Residents, State Attorney Clash Over Case

2831 Views Lwengo, Uganda

In short
The two officials were dragged to court by residents in March this year for allegedly withholding public information concerning the price of water and destruction their houses in the town council.

Angry residents of Lwengo Town Council have clashed with Masaka Senior Resident Attorney accusing him of blocking the private prosecution of two officials accused of withholding public information and destroying their houses. The officials are Janat Nabaterega, the Lwengo Town Clerk and Town Council chairperson Hajj Nasir Mutazibwa.
The two officials were dragged to court by residents in March this year for allegedly withholding public information concerning the price of water and destroying their houses in the town council.  The residents argue that although the Water and Environment Ministry set the cost for a unit of water at 2200 Shillings, the Town Council charges between 2500 and 2900 Shillings. A unit of water has 800 liters, an equivalent of 50 Jerry cans of 20 liters.

They evoked their right under Article 41 of the Constitution of Uganda to compel the officials to release information on the cost of water. It states that "Every citizen has a right to access to information in the possession of the state or any other organ or agency of the state except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the state or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person.

However, their plea to the officials to release the information did not yield results prompting them to take legal action. However, on Wednesday, Mariam Nabukeera, the Masaka Grade One Magistrate stopped prosecuting the two officials saying the Senior Masaka Resident State Attorney David Baxter Bakibinga had asked to take over the matter.

She said the State attorney had invoked section 43 of Magistrate Act to take over the matter. Section 43 [1] states that "Where criminal proceedings have been instituted by a person other than a public prosecutor or a police officer under section 42, the Director of Public Prosecutions may take over and continue the conduct of those proceedings at any stage before the conclusion of the proceedings.

In his May 27th letter, Bakibinga noted that the two officials were being prosecuted illegally.  As a result, Nabukeera withdrew earlier summons issued by the court for the suspects to appear to allow the state to the over the matter.

The decision by the magistrate to stop the trial didn't go down well with the petitioners. They stormed out of the Court room and raided the offices of the Resident State Attorney to express their dissatisfaction.
Led by Bruce Tushabe Nzabanita, the President Volunteer Uganda Extra Anti-Corruption and Human Rights, the resident confronted Bakibinga in his office accusing him of being corrupt.
Nzabanita told Bakibinga to his face that he wasn't happy with the way he manages criminal cases saying he will not allow him to take over the matter. A verbal exchange ensued between Bakibinga and Nzabanita forcing the state attorney to kick out the activists from his office.

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Revearnd Walter Kawuma, one of the aggrieved residents says he is not happy with the decision by the state to take over their matter. He says they opted for private prosecution because Police doesn't complete investigations.
Reverend Kawuma says he paid three million Shillings to Lwengo town council to allow him construct a business house in the town in vain. According to Kawuma, he reported the matter to Police but it was never investigated. He now wants Mike Chibita, the Director of Public Prosecution to shake up Masaka region and deploy new officers. 

Aisha Nabunya, another resident wonders why the state has decided to take over the matter at this time. Nabunya says they have been grappling with the problem for a very long time and no one seemed interested.

The residents have resolved to gather signatures and petition the DPP and Chief Justice over this matter.  David Bakibinga, the embattled Senior Resident State Attorney accuses the aggrieved residents of being myopic.
Bakibinga says he decided to take over the matter to conduct thorough investigations before the officers are prosecuted. He denied accusations by residents that he was bribed to take over the matter saying he decided to intervene because of public interests. He says he has asked Police Officers in the regional office to investigate the matter.


About the author

Edward Bindhe
Bindhe prides himself on being a part of the society he writes about. He believes there is no way a journalist can understand his society unless it considers him a part of it. This is why he is dedicated to investigating the challenges of the "little person."

Bindhe says, "My work reflects the Uganda Radio Network unique approach to news." Not many Ugandan journalists would consider or even notice the re-emergence of Water Hyacinth on a lake. Bindhe does.

Truant children will attract Bindhe's attention until he gets to the bottom of their truancy: poverty and the need to work to earn bread for their families. These are the kinds of stories Bindhe is often after.

Edward Bindhe is the Masaka URN bureau chief. Rakai, Lwengo, Lyantonde, Kalangala, Mpigi, Kalungu, Bukomansimbi and Sembabule districts fall under his docket. He has been a URN staff member since 2009.

A Mass Communication graduate from Uganda Christian University, Bindhe started practising journalism in 2008 as a reporter for Radio Buddu in Masaka district.