By Harriet Anena
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Mike Chibita, has expressed displeasure at the media’s lack of knowledge about simple legal matters. He is particularly irked by their failure to understand and explain the different roles played by his office and that of the Attorney General.
Speaking at the monthly talk at the African Centre for Media Excellence on Wednesday 19 November 2014, Mr Chibita said when Members of Parliament recently accused the Directorate of persecuting opposition politicians through lengthy court proceedings, journalists should have clarified the issue in their reporting. He cited the example of the ongoing case against embattled former Kampala Mayor, Erias Lukwago.
“…the Lukwago against Attorney General case is a civil matter under the Attorney General’s chambers. DPP has nothing at all to do with civil matters. So I realised that not just the MPs but the press did not know the difference between the Attorney General and the DPP,” Mr Chibita said.
Mr Lukwago was impeached as Lord Mayor by Kampala Capital City Authority councilors on 25 November, 2013. It was the result of a tribunal that found him guilty of misconduct, abuse of office and incompetence. He has since then been in court, seeking his reinstatement.
Chibita added: “…I was disappointed because I thought journalists who are informing the public should know some basic things. You don’t need to go to law school to know the difference between the DPP and the Attorney General.”
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is responsible for handling and prosecuting all criminal cases in the country. Civil cases involving government are instituted by the Attorney General and handled by the Directorate of Civil Litigation in the Ministry of Justice.
Since his appointment a year ago, Mr Chibita said, the DPP had not prosecuted a criminal case against any opposition politician.
“…there are some cases pending against Lukwago and [Kizza] Besigye which we withdrew, but of course nobody reported this.”
During the talk Mr Chibita was tasked to explain allegations of political interference in the office of the DPP since he, as Director, is a presidential appointee.
“I have been asked the question of political interference a zillion times and every time I tell people that I have not suffered any political interference…but I think the public believes that there must be political interference, now what can I do?…in fact the last person who asked me, I said in fact I’m suffering more judicial interference than anything else,” he explained.
Mr Chibita also responded to an article in the Red Pepper newspaper that former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s lawyers wrote to his office inquiring about claims that their client was being investigated by the DPP.
“ I actually responded to that letter and I have been waiting for any journalist who was following up to say, Ok, DPP responded and this is his response and I have seen a response from the Director CID to the same letter, [but] the media has been quiet,” he said.
Mr Chibita added: “So now, what is this double standard about? When the letter comes to us, you put us under pressure, when we for us we respond, you don’t even cover…”
The DPP took time to explain commonly misunderstood legal processes like the withdrawal of cases. In some sections of the Ugandan media the decision of the DPP to withdraw a case is often interpreted as a failure of the Directorate.
“Withdrawal of cases is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the job of DPP. When you withdraw a case, most people take it that the DPP has lost interest or of course the most common thing is [that]…something has changed hands or political influence or something…” he said.
The DPP has the prosecutorial discretion and right to withdraw cases. Examples for reasons for withdraw include the strength of evidence in a case, unusually long delays in prosecution and public interest considerations.
“Withdrawal actually is very strategic tool given to the Director of Public Prosecutions,” Chibita explained.
“The most common reason we withdraw matters is there are no witnesses. If there are no witnesses and you take a matter to court, court is going to dismiss it and once a matter is dismissed, it is buried, almost.”
During his year in office, Mr Chibita said the Directorate has achieved a number of successes. Among them are the opening of regional offices, a lengthy familiarization tour of the country to study the work of DPP staff and the acquisition of a case file management software to track cases.
Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer
email@example.com Twitter: @ahpetite