Two weeks ago, a philosopher friend got me thinking about the ethical and logical implications of the recently passed amendment of the Administration of the Judiciary Bill for Ugandan judges to retire with their salaries.
On the surface, it appears to be an innocent and benevolent intervention. But, on deeper introspection, it raises many questions. It was argued by the Attorney General, William Byaruhanga, that these senior judicial officers need to be supported to enjoy their retirement since by the time they retire they are too old to pursue any other livelihood.
The minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, contended that this policy will help in safeguarding the integrity of the judiciary – by protecting serving judicial officers from being compromised. The Opposition Chief Whip, Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda, also supported the bill, arguing that these judicial officers dedicate most of their time to their country.
The chief justice earns Shs 20.6 million per month, while his deputy earns Shs 19.5 million. This they will now earn until death.
Their colleagues; justices of the Supreme court and Court of Appeal, the principal judge, judges of the High court, the chief registrar, registrars, deputy registrars, including all magistrates will continue to receive 80 per cent of their salaries in their retirement. This will as well include a one-off retirement package.
I do not have any problem with us supporting judicial officers to retire with dignity. We should do that to the best we can. My problem is with what the justifications used in defence of this policy say about other government workers and the importance of what they do. I will also try to show the ethical complications it raises.
If one argues that judges are facilitated so that they retire in decency, one wonders why this consideration would first go to those among the best paid.
Wouldn’t we have expected that, because they are well paid, they should have been better placed than other peanut earners to save and invest during their service? Who would require priority of intervention between justices, health workers, teachers, lecturers, police … in consideration of their comparative capacities to prepare for retirement?
Should we consider this to be a literary execution of the Biblical dictum that ‘to those who have, more will be added; to those who have little, it will also be taken away and given to those who have more’?
Is the policy to suggest that justices take precedence in lieu of their services being more important than those of other public servants? If, for instance, we compared judges to doctors, would we take one to be more important than the other in society?
Why would doctors (including senior ones), on top of getting a much smaller salary than judges, not qualify for priority in retiring with their small one?
When one argues, like Prof Kamuntu, that the policy is meant to cushion judges from temptations of corruption, other serious questions emerge. Are the corrupt judges inclined to the vice because of need or lack of integrity?
If retiring with their salaries can help curb the vice, is their corruption more dangerous than the corruption of other government workers that could be similarly motivated? Corruption is a serious challenge in the health sector too.
Many people die due to failure to pay for services that they are otherwise entitled to. If retiring with salaries was an effective preventive measure against corruption, why isn’t there any voice for medical workers to retire with theirs too? Why not start with them? Is it because they are many? Should numbers in a sector be the justification for reward and motivation?
How about the corruption in the education sector? If, for instance, some lecturers leak exams to students at a fee, should lecturers, therefore, retire with their salaries too? Is corruption in the education sector less harmful?
But, if we argue that corruption is less in this sector compared to the judiciary and, therefore, not calling for as much attention, how was this achieved? Is it because lecturers/teachers are better remunerated and therefore not easily compromised?
Certainly not. Isn’t the retirement package, therefore, an incentive for corruption in other government organs? Should other sectors also become so corrupt so as to qualify for better preventive retirement packages as well?
Lastly, if it first takes the judiciary being inoculated from corruption with salary for life for them not to be corrupt, what moral authority do they have to punish the corrupt that were not inoculated like them?
Taking a life salary on the argument that it would help them resist being compromised is an implicit admission that one is likely to be corrupt without such retirement motivation. Shouldn’t they then understand when corrupt teachers, health workers, accountants, auditors, soldiers, police officers are presented before them for judgement?
Why expect others with much lower salaries to be able to meet the integrity standards that judges could not adhere to with much higher remuneration until we intervened with life salary?
Apart from exposing the shortcomings of the policy in fighting corruption, the questions above expose the inherent contradictions of the policy and the gaping lacunas in government remuneration structures. The scattered approach by which different units argue for better emoluments and are considered in isolation ultimately demotivates others.
Arguments have been made for streamlining government remuneration structures through a central body, but this has been ignored for years – hence the glaring incongruities by which different government workers’ salaries and other benefits vary by far for no good reasons. This in itself, added to the deepening fall in integrity for various socio-political reasons, facilitates corruption.
Let judges be facilitated to do their job in the best way possible, but not through exclusive justifications that give the impression of higher importance. And not by projecting them as a morally weaker category that can’t be ethical without exclusive cushions – yet having to judge others.
The author is a teacher of philosophy.