I’ve been thinking about the issue of districts again and how the standard justification for their creation is to bring services closer to the people. But I think it has become a convenient answer to what is really a politically motivated (not necessarily service oriented) move. Who says that creation a district is THE ONLY way through which Ugandans can access services. Have our leaders bothered to think about what else or how else services can actually get to the people? Scores of studies have been done about the paucity of services across Uganda across all sectors, but like a crammed answer, whenever the question of how to improve access to services is raised, the first thing politicians think about is creating a district.
Let me give an example from the Justice sector, which I am more familiar with. Every year the judiciary suffers case backlog, i.e. the number of pending cases in our courts of law has reached staggering proportions. But as the cases increase, the number of judicial officers does not. There is a huge human resource gap in the judiciary. There are not enough judges and magistrates to handle the volume of cases. And each year the Judiciary makes this case to Parliament – the need to fill all the positions in the judiciary and even the need to innovate new ways of increasing the human resource. One such suggestion is to have senior lawyers act as judicial officers for a short period of time – say six months, in order to help reduce the case backlog. But does Government listen? No. It took the President 3 years to appoint a new Chief Justice and an even longer period to finally fully constitute the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court bench. This was despite the number of letters and appeals to the President to appoint the required number of judicial officers at the higher bench, so that cases could be heard. Creating districts cannot solve the issue of case backlog in the judiciary. It takes an understanding of the reasons behind the constant delays in administration of justice in order to craft the right solution.
Addressing case back log takes supporting and improving expeditious forms of dispute settlement including alternative dispute resolution – a mechanism that doesn’t require one to resort to adversarial processes and instead promotes mediation. It will require supporting the roll out of plea bargaining which would allow those whose crimes are not of a capital nature, the ability to plead guilty (if indeed they are), and negotiate for a lighter sentence.
Improving administration of justice requires improving the capacity of police to investigate crime. It requires the right equipment to investigate crime, it requires a properly skilled and trained and motivated police force to improve the investigation of crime, in order to address delays in administration of justice. Right now, the police is more equipped to quell demonstrations than it is to solve and resolved crime.
Addressing case backlog requires improving the prisons services. Currently, the prisons in Uganda are stretched beyond capacity point and they lack the basics in terms of accommodation, food and even transport for prisoners. In many instances, even when court is sitting to hear cases, the delay will be caused because the prison does not have transport to deliver suspects to court. If you have been in some of the remote places up country, you will see prisoners walking for several miles to get to the courts. In some instances, judges have been able to hold sittings at the prison premises in oder to deal with the challenge of lack of transportation in prisons.
There are a whole host of other remedies one could craft. It takes the political leaders sitting down with those in the Justice, Law and Order sector, to listen to their ideas about how to improve access to justice and how to ensure that this service is accessed by as many and brought as close to as many Ugandans as need the service. Creation of more districts would definitely not be the right solution to the problem of access to justice.
Generating the right solutions takes leadership. It takes the kind of leaders that take time to understand the problem. It takes the kind of leaders that will not craft one solution to the multifaceted problem of service delivery deficits. It takes the kind of leaders who understand the box and who understand that “the significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”.