People & Power
The ping-pong over Lukwago court case
Posted Sunday, January 19 2014 at 02:00
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago has been blocked from accessing his office since a meeting of the Kampala Capital City Authority voted to impeach him last November. Critics say the Executive seems keen to keep him out of office for the rest of the term because pursuing the legal channel would almost certainly see him finish his term. Sunday Monitor’s Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi looks at how the case could turn out.
On Tuesday, Jan 14, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago attempted to whip up interest in his court case. Due to return to court where he is trying to secure his position as Lord Mayor the following day, Mr Lukwago called on his supporters to accompany him to City Hall, the seat of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), to reoccupy his office.
In preparation for the march to KCCA that never was, Mr Lukwago had made copies of the court ruling of November 28, 2013 with which each of the accompanying supporters would be armed. In this order, the High Court Judge, Yasiin Nyanzi, held that Mr Lukwago was still the Lord Mayor until the application he filed in court challenging his planned removal from the position was decided.
“We shall see what is stronger between the gun and the court order,” Mr Lukwago had said, vowing that he was prepared to “pay the ultimate price” in the process.
On Tuesday, however, the police blocked him at his home in Wakaliga in Rubaga Division.
Mr Lukwago, those close to him tell us, wanted to test the court order and show that the Executive was violating it before returning to court the following day, probably hoping to extract a tougher statement from the judge on the position of the law.
In court, however, matters took a different twist with the Attorney General (AG) demanding that Judge Nyanzi disqualifies himself from hearing the case. The AG says the judge erred in granting an order stopping the meeting on November 25, 2013, in which majority KCCA councillors voted to remove Mr Lukwago from office.
The order stopping the meeting, according to the Judge, was issued less than an hour to the said meeting. KCCA Minister Frank Tumwebaze had called the meeting on November 25, 2013 at 9am, an hour before court would sit to hear Mr Lukwago’s application.
Mr Lukwago’s lawyers rushed to court to stop the meeting, arguing that if the meeting happened and Mr Lukwago was voted out before court would rule on whether it was proper for the minister to act on the report, Mr Lukwago’s application would be overtaken by events and that he would suffer irreparable damage.
On being notified of the developments, Judge Nyanzi explained in his November 28, 2013 ruling, he asked the deputy registrar of the High Court to issue an order stopping the meeting before it happened.
Judge Nyanzi has yet to pronounce himself on whether he will continue with the case following the AG’s demand that he steps aside, something Judiciary spokesperson Erias Kisawuzi says “rests with the judge”.
Mr Kisawuzi also declined to state the position of the Judiciary regarding the status of Mr Lukwago, saying the question could only be answered by the judge.
We tried to speak to Justice Nyanzi without success, but his November ruling addresses the issue.
The AG, in trying to block Mr Lukwago’s application for an order stopping the meeting before his case is heard, had argued that Mr Lukwago had stopped being Lord Mayor immediately Mr Tumwebaze wrote the letter summoning the KCCA meeting of November 25, 2013 in which a motion to remove him from office was to be moved.
For this reason, the AG argued, Mr Lukwago had no status quo to preserve and therefore the application for the injunction was meaningless.
The judge ruled, however, that Mr Lukwago’s application was also based on the same law under which the minister had acted and that therefore Mr Lukwago had “a status he seeks to protect”. The AG said he would appeal against the ruling, but he had not done so by the time of writing this report.
However, Mr Lukwago has been blocked from accessing his office, with state agencies like the police saying the AG has advised them that Mr Lukwago is no longer Lord Mayor. Mr Lukwago has taken issue with this reasoning, challenging police chief Kale Kayihura: “How can a party (the AG) that lost in court advise you to disobey a court order and you comply?”
How case could pan out
In the current case, Mr Lukwago fears the Executive seems keen to keep him out of office for the rest of the term, albeit illegally, because pursuing the legal channel would almost certainly see him finish his term.
Mr Lukwago’s backers have accused the Executive of trying to force Judge Nyanzi out of the case and replace him with a “cadre” judge who will rule in their favour.
Whatever the case, however, the legal road would still be long. Mr Peter Walubiri, one of Mr Lukwago’s lawyers, said when the current case challenging the legality of the report is decided, the losing side can appeal to the Court of Appeal and later to the Supreme Court. If Mr Lukwago loses the current case and the appeals, the Minister for Kampala will be free to call the councillors’ meeting again in order to vote on Mr Lukwago’s fate.
But, Mr Walubiri says Mr Lukwago would still go back to court before that, this time to try to enforce an earlier court ruling. Judge Vincent Zehukirize ruled that even if a prima facie case were to be found against Mr Lukwago, the Authority would still have to be fully constituted for him to be voted out of office. This prompted a rush for the election of councillors to represent professional bodies.