Stretched by the continuing public prosecutors sit-down strike, government is seriously weighing the option of hiring lawyers who have just completed their bar course at the Law Development Centre (LDC) to stand-in.
The strike – now into its second month - has paralysed the court system and complicated police work. Criminal matters can only proceed with the participation of a state attorney.
Knowledgeable sources told The Observer that if the prosecutors stick to their industrial action over a pay dispute, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions could look outwards.
Possible replacements could be sourced from either LDC or private law firms, sources suggest. But Mike Chibita, the director of Public Prosecutions, denied knowledge of such plans – which could cost more given the top fees charged in private practice and the potential litigation for wrongful dismissal.
“I’m not privileged to that information,” he said over the weekend.
One lawyer who declined to be named but wrote his LDC bar course exams this year said he was approached by a government official recently with a prosecutorial job offer. If government decides to look outwards for a solution, it would not be the first time in Uganda’s history.
In 1972, following the expulsion of Asians by then President Idi Amin, the government moved to get new prosecutors from law- teaching institutions like LDC. Many public prosecutors then had been Asian.
The president of the Uganda Association of Prosecutors (UAP) on Saturday said the association will wait and see what happens.
“I don’t know which procedure they are using,” David Bakibinga said. “We know they have to place adverts because even us, we went through the same process. I’m yet to see the adverts,” he said.
Bakibinga insisted that they are still negotiating with the government for better welfare.
“There are all sorts of people saying things but we are not going to be intimidated. We are still in talks with the government,” “Bakibinga said.
Reports about possible recruitment of new prosecutors follow a stern warning by Muruli Mukasa, the minister of public service, issued to striking public servants.
Mukasa on October 13 said at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala that any civil servant who refuses to work over poor pay, or absconds from duty, would incur the wrath of government.
The minister said although it is not in the interest of government to sack any civil servant, it would invoke provisions of the public service standing orders to deal with employees who stay away.
Mukasa so angered the prosecutors who, through their association, UAP, demanded a clarification of the legal position in regard to industrial action.
In an October 16 statement, UAP said an employee taking industrial action cannot be deemed to be away from work without lawful excuse.
The prosecutors said government was notified hence they are not absent, but on strike. Under the Public Service Standing Orders 2010, industrial action is not envisaged as one of the grounds for sacking.
The association pointed out that industrial action is a constitutional right protected under Article 40 of the constitution.
“We call upon all members of UAP to remain calm as we are fully fortified in the knowledge that our industrial action is lawful and our cause is justified as already conceded by the government,” the statement partly read.
“Our industrial action is still on until further notice.”
After their 90-day ultimatum to government to address their grievances lapsed, UAP resumed their strike in October. The public defenders are demanding that the minimum salary of lower-ranking officials be raised to Shs 9 million.
Presently, the lowest-paid state prosecutor earns a gross salary of just Shs 645,000. Government committed to increase salaries of state prosecutors days after they laid down their tools in July.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Major General Kahinda Otafiire promised the increment within three months through a supplementary budget.
The pledge was not fulfilled, triggering fresh industrial action. Weeks ago, the minister said there’s no money to increase pay.
Work at the courts is so badly affected that the DPP has recently been personally handing over documents to magistrates to process suspects.
On October 24, Chibita handed over committal papers to Nakawa grade one magistrate Noah Sajjabi so that eight people accused of murdering former police spokesperson AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi are committed to the High court for trial.