On Monday, at a function organised for him to hand over office and say his goodbyes, retired Chief Justice Bart Katureebe was overcome by emotion. He revealed how on the evening of June 19, his last day in office, President Museveni called him, informing him of how he had signed the long-awaited Administration of the Judiciary Bill into law.
The Bill was for long a subject of ping-pong between the Judiciary and the Executive. Under it, a retired Chief Justice and a retired Deputy Chief Justice will continue getting their respective monthly salaries in full, while other ordinary judges, including the Principal Judge, the administrative head of the High Court, will get 80 per cent of their salaries for the rest of their lives.
All judges will also get a lump sum retirement benefit equivalent to 2.4 per cent of their annual salary multiplied by five and their years of service; security by the State; chauffeur-driven cars; and annual medical and housing allowances. Under this arrangement, retired registrars and magistrates are not entitled to security, cars, medical and housing allowances, although they will continue earning a monthly salary for life at the rate of their sitting counterparts.
The changes mean a retired Chief Justice will earn Shs20m per month, which is the current salary of the office bearer, while a retired Deputy Chief Justice will earn a monthly sum of Shs19.5m. This is exclusive of the other benefits enumerated above.
The significant shift in the retirement perks of the Chief Justice, deputy chief justice and other judicial officers from the established pension system has attracted a lot of debate. The principal argument made for these retirement perks for the top judicial officers is that they don't get paid much while in service compared to lawyers in private practice.
Before all this, in 2010, President Museveni signed into law the Emoluments and Benefits of the President, Vice President and Prime Minister Act. According to this law, a retired president is entitled to a monthly allowance of 60 per cent of the salary of a serving President, a fully-furnished house, Shs20m for furniture and Shs10m to replace the furniture every five years.
A retired president is also entitled to a chauffeur-driven car, medical care for the retired president and immediate family, four security guards, personal secretary, and Shs800,000 for utilities, two domestic staff and First Class travel for official business.
Under the same law, a retired vice president is entitled to 60 per cent of the salary of the serving Vice President, a house purchase fund of Shs300m, a chauffeur-driven car, medical care for self and immediate family, two security guards, personal secretary, Shs700,000 for utilities, two domestic staff and Shs10m for furniture and Shs5m for replacement of furniture every five years.
For a retired prime minister, the government provides 60 per cent of the salary of the serving Prime Minister per month, a house purchase fund of Shs240m, a chauffeur-driven car, medical care for self and spouse or spouses, two security guards, Shs600,000 for utilities, two domestic staff, Shs7m for furniture and Shs3.5m to replace the furniture every five years.
For the case of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the relevant guide is the Parliamentary Pensions Act, 2007, which took effect in 2011. According to the Act, a retired Speaker is entitled to 60 per cent of the salary of the serving Speaker, a chauffer-driven car with a cubic capacity of between 3,500 and 4,000, two security guards, two domestic staff, medical care for self and spouse or spouses, and Shs660,000 for utilities per month.
Upon retirement, a Deputy Speaker is entitled to 60 per cent of the seating Deputy Speaker, a retired Speaker is entitled to 60 per cent of the salary of the serving Speaker, a chauffer-driven car with a cubic capacity of between 3,500 and 4,000, one security guard, one domestic staff, medical care for self and spouse or spouses and Shs660,000 for utilities per month
In recent years, the retirement benefits of a retired Speaker and Deputy Speaker have been an issue of debate when officials who continue to hold public offices asked for the benefits after the expiry of their deputy terms.
Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, all continue to hold offices but funds have been put aside over the past years for their retirement benefits as Speaker or Deputy Speaker, respectively. Some MPs have often raised questions over this but it has never been resolved.
The retirement benefits laws for the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice, cover all previous office bearers, but this is not true for that of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, which excludes those who served before 2011. Speaker Kadaga this week called for the law to be amended to include previous Speakers, such as Mr Fran¬cis K. Bu¬ta¬gira (1980-1985).
More on Judiciary law
Although the perks that will be given to a retired Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice sparked off debate, the Administration of the Judiciary Act will significantly turn around the Judiciary.
Article 128(6) of the Constitution provides that the administrative expenses of the Judiciary, including all salaries, allowances, gratuities and pensions payable to or in respect of persons serving in the Judiciary, shall be charged on the Consolidated Fund.
Article 128(5) says the Judiciary shall be self-accounting and may deal directly with the Ministry of Finance in relation to its finances. That all along has been in theory. The practice has been that whereas it is one of the three arms of government, the Judiciary has been funded under the Executive. It was sharing the budget with the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) institutions under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Section 33 of the Administration of the Judiciary Act changes that. It says funds of the Judiciary shall include; money appropriated by Parliament for the purposes of the Judiciary; grants or donations approved by the minister responsible for Finance; and all other money received by the Judiciary in the exercise of its functions.
Section 34 of the law talks about the expenses of the Judiciary. It says all money approved by Parliament to defray the expenses incurred in the discharge of the functions of the Judiciary or in carrying out the purposes of this Act shall be a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund.
"We are going to deal directly with the President and Parliament," Mr Pius Bigirimana, the Secretary to the Judiciary, who is charged with operationalising the Act, says. "We are now hopeful that we shall be getting more money than before. We are working out the details."
If section 35 of the law is to go by, the Judiciary will set up what has been coined as the "Judiciary fund", where all funds belonging to the Judiciary will be deposited.
Section 36 of the Act says: "The Judiciary shall open and maintain such bank accounts, with the approval of the Accountant General, as are necessary for the exercise of the functions of the Judiciary and shall pay into them all money received for the purposes of the Judiciary or this Act."
While the operational details of the Act are still being thrashed out, the body that vets judicial officers before they are appointed, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), is hopeful that the financial autonomy the Judiciary is poised to gain will enable it to recruit more judicial officers.
Justice Benjamin Kabiito, the chairperson of the JSC, says they are just waiting for the Judiciary to announce vacancies and they will act.
"We all know we have few judicial officers but can't go ahead to hire without the finances," Justice Kabiito says.
"Every judicial officer appointed has financial ramifications and we hope the Administration of the Judiciary Act will help solve this. We have people in our databases. They are willing to serve as judges but because of the money, we haven't interviewed them."
To show how lean the Judiciary is, Justice Kabiito cites the small number of Chief Magistrates.
"We have only 44 Chief magistrates and you find a scenario where a Chief Magistrate covers more than five districts. We need each district to have a Chief Magistrate. This will cut down on the expenses litigants incur when they move from one district to another looking for justice."
Recruitment aside, the JSC, which is also charged with disciplining errant judicial officers, believes the huge retirement package now assured of retiring judicial officers will go a long way in stemming corruption in the Judiciary.
"We have been having a scenario where judicial officers realize that they are approaching retirement and they engage in strange behaviour. Now since they are assured of being paid even if it is 80 per cent of their salaries for the rest of their lives, we expect outmost professionalism," Justice Kabiito said.
Early this year, during the annual judge's conference, President Museveni promised to address the plight of retired judicial officers, saying their retirement benefits need to be improved since they don't earn a lot while still in service compared to many lawyers in private practice.