Nandutu, Kitutu, and Lugoloobi, have you noticed the need for Bail?

By Denis Mugonza Waggumbulizi | Advocate, Researcher & Entrepreneur #WhisperEyeNed

In December 2021 Parliament passed a supplementary budget worth Shs 39 billion to support various programs in Karamoja. Of this, Shs 22 billion was allocated to purchase goats while Shs 5 billion was for the procurement of 100,000 pieces of iron sheets. Last month, CID stated that they were investigating 22 Ministers, 31 MPs, and 13 Chief Administrative Officers.

The spokesperson of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jacquelyn Okui has since stated that files of those implicated will be coming in peace meals as and when they are forwarded by the police which is investigating the matter.

While President Museveni on April 3 wrote to Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja (who is also accused) saying those who were involved in the iron sheets scandal made a political mistake, promising to take political action. Mr. Museveni also advised those who irregularly received the iron sheets to return them.

Karamoja Affairs Minister, Mary Gorreti Kitutu was the first to be arrested and spent two days in police custody before she was produced in the Anti-Corruption Court on April 6 alongside her brother, Michael Naboya Kitutu on six charges related to causing loss of property and conspiracy to defraud the Government. Last week on Friday, Kitutu and her brother Naboya were granted bail by court and will return on April 27 for the prosecution to inform the court about the status of investigations. Kitutu and Naboya had earlier pleaded for bail which was not granted. They each spent eight days in Luzira prison on remand. 

The State Minister for Finance and Planning, Amos Lugoloobi who allegedly decided to use the diverted iron sheets to roof his cow shed was arrested last week on Friday night. Lugoloobi became the second Minister to be arrested over the Karamoja iron sheets scandal where more than 14,500 pieces of iron sheets under the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program were diverted to ineligible third parties including cabinet ministers, government officials, and ministers. Lugoloobi was aligned in court and charged with two counts related to dealing with stolen property. At first, his lawyers’ attempt to secure him a bail fell on deaf ears. Lugoloobi was remanded to Luzira Prison until April 20, and when he was produced in court again, the court granted Lugoloobi bail which left him and his supporters dancing and jubilating. Earlier on, his supporters and lawyers had blamed the court for not granting Lugoloobi bail yet it is his constitutional right. Uhm!

This week on Tuesday, the Karamoja State Affairs Minister, Agnes Nandutu showed up at the CID headquarters in Kibuli to record a statement and was arrested over the Karamoja iron sheets scandal. Nandutu becomes the third Minister to be arrested over the diversion of iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja. On Wednesday this week, Nandutu was arraigned before the Anti-Corruption Court and was charged and committed to High Court for trial on charges of dealing with suspect property contrary to section 21A (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009. Nandutu was remanded to Luzira Prison until May 3, 2023.

Late last year, while meeting the judges, President Museveni again drummed up his decade-long wish to scrap bail for suspects especially those facing capital offenses, a push that kicked up a huge debate among lawyers, civil society, and academia. Mr. Museveni reasoned that the release of suspects by courts passes for a provocation of victims and their families and that it has since led to increased mob action against the suspects. To that effect, Cabinet had by the close of last year, endorsed criminal justice reforms, among them amendments to the 1995 Constitution and the Police Act, to deny suspects on capital offenses bail or police bond.

Cabinet sources said the targeted crimes for which bail won’t be given in the new amendments once passed by Parliament; include charges of murder, rape, robbery, and treason. Some of the proposed bail amendments that government wants to cause include the amendment of Article 23 (6) (b) of the Constitution to provide that any person accused of committing an offense tried by both the High Court and subordinate courts, shall not be granted bail until after 180 days or trial commencement, or when the DPP discontinues proceedings, whichever comes earlier. The other key amendment is Article 23 (4) (b) and Section 25 of the Police Act, both of which require a suspect to be released on police bond if not charged in court within 48 hours, to qualify the period as “forty-eight business hours” as working hours excluding weekends.

It is very unfortunate that all this is being proposed by Mr. Museveni at the watch of his ministers like Lugoloobi, Kitutu, Nandutu, and colleagues without anyone challenging him. No one is above the law. It is always a matter of time.

During his tenure of office as Prime minister, Amama Mbabazi is on record to have supported the Public Order Management Act, 2013 but immediately he fell out with his boss, President Museveni, and contested for Presidency, Amama Mbabazi was a victim of the POMA which up to now the Act has limited political space and public gathering for both opposition political parties and civil societies.

African leaders but in this case in Uganda ought not to pass laws for self-interests but for public interest considering life after authority or power. Let me hope that Lugoloobi, Kitutu, Nandutu, and colleagues have noticed the need for bail. The right to bail is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 23 (6) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Its basis is found in Article 28 of the same Constitution which states that an accused person is to be presumed innocent until he or she is proven or pleads guilty. Whoever is against bail says so because there are not in detention or in prison.

Without political interference from the Executive arm of government, there should be Constitutional Bail Guidelines for Courts of Judicature Practice Direction, to put in place guidelines informed by the law as it is now on bail from the Constitution, Trial on Indictment Act, Magistrates Court Act, and then decided cases of courts of judicature. By putting them together, the judicial officer before whom bail applications come, does not act on his or her own whims but is guided by the rules, taking care of the interests of all parties, the accused person, the victims, and the public so that when a decision is made, is not unreasonable.

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