Judicial corruption undermines the fabric of any modern society. If the police routinely take bribes and court officials are for sale to the highest bidder, then justice is put beyond the reach of ordinary people and it becomes impossible to trust the law.
But as this episode of Africa Investigates reveals, that is exactly what is happening in Uganda. Local journalist Emmanuel Mutaizibwa goes in search of bent cops and crooked lawyers. His film – much of which was filmed undercover in and around one court on the outskirts of the capital Kampala – reveals that corruption in the judiciary is disturbingly commonplace.
By Emmanuel Mutaizibwa
Out of 174 countries on the Global Corruption Perception Index, Uganda stands at 140th.
Corruption pervades every pocket of our society. From the top echelons of business and politics to the everyday grassroots, graft (the unscrupulous use of authority for personal gain) has become my country’s Achilles Heel.
We are used to corruption making the headlines; over decades, scams have included the procurement of faulty military hardware to the fictitious sale of the largest government-owned commercial bank, and there is a litany of scandals smeared with the fingerprints of those at the top. Then there is the everyday corruption that never even makes the news, because it has just become part of everyday life: nearly every public service is tainted.
And things are getting worse. Uganda slipped down two places from last year in the Global Corruption Perception Index. Many people feel there is no way that this endemic malice can be reigned in. We have a number of institutions to fight graft, policies and laws in place, yet corrupt practices are on the increase; hospitals have no medicine, the roads are ailing and primary school students study under trees.
For me, a milestone in this descent has been a growing concern that corruption has crept into our judiciary. In the past, courts were free of it. But as the malaise continues to afflict our country, graft has now permeated the hallowed grounds of the court, an institution that has a direct effect on all aspects of life and is mandated to uphold justice.
In this film, we follow the shadowy trail of corruption through the murky window of one court. We trace a chain of corruption that begins from the police who receive a crime’s initial report, right up to the magistrates who preside over the verdict.
We uncover a court system more akin to a market place where justice (or rather injustice) is on sale, with the higher bidders standing a better chance of sealing buys. When we go undercover with the help of litigants and a team of journalists, we discover that this crime is perpetrated by a cobweb of police and judicial officers, all out for profit in the guise of justice.
Magistrate’s courts are the first recourse for justice for the majority of Ugandans; in just one court dozens of litigants can be seen over the course of one day. But now anti-corruption activists are describe these buildings as a cash cows. Some people are forced to pay for justice others are given sham, financially influenced verdicts. Everyone’s faith in the judicial system is being undermined.
It is a travesty that while the poor seek for justice, they are asked to pay for it.
Yet even in this state of hopelessness, as we see in this film, ordinary working class people are standing up for themselves, people seen as uneducated are learning about the law and their rights and are fighting to take corrupt officials head on. Will they triumph against the mighty?
Only time will tell – but maybe this film will help.