Kampala. A rift has erupted between the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister and Judicial Service Commission Permanent Secretary (PS) over non-payment of a giant hike in the proposed pay of the commissioners.
PS Rose Nassali Lukwago, despite being threatened with a legal suit by commissioners Christine Amongin Aporu and Mary Nyakikongoro over non-payment of their enhanced emoluments of Shs19.2m monthly, has dismissed the threats saying she is acting upon a Cabinet directive.
The two commissioners, whose terms of reference require they work part-time at Judicial Service Commission (JSC), want the PS to effect payment of their enhanced emoluments from a monthly retainer of Shs4.3m to Shs19.2m, making an immense increment of 365 per cent.
In an October 19 statutory notice drawn by GP Advocates, former State Minister for Teso Affairs Amongin, and former Sheema Woman MP Nyakikongoro say their enhanced emoluments were cleared by Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire and Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana in two separate letters.
“The Accounting Officer of the Judicial Service Commission has in breach of her statutory duties failed to pay our clients the enhanced emoluments in line with the Appropriation Act and in terms of the advice rendered by the Attorney General’s Chambers,” the statutory notice seen by Saturday Monitor reads in part.
“Since the office of the Attorney General, the official legal advisor of government, has pronounced itself on this matter, there is absolutely no legal basis for the Secretary-Judicial Service Commission to defy the advice from the Attorney General Office,” the letter adds.
The notice states that Mr Rukutana overruled the Solicitor General whose legal opinion Ms Nassali was allegedly relying on not to effect the payment of the emoluments.
GP Advocates claim in the statutory notice that they acting on behalf of Ms Amongin and Ms Nyakikongoro who are both representing Justice Benjamin Kabito, the chairperson of JSC, his deputy Justice Faith Mwondha, and other members of JSC.
Other commissioners are Justice Jotham Tumwesigye, Ms Ruth Sebatindira, Ms Norah Matovu Winyi, Dr Laban Nnini Kirya, and Attorney General William Byaruhanga, who is an ex-officio.
The JSC was established by Article 146 of the Constitution and provides that only the chairman shall be a full-time employee and will be entitled to a monthly salary.
But Ms Nassali told Saturday Monitor in an interview that she would have no problem with paying the monthly retainers of the commissioners as per the new enhancements rates were it not for a standing Cabinet directive to all Accounting Officers not to effect the salary rise.
She said JSC has been paying the part-time members their monthly retainer of Shs4.3m, meeting allowances of Shs1m and all disbursements are up to date.
“The Commission members are paid a monthly retainer and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs had put them at the salary of full-time members in the new salary enhancements. The Minister of Justice increased the emoluments without consulting with Minister of Public Service,” Ms Nassali said.
She asked the commissioners to wait for a Cabinet resolution since there is already a Cabinet memo on workers enhancement of salaries and allowances, which was presented by the Ministry of Public Service, adding that the money is available.
She said the commissioners are bickering over such payments because they are not entitled to monthly salary, unlike the case with other appointing commissions.
Mr Otafiire told Saturday Monitor that there is no way the JSC permanent secretary and Ministry of Public Service can halt a lawful payment because the said salaries were appropriated by Parliament.
“Why are you asking me how I run my department? Parliament appropriated money to pay those commissioners. Appropriation by Parliament is an Act of Parliament, which is law,” Mr Otafiire said.
He said the only way Public Service can reverse those enhancements is by returning to Parliament with a Bill to repeal the Appropriation Act.
On his part, Deputy Attorney General Rukutana said his role was only to interpret the law and he had duly given his legal advice after the two commissioners also threatened to sue the Office of the Attorney General over the same payment.
“Mine was to interpret the law according to the facts and the applicable constitutional provisions, especially faced with a notice of intended suit against the Attorney General by the JSC members. Adherence to the law is not my mandate,” Mr Rukutana said.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Chairperson of JSC, Justice Faith Mwondha, has disassociated herself from Ms Amongin and Ms Nyakikongoro’s claim that they were representing all other commissioners in demanding the money.
Keeping a distance
“I would like to disassociate myself from the instructions given to you by Hon Christine Amongin Aporu and Hon Rose Nyakikongoro allegedly representing the deputy chairperson and others members. For avoidance of doubt, I have neither directly nor indirectly consented to the threatened legal action as per the instructions given to you,” Justice Mwondha wrote in an October 22 letter to GP Advocates.
“I am full-time Justice of the Supreme Court/Courts of Judicature where I earn my salary. I only earn allowances from the Commission,” she added.
Judges in Uganda earn about Shs9m monthly salary and the claim by the two members of the Commission that appoints them to increase their pay would put the part-time emoluments far higher than those of full-time employees.
Ms Catherine Bitarakwate, the PS of Public Service ministry, told Saturday Monitor that there is no way the part-time members of the JSC can receive the enhanced emoluments before they are decided on by the Cabinet.
She confirmed that the part-time members of JSC are not entitled to a monthly salary.
“The matter is before Cabinet and they are fully aware of the procedures and processes of government. The PS (Ms Nassali) has to await the Cabinet decision,” Ms Bitarakwate said in a brief reply to our questions by phone text message.