Of AG Nyombi’s saucepan, donor terms and judges

Sunday May 19 2013

Some of the proposed judges wait to face the Appointments

Some of the proposed judges wait to face the Appointments Committee at Parliament this week. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE  

By Yasiin Mugerwa

At the heart of an emotive debate on the proposed amendments to the Public Order Management Bill, 2012, lies the tyranny of numbers. The ruling party and the opposition leaders are busy telling each other “You give in,” “No, you give in.” But in the politics of numbers, one thing unites the two sides: This Bill, once passed into law, is going to affect all Ugandans.

It has been a busy week in a poorly attended Parliament. The return of the Public Order Management Bill overshadowed the vetting of the new judges and the acme of the budgeting process. In an attempt to fix the loopholes in the draft Bill, one of the “political” pieces of legislation that seeks among others to empower the state to regulate public meetings, the lawmakers have been sitting for long hours, and often struggle to reach a compromise on contentious clauses, forgetting that the proposed law is ordinarily targeting politicians.

The unspoken word is that this Bill is a thought-out response to the infamous walk-to-work protests that engulfed the capital in April 2011 as a result of a deepening economic crisis and the skyrocketing cost of living. As opposition politicians drew desperate citizens to the streets, it became a concern to the government—compelling the Attorney General, Mr Peter Nyombi, to declare A4C an unlawful society “dangerous to the peace and order in Uganda” citing section 56 of Uganda’s Penal Code.

In all this drama, this Bill in many ways looks like the last nail in the casket even though the government insists that it’s intended to bring law and order.

The donor conditions

The Budget Committee began the ritual-- pretending to scrutinise the Shs555 billion request in supplementary funding alongside the 2013/14 budget estimates. At the tail end of the process, Parliament is expected to put together a report to President Museveni. Unfortunately, while the Finance Minister sent the Budget Framework Paper to Parliament in time, the some lawmakers didn’t even bother to read the document.

Grippingly, Mr Fred Omach, the junior finance minister admitted before the Budget Committee on Monday that without cash handouts, the government would struggle to finance the budget. But in the wake of the grand scam that exposed the thieves in the Office of the Prime Minister, Bank of Uganda and Ministry of Finance, the donors have put stringent conditions on government.

The donors want the thieves punished, the system cleaned, stolen cash refunded and anti-corruption laws put in place. These conditions and others must be fulfilled by November. This means that for the bigger part of the next financial year, the government will certainly struggle to finance the Shs12 trillion budget in a financial year beset with grim taxes. In such situations, no matter what the finance minister tells the nation, the writings are on the wall that Ugandans are going to stagger in trying to make ends meet in a difficult financial year.

Peter Nyombi’s ‘saucepan’

Two MPs called a news conference this week in defence of Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and told journalists how they stepped in Peter Nyombi’s “saucepan”. That after the Constitutional Court successfully allowed their joinder to a petition seeking their expulsion; they stepped in Attorney General’s plate. In his May 8 letter to the Speaker, Mr Nyombi made it clear that he does not want to defend the Speaker and her ruling. The same Attorney General last year refused to defend parliament and Ugandans lost Shs13b in the infamous Saverino Twinobusingye case.

Museveni’s case

The financial scandals in government departments and ministries are not about to end. As Public Accounts Committee members announced that they have completed their report on the theft of billions of shillings in foreign aid given to the Office of the Prime Minister, on Tuesday, the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs also discovered fresh rot in Attorney General’s Chambers. Mr Nyombi and his predecessor Prof Khiddu Makubuya, who was forced to resign in the wake a compensation scandal involving a city tycoon, find themselves in the eye of the storm. This time, it’s about another compensation scandal in a Shs180 billion compensation case in London involving President Museveni and a former newspaper publisher, Dr Jesse Mashate.

Trouble started after Mr Martin Kihembo, the Uganda Property Holdings chief executive rejected claims by Mr Nyombi that it was the Attorney General’s office that hired the services of an external lawyer who successfully salvaged the government properties in London that had been attached by Dr Mashate.

Dr Mashate, the proprietor of the defunct Weekend Digest sued the President in his individual capacity seeking to enforce a Shs27.2b judgment, which the Attorney General said with 8 per cent interest dating back to 1986, and costs, brings the total as of July 2011 to Shs179b.

The probe is on-going.
New Judges
The Appointments Committee of Parliament on Tuesday began vetting the 28 new judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the High Court. This closed-door process ended on Thursday. But that’s not the issue. The concern here is that, a closed vetting process in Parliament does not add value. It does not matter whether the committee rejected some ministerial nominees (James Kakooza and Saleh Kamba) or not, besides, this is once in while. Where the President insists, they conform. What we want is an open vetting process.
The vetting process in Parliament is a mockery of Article 1 of the Constitution which says “power belongs to the people”. It’s mere conventionalism because; under Rule 158, the Appointments Committee reports are not even debated in the House.

I have argued here before that vetting public officials behind closed doors is vicious. However, in the disputed wisdom of our MPs, they decided to block the proposed amendments to Rule 153(2) of the latest Rules of Procedure—hindering the innocuous efforts to open up the Committee to the public.

In Kenya, the magic worked. In fact, a slight adjustment in the Standing Orders has somehow restored public confidence on the Bench. The politicians in Kenya, their ludicrous appetite notwithstanding, at least they proved to ‘analog’ nations in the region that it’s not difficult to open the Appointments Committee in public interest.

The only way, therefore, to help the President, is by opening up the vetting process to the public. Ugandans deserve better service delivery.