DPP Butera claims under him, there is no selective prosecution.
Posted Sunday, May 27 2012 at 00:00
A senior judge who has since retired is popularly quoted for having complained that he was tired of trying mukene - small fish - yet tilapias continued enjoying the deep water. He was referring to the small time suspects in corruption-related scandals while the high-ranking suspects were left untouched. But in this interview, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Richard Butera, tells Sheila Naturinda that his work is about prosecuting offenders without looking at their political or social status. Excerpts below:-
The DPP has been accused of carrying out selective prosecution by members of the civil society and politicians. Do you select those you prosecute?
I have heard of the general allegations but I wish they specified to cases where we have had people committing offences but we select who to prosecute and who not to. What I know is that in every case, the case will have been reported to police or LC, investigated, file brought to us and if there is evidence we prosecute whoever the suspect is.
Whoever has been, therefore, identified to have committed an offence will answer it irrespective of what he is; whether he is a politician, in NRM or in opposition. We have done that and we shall continue to do so. If anybody is on a charge in any court, and happens to be a politician of any sort, he should address the charge he is facing but not his politics because we don’t consider it when we are charging anybody.
At what point do you lose interest in a case already before court? Could you explain why there are delays in some cases yet others are quickly taken to court?
A case will have been investigated by police, a file brought to us and when we find we have evidence, we proceed to charge the person. But in the process, as we wait for trial, the complainant or witness may die which means the evidence we banked on is no more. In other cases, the complainant isn’t traceable, and we can’t prove a case unless the complainant is around.
In such cases the word we use is losing interest but we usually have all reasons recorded on the files. We may as well be in a situation where you proceed with a case and at a certain stage you find the complainant isn’t interested in proceeding, we also withdraw the case.
Let us understand that the DPP works with other investigators like police. The cases we prosecute are investigated by the police, we greatly depend on them for the evidence we get.
If the case is properly investigated and concluded in time, it will be heard quickly but if police, for various reasons, doesn’t conclude an investigation in time, as DPP we don’t proceed because investigating isn’t one of our functions.
We also depend on courts to have these cases disposed of. If you have one Magistrate at a station, the DPP can’t move any faster than the schedule of the Magistrate. The delays are there, but they should be shared by the institutions that have various problems for which they can’t proceed in time.
What happened to the Kayunga Buganda riot suspects? Why did you lose the case two years after the suspects were taken to jail?
The riots were there, police investigated and established the injuries and damages, there were eye witnesses who identified the suspects, they wrote their statements and police brought everything here.
We assessed evidence on the files and we were confident that we had a case against the suspects that we took to court. We committed the cases to High Court for trial in four months which signifies that DPP was ready for hearing.
Court didn’t fix the hearings until the period that you know of two years when we started trial. We adduced the evidence we had, some of the witnesses though declined to appear and testify and confirm the information they had given police. They claimed intimidation and fear for their lives.
They said they were threatened by people outside jail and we couldn’t have them, although there are a few who came to testify and the case ended up the way it did but certainly DPP isn’t responsible for the delay and not responsible for witnesses’ disappearance.
The case wasn’t a frame-up as some people have alleged - we didn’t frame the fact that Natete Police Station was burnt, properties destroyed people injured, and the fact that buses were burnt on the highway isn’t a frame-up by anybody and against anybody. I don’t know why anybody would say the case was political; what is political about a burnt bus and a police station torched and damaged. What politics is there? I don’t think the attackers were politicians and I don’t think the victims were politicians either. So what politics is this? It’s sheer simple crime and not politics.
There are allegations that your state attorneys connive with police investigators to defeat cases, have you heard of this? What are you doing about it?
Let us be specific to a case and we shall surely get those officers, their work stations and the cases they have frustrated. It’s a serious allegation and if we got such information we could handle them as criminals themselves. We have complaint boxes and whoever has a complaint to raise should forward the names.
Police say you have the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) file indicting former Information minister Kabakumba Masiko and others over the UBC equipment. Why haven’t you prosecuted her? How far have you gone?
Yes we have had some files on UBC and we have charged the Managing Director, board chairman and their legal officer. The trio is facing abuse of office, embezzlement and causing financial loss.
The public should understand that the investigation of a case needs time, investigators need time to gather evidence so as not to make mistakes because that prejudices our cases and I would rather we take time than hurry up to attend to excitements, the public can be patience and wait for the outcome and it will be there soon.
Cases should also be treated differently because circumstances are different in all cases, if you are investigating a corruption case or fraudulent transactions; it takes time because these actions were done discreetly.
It is different from a case of a fight in a bar in broad-day light and somebody who is in confrontation with the police on a public highway in daylight. When we delay a case we get complaints, when we are fast we get complaints, what do the people want us to do? If both ways have complaints, how do we act? I think the way to act is to get your evidence and proceed. If someone has committed murder in a village it might be useful that you take that person to court quickly otherwise mob justice may follow. Different circumstances require different handling and different times in acting.
Those UBC files are here and we are studying them for a decision on the way forward and we shall act very soon.
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Most recently you advised police that charges against George Agaba (KCCA) weren’t sustainable. Your action was criticised by the Uganda Law Society which said they would prosecute him if you chickened out. Why?
We advised the police to carry out further investigations because they didn’t have enough evidence into that case and that’s our function. Those who criticised me were a group of lawyers but not the Law Society and I think that’s possible in almost all cases, so it wasn’t surprising. Police did return the file and we charged Mr Agaba.
You formed a fraud unit for Global Fund and your convictions hit a record in 2010 but Justice John Bosco Katutsi once said he was tired of seeing small fish being prosecuted while the big ones were left swimming. Why do you remain catching small fish?
Global Fund was like other cases because it had suspects and those found with enough evidence have been charged. We had a success rate of 90 per cent, but against those we haven’t any evidence, its professional and correct not to charge them. A few of the cases are still under investigation.
We don’t choose the fish we catch, the nets we have are strong and tight, whether big or small whatever is caught is handled accordingly. The judge handled a number of cases and whatever he handled, he knows whatever size of fish he classified them to be.
We don’t target people and we are not going to start now but we shall keep handling suspects for the crimes they have committed not for the type of size they are. We are not on a hunt for fish sizes but on a hunt for offenders.
Apart from the funding disease in government institutions, what other challenges do you face?
All the challenges we have relate to funding. State attorneys aren’t paid remuneration which is commensurate to their work because departure of my officers is alarming.
Another challenge is public awareness and public participation in the fight against crime because I expect the public to play a role in reporting all types of offences. We are public prosecutors and we need public support; we can’t manufacture witnesses but need them from the public.
What successes have you registered since you took this office?
Our core function is prosecution of cases and what we consider as success is that we have reduced both the disposal rate and the conviction rate of criminal cases. We have figures in respect to capital offences and we have reduced greatly the number of remand prisoners compared to the convicts. The rate used to be over 50 per cent but today it is in the reverse.
The period spent on remand used to be two to four years but currently it has been pushed to 15 months and below. It shows we have worked hard on protection of human rights for suspects, speedy trials and expeditious disposal of cases.
In respect to the conviction rate we used to have it at 35 per cent but we have pushed it to over 52 per cent in the majority of cases and we are aiming at 70 per cent especially in cases of corruption since we have the Anti-Corruption Court handling them. The DPP has also expanded; we now have 90 stations outside Kampala from the original 16 and we have moved from 22 lawyers to 200 lawyers with 150 state prosecutors.
Would you say your office is independent and no one interferes with your work whatsoever?
We work independently in accordance with the law; Article 120 of the Constitution - we do our work professionally, take decisions and implement them.
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