The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Prisons On the Spot Over Prisoners' Labour

Officials from the Uganda Prisons Service last week had a difficult time explaining to MPs how prisoners were being committed to casual labour outside prison farms.

The officials were before Parliament's Public Accounts committee (PAC), chaired by Terego MP Kassiano Wadri, to respond to queries in the auditor general's 2010/2011 report.

"We all know that prisoners work outside prisons' farms; so, can you tell us how much money goes to the prisoners out of their labour?" asked Bufumbira East MP Eddie Kwizera, who was the committee's lead counsel.

In response, Uganda Prisons Accounting Officer Simon Kimono said: "The commissioner general gave an administrative instruction to all OCs that they should record all the earnings out of the prisoners' services, and that was affected. So, the money which they earn is given to them so that they can help themselves to buy the basics in life such as soap, sugar, toilet papers which we don't give them."

But some MPs were not convinced.

"These prisoners don't earn anything out of their labour services, don't deceive us, you people" said Mbale Municipality MP Jack Wamai.

The Prisons officials stuck to their position, forcing Kwizera to demand records to this effect. MPs claimed that commissioners were using prisoners to work on their private farms without paying them, a charge the officials rejected.

One official said he could not deny having used prisoners on his farm, but insisted he had paid them.

"Now that you have confessed to this illegal act, we are expecting your resignation letter for operating outside the regulations," Kwizira told the official.

Pressed to explain why the prisoners worked longer than the internationally accepted maximum of six hours in a day, Kimono said: "You can't keep 800 prisoners 24 hours loitering around the prison because it is a security threat. So, that is a management issue."

Some MPs wondered why prisoners were being fed on one meal a day, but officials also rejected this claim. Kimono said they got only Shs 17bn out of the Shs 42bn they had asked for for meals, but they were still serving three meals a day, dominated by posho and beans.

According to the audit report, the sector had a total of Shs 9.1bn as domestic arrears, of which Shs 6.8bn was meant to cater for utilities such as electricity and water. Prisons had budgeted for Shs 10bn of which only Shs 6.8bn was released to them during the year under review.

HIV/AIDS:

Asked about the measures the sector was taking to reduce the growing rates of HIV/AIDs among the prisoners as a result of sodomy acts, Kimono replied: "We have no measure to that because sex is a discipline and we don't have CCTV cameras to monitor the inmates."

But after MPs greeted his response with shock, Kimono added: "When a complaint is lodged, we take an action."

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