tell lies he will generally do so regardless of any oath or affirmation,” Allen writes.
Although the media was barred from covering the commission’s hearing, the Uganda Argus newspaper of August 23, 1972, quoted a concerned KCC staff saying, “With the absence of lawyers, the truth will not be covered up. Let them talk for themselves and if possible let them be part of the process of finding the solutions to our complaints.”
According to the chairperson, most of the issues brought before the commission had their solutions found there and then.
“Solutions to the complaints were not hard to find and many of the complaints raised were not even mentioned in the final report,” he writes.
About 200 witnesses appeared before the commission and another 30 made written submissions. In the final report to the appointing authority, the commission made 190 complaints and possible solutions for the president to consider as a way of solving problems at KCC.
KCC was under the Local Administration ministry at the time. Three months after presentation of its report, government published a white paper where most of the recommendations were listed as a way forward for the city council.
Among those that were implemented was the creation of a special city council court where infringement of council rules and regulations could be dealt with, without taking up the time of the very busy district court.
Lord Mayor asks judiciary to move City Hall Court
In April last year, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago tasked the Judiciary to relocate the City Hall Court from KCCA premises, asserting that he is constrained by its presence.
“We have always made attempts at seeking for the relocation of that court as it has become a problem. The masses have started associating that court with KCCA. As there are number of activities done there that violate human rights,” Mr Lukwago said.
He explained that the law enforcement officers always dump people and their property at that court crowding the place and while seated in his (Lukwago’s) office, he overhears the aggrieved parties complaining that they have extorted a lot of money from them.
“It is really against the laws for the court to share premises with KCCA whose law enforcement officers arrest people and bring them directly at premises for trial. There is need for separation of roles and powers,” he said.
He said the City Hall court is congesting the rooms that are meant to be part of his office. “That court was squeezed in the Lord Mayor’s parlour, we need that space to house other institutional activities,” Mr Lukwago said, adding: “Sometimes people who come in to attend court bump into my offices which is disturbing,” he said.
Chief Justice Bart Katureebe said as the judiciary they are trying to provide services,
“KCCA said they want a court because they have these specialised claims of enforcement of by-laws. So we put a magistrate there. But, now the Lord Mayor is no longer interested, he wants us to take away our magistrate,” Justice Katureebe said, adding “…these are inevitable problems, we shall put measures in place and where problems come up, we shall deal with them.”