Saturday, February 21, 2015
Parliament’s Police Personnel Should Stop Being Overzealous
By Bakampa Brian Baryaguma
For one year and one month now, my colleagues and I have been pursuing a complaint against the Law Development Centre (LDC), in the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda. The complaint (available online here http://www.bbbakampa.blogspot.com/2014/05/complaint-concerning-under-performance_10.html), exposes the rampant abuse ongoing at LDC, recommends the breaking of the LDC monopoly by devolving the teaching and training of the Bar course to universities in Uganda that teach law, and, most importantly, calls for a serious, in-depth and independent parliamentary investigation into the activities of LDC, at least as revealed in the complaint.
During this time, we, and me in particular, have sought after many members and staff of parliament, lobbying for their political support and administrative assistance in pursuance of this matter of great national importance. Fortunately, I have been privileged to meet, and interact with many of them. It is no wonder therefore, that on Wednesday, 3 December, 2015, Parliament debated, and overwhelmingly passed a motion arising from our complaint, mandating the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to investigate our grievances against LDC, as raised in the complaint.
At the time I launched and started the struggle against the crudeness, corruption, cruelty, oppression and tyranny of LDC, on 28 January 2014, access to parliament was quite easy and fast. All that was required was a visitor revealing where he or she was going, after which the police personnel responsible for security at the august House conducted a search on him or her, with the help of their security gadgets, including metal detectors. Unfortunately, however, some time last year, a group of youths calling themselves, The Jobless Brotherhood, protesting against unemployment and corruption in Uganda, sneaked into the parliamentary grounds, with two piglets, shaded yellow, the colour of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. This unpleasant move, though championing a legitimate cause, disclosed loopholes in security at parliament, which, together with Uganda Police, responded by enhancing security measures. I welcome and applaud improving security of persons and property everywhere especially, important public places like parliament.
Unfortunately, in my view, held out of my personal experience following the numerous visits I have made to parliament, some of the newly introduced security measures, which I believe are well intentioned, have exceeded bounds of reasonableness and meaningfulness, and have instead become prohibitive and unnecessarily restrictive, thereby largely making parliament, a key public institution anywhere in the world, inaccessible, or if it is, then only at great pains, more so for pedestrians. The security personnel there have become overzealous, and in some instances embarrassingly arbitrary.
Right now, police personnel manning the gates of parliament, at least the North Wing gate opposite the National Theatre, which is particularly designated for pedestrians, ask a visitor where he or she is going, who he or she is going to see, and they will even first call the person to be visited, using their landlines. Many times the person called does not pick up, and then the police will ask the visitor to use his or her mobile phone to call the person to be visited, for the police to speak with him or her, inquiring whether he or she knows or has an appointment with the visitor at the gate. If and when all is well, the visitor presents his or her identification documents, then relevant personal details like the name and telephone contact are entered in a visitors’ book, the visitor is given a parliament visitor’s card, passes through a metal detector, his or her bag (if any) is opened and thoroughly checked for any harmful or undesirable objects, and then he or she is allowed to proceed, before passing through another round of thorough checking at the main entrance, past the vehicles parking yard. Now, this process is insanely slow, and by the time this is done for every visitor, the checking-in counter is usually jammed with people, sweating under the blazing sun; and with the up-coming rainy season, the worst is yet to come for parliament’s visitors.
For example, in the afternoon of Thursday this week, I went to parliament, purposely to check on the progress of the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, to start hearing and investigating our complaint. I had particularly gone to see and find out from the Clerk to the Committee, Mr Ainomugisha Gilbert. As usual, I was quizzed in the manner aforementioned, and I responded accordingly and appropriately as herein stated. The questioning was conducted by a junior lady police officer No. 36380 Sgt Zikulabe (whose embarrassing arbitrariness I shall tell you about shortly), as she tightly held onto my passport. She called Mr Ainomugisha on his office phone number, but another person picked up, and said that he was out of office. She asked me to call him using my mobile phone, but I said that I didn’t have airtime on it. I was advised to go outside the precincts of parliament, and buy airtime to call him, before going in. I left, and never came back.
Other than the whole checking-in process being annoyingly slow, sometimes the responsible police personnel carry out their duties arbitrarily. I have been a victim of such arbitrariness, at the hands of lady police officer No. 36380 Sgt Zikulabe. Sometime last year, before the yellow pigs’ incident, I came to parliament, going to the Speaker’s office, and found her in charge of checking at the gate. I successfully passed through the metal detector. She also checked my laptop bag, and found in my books, and one or two toothgels from Forever Living Products, properly wrapped in a customized translucent company polythene bag. She asked me whose they were, and where I was taking them. I told her they were mine, for my personal use, although as a company member I also sell to my customers elsewhere. She refused to let me go through, and instead referred me to another officer ostensibly for ‘further checking.’ I was eventually cleared and went in. But from that moment on she marked me, and whenever I come to parliament, she makes a point of personally questioning, and clearing me. Even when her juniors in rank are responsible for doing that, in my case she comes, takes over from them, and singles me out of the many in the cue for clearance, and then goes back to supervising them.
On another occasion, I came back, but didn’t find her at the gate. I entered parliament with ease, but delayed to come out, because I had several, and long meetings with some MPs, and staff of the Speaker’s office, and Legal Department, who were working on the parliamentary motion for our complaint. By the time I came out, to deliver the visitor’s card, and pick my passport to leave, I found it was missing. When I inquired where it had gone, I was told to wait. The clearing officer called her out of their office at the gate. Then she folded her arms across her chest, and, like a mother interrogating her errant child, started asking me where I was, what I was doing, and I delayed there. I explained the purpose of my visit, and particularly the complaint I am pursuing. She demanded to see the complaint. Fortunately, I had a copy of it in the bag, which I pulled out and handed to her. ‘The complaint is a book?!’ she wondered and seemed to ask at the same time. I said yes, because it is a serious matter. Then she cleared, and let me to go.
Now, this level of arbitrariness, bordering on abuse of office, is very embarrassing, and definitely uncalled for. I don’t think Sgt Zikulabe has anything against me as a person, because I don’t know her beyond meeting regularly at parliament, and I doubt she knows me. She must be having something – perhaps dislike – against Forever Living Products, for which reason she harasses me. There could be many other citizens suffering the same plight as I am, probably for different reasons, and by different police personnel, the net effect of which is to discourage citizens from accessing and meeting their political and administrative representatives at parliament – people who are duly elected and appointed to serve Ugandans. I think the role of parliament’s police personnel should be to ensure the safety of members, staff, and visitors of parliament, but not to deter members of the public from accessing parliament, and its members and staff.
When I look back to when I started the struggle against LDC, I think it would be nearly impossible for me to even begin, because, then I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t have any prior appointment with anybody at parliament. Under the present prevailing security conditions, the police personnel wouldn’t have allowed me to enter parliament. This has another net effect of preventing parliament from effectively executing its constitutional and legal mandate, since to do so, it needs members of the public. I call upon the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Clerk to Parliament, and the Inspector General of Police to intervene in this matter, and streamline security arrangements at parliament. Security measures anywhere should be regulatory, but not prohibitive or restrictive.