Wednesday January 11 2017

Justice Kavuma’s ruling a test for the Judiciary

Justice Steven Kavuma at the Constitutional Court recently

Justice Steven Kavuma at the Constitutional Court recently. File photo 

By Editorial

The deputy Chief Justice Stephen Kavuma has done it again: This time banning formal inquiries into questionable bonus payments to 42 bureaucrats from oil tax windfall.

“An interim order is hereby issued restraining Parliament, any person or authority from investigating, questioning or inquiring into the impugned bonus payments and or staying all proceedings of whatever nature...,” he ruled on Monday.

We define the key words in the gag order to frame the issues: Investigating, which is the act of examining something carefully to find the truth; questioning or asking to seek information; and, inquiring, which means looking to know something (new).

The message to decode from Kavuma’s pronouncement is, therefore, that the truth be suppressed and no human being, except himself, says or does anything, legal or otherwise, about the Shs6 billion doled out!

Pragmatically, the order, as it is, is inoperable. Justice Kavuma does not hold or cannot purport to possess an extraterritorial jurisdiction for universal applicability of his order. In the alternative, we reject his odd attempt to arrogate himself the power to take away constitutionally-guaranteed citizens’ rights to discuss how their tax money is used.

The framers of our Constitution foresaw the risk of abuse and chose, in good wisdom, to separate the powers and functions of the three arms of government --- Executive, Legislature and Judiciary --- so that they complement and counter-check each other.

It is Parliament’s constitutional mandate to appropriate public resources and provide oversight on spending.
As such, we stand with our legislators in their quest to establish the truth about expending billions of shillings to enrich a few individuals instead of providing services that benefit all.

It is unfathomable that Uganda’s deputy Chief Justice could base on a petition by an Electoral Commission employee, peculiarly more aggrieved than the recipients, to unilaterally prohibit debate on the controversial payout.

This is intriguing after the judge’s contested May 2016 order banning the Opposition’s defiance campaign.
Such decisions upend logic, degrade level-headedness and sully the reputation of the Judiciary.

We make a clarion call to Chief Justice Bart Katureeba to ensure the institution he heads promotes, not undermines, the rule of law. Courts should remain temples of justice and not seek to clothe impunity in judicial garbs.

Our President’s action(s) can, and should be examined by Parliament, for the former US President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1926 that: “…to announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

The issue: Deputy Chief Justice Stephen Kavuma’s ruling.
Our view: We make a clarion call to Chief Justice Bart Katureeba to ensure the institution he heads promotes, not undermines, the rule of law.