July 18, 2013

ALARMING! Court Officials Resort To Extortion Amidst Financial Pinch

The prevailing financial crisis in the judiciary has forced some of officials in Masaka Chief Magistrate’s court to resort to extortion for survival.

Masaka Chief Magistrate’s court has not received operations funds since May this year. Red Pepper Online has also learnt that some court officials have not received their salaries since May, which has seriously affected their morale.

Complainants stranded at Masaka High Court
Complainants stranded at Masaka High Court

A highly placed court official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media says as a result of lack of funds, they are finding it difficult to buy stationery such as books, pens and note books, which are vital in their operations.

The court official also said they are unable to carry out on spot visit to inspect disputed pieces of land, because they have no fuel.

As a result of lack of operational funds, several court officials have decided to stay way, which has affected the court operations.

On Wednesday our reporter found dozens of people seeking justice stuck outside Masaka Chief Magistrate’s court because of lack of judicial officers to attend to them. Apart from Hood Matovu, the Grade One Magistrate and G. Obephen, the Masaka High Court Registrar and a handful of support staff, several court officials including the Chief Magistrate were not available.

Justine Nantaayi is one the people who was stuck at the court after the murder case involving her husband David Zziwa failed to kick off. Nantaayi explained that her husband was arrested on June 5th this year for his alleged involvement in mob justice but she has since failed to secure his release on court bond. She claims that she was asked to pay 50,000 shillings to the office of the court clerk to have her case proceed but nothing has happened.

Nantaayi, a resident of Bukakata about 40kms East of Masaka says she is now tired of travelling back and forth, because she can’t afford to transport sureties to court. Margie Kayondo, another resident told Uganda Radio Network that she paid about 60,000 shillings to the court clerks to have her case of child negligence fixed.

She claims that she gave out the an unreceipted money to court clerks purportedly for lunch. Kayondo says she has now reported the matter to Mary Ikit, the Masaka Chief Magistrate after learning that it was an act of extortion.

Some of court clerks at Masaka High Court declined to respond to these allegations saying they are not authorized to speak to the media. Sande Mutesasira, a politician who is accused of dragging a decomposing dog carcass to the office of former Masaka Town Clerk Johnson Baryantuma and threatening violence says he will never go back to court.

Mutesasira claims that he has made several trips to the court only to be turned away because of the absence of the magistrate. He says the government failure to pay judicial officers in time has exposed them to corruption.

Hajji Haruna Numba, the NRM Masaka district Mobilizer, whose land case has dragged on for two years says that every time he goes to court, the magistrate tells him she cannot travel to Rakai to inspect the disputed land because of lack of fuel. He asks government to release sufficient funds to the judiciary before judicial officers also resort to strikes. G.Obephen, the Masaka High Court Registrar declined to speak about the matter.

He said on Wednesday that although other workers had not received their salaries, he had personally received his. Erias Kisawuzi, the Judiciary spokesperson who recently dismissed revelations by his deputy that the judiciary was broke, was in a meeting by the time of filing this report.

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