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AN HOUR WITH PIUS BIGIRIMANA: INSIDE JUDICIARY PS’ PLAN TO TRANSFORM JUDICIARY IN TWO YEARS

By Mulengera Reporter

Our meeting was scheduled for 11am. But seasoned public servant Pius Bigirimana was in office earlier than that, attending to other matters. Once in a while, Solomon Muyita, the Judiciary’s Spokesperson, walked into Bigirimana’s office to give him an update on how many reporters had arrived and how soon the presser would start.

Judiciary Permanent Secretary and Accounting Officer Pius Bigirimana addresses reporters in his office in Kampala on Wednesday. All Photos by Danielle Mwagale

Minutes later, after more reporters and camera people had gathered on the seats outside the office of Bigirimana’s secretary, Muyita informed us it was time to start the press conference.

Inside his surprisingly modest office at the High Court in Kampala, Bigirimana sits perusing through some documents, occasionally glancing at UBC TV, the only station that the television set is lucky to show for the one hour we talk to one of the most powerful Permanent Secretaries in the land.

After working as Permanent Secretary (PS) under the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) – with former powerful Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, Bigirimana was later transferred to the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD) in the same capacity.

This being his first such interview in his office as PS of the Judiciary, Bigirimana insists we must all introduce ourselves since he is able to recognize only about two faces. He lists all our names, asking for clarity on some.

With cameras set, pens ready, and reporters seated before him, it is time for him to address the press people.

But before he can address us on the ongoing special land case sessions, construction works at the High Court, his role in the Judicial arm of government and the progress of the Electronic Court Case Management Information System (ECMIS), the TV set has to be switched off so that all of us can focus.

“When we look at each other, we communicate better,” he says, then delves into the meat of the matters at hand.

THE TRINITY OF BIGIRIMANA’S ROLE

Bigirimana is the PS of the third arm of government, its Accounting Officer and Secretary. He reminds us one can be an accounting officer without being a PS, and a PS without being an accounting officer.

He looks at his appointment to these three roles as an honor.

“Who am I to be a Permanent Secretary! It is a privilege. I must, therefore, deliver the services despite the challenges,” he says.

Comparing his job to that of a hospital administrator, Bigirimana explains that his duty is to support judicial officers to do their work.

Asked about a gang up by Uganda Judicial Officers Association (UJOA) regarding his three titles and the argument that the judicial arm should not have a PS since it isn’t a ministry, Bigirimana says: “These are not disputed titles; I have appointment letters for these jobs.” He adds that he has since made peace with UJOA.

“It was a problem of conceptual clarity. UJOA has come to understand this, and there is no dispute now. I have no problem with them. I support their issues [such as those concerning welfare]. It was really a problem of understanding each other’s mandate,” says the PS.

INDEPENDENT BUT NOT SEPARATE

Whereas Bigirimana is hopeful a bill on the work of the Judiciary, that is currently in Parliament, will help make the arm of government he works for more independent, he doesn’t want people to confuse separation with independence.

“The arms of government are independent to the extent that they make decisions without interference and influence but they are not separate,” he says.

“This independence doesn’t mean that they should operate as if the left eye doesn’t see what the right one is seeing.”

DIGITAL TRACKING SYSTEM

Bigirimana touts the ECMIS system as revolutionary in the running of court systems, explaining that it will be applied in court processes, including filing of cases, adjudication and disposal.

“It will be one the gamechangers here,” he says, adding that “soon, we will have cases filed online.”

By minimizing person-to-person interaction, further explains Bigirimana, the system will “reduce corruption cases where some officials ask for ‘a stone so the papers don’t fly away’.”

He is also optimistic the system will create job opportunities for some tech-savvy youths.

“Our young people can open up kiosks wherever they are to help people file cases online, the way you see someone go to a Mobile Money kiosk,” says Bigirimana.

So far, government has paid Shs9.2bn to the contractor who will work on the system, whose development will be complete by April 2020, before it can be tested in August, and the training of the Judiciary staff conducted in September and October.

In November 2020, further reveals Bigirimana, the system will be piloted in 19 courts in the districts of Kampala, Mukono and Jinja, before it can be rolled out in over 700 courts in the next two years.

The motivation behind the system, further elucidates the PS, is the search for an Integrated Justice System linking the work of the Police (Investigation) with that of the Directorate of Public Prosecution, that of Courts (adjudication) and Prisons (rehabilitation).

“We want Ugandans to get justice quickly, easily and in a harmonized manner,” he says.

In the future, he further reveals, the tracking system will help facilitate “automatic assignment of judges.”

WORKS AT HIGH COURT

Pointing outside, where the High Court Premises have been cordoned off with iron sheets, Bigirimana expresses joy that the buildings to be constructed near the court will be ready to house the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in just two years.

“The temple of justice will be here, three in one,” he says.

On the process of construction, Bigirimana says the Shs63.9bn project was advertised in early September 2019, a contract awarded in November, groundbreaking done a month later while excavation works will start at the end of February.

Once complete, the two stories, each comprising nine floors, will house courts and chambers for judges.

The project will also save government over Shs7.5bn in rent once the judiciary starts using the buildings instead of renting.

He adds that the judges will work in a conducive environment as opposed to where some courts are housed in commercial buildings where judges can easily be harmed.

“You find [suspects] entering court with the judge in a manner in which they can easily find an opportunity to punch the judge,” he observes, adding that government is in the process of constructing more courts the country over.

Chief Justice is set to open such temples of justice in Sembabule, Rubirizi and Sheema districts soon.

LAND CASE SESSIONS

Bigirimana also explains the criteria followed in the choice of land cases to be expressly heard in the special sessions that started on Monday.

With World Bank funding of at least Shs300m, which the PS says was a “push” to the Judiciary to expedite the cases, the courts will choose cases based on the first-come-first-serve formula, as well as the gravity of the land dispute, measured by factors like effect on government project such as roads, schools, hospitals and business investments.

“Land cases have a lot of economic implications for the country. We want to get the backlog of land cases out of the way so that we can allow investments,” says Bigirimana.

At least 200 cases will be handled in 40 days, before the Judiciary can embark on another 400 cases in May, thanks to World Bank’s support worth Shs500m for that work.

With these and more strategies, Bigirimana hopes he, working together with other members of the Judiciary, will transform the arm of government, with achievements visible in a space of two years. And that some of that work continues after this press meeting. In fact, this presser is cut short so the PS can attend meetings and deliberate on issues aimed at taking the Judiciary forward.

(For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 or email us at mulengera2040@gmail.com).

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