Lawyers want tribunal to scrap service award

The Leader of Opposition in Parliament Mathias Mpuuga (L) and Speaker Anita Among during the joint ecumenical thanksgiving service at Parliament on February 28, 2023. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The lawyers assert that the tribunal should act in the interest of the public and pursue prosecution of the individuals implicated.

A section of city lawyers and human rights activists have petitioned the chairperson of the Leadership Tribunal asking that the latest recipients of a service award be prosecuted.

The lawyers want Section 8(a) of the Constitution to be invoked to prosecute Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the immediate past Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), and three others who split Shs1.7b of taxpayers’ money as a service award in May 2022.

Mr Mpuuga, who is now a parliamentary commissioner, was allocated Shs500m. His colleagues, also parliamentary commissioners, Mr Solomon Silwany (Bukooli County), Ms Prossy Akampulira Mbabazi (Rubanda DWP), and Ms Esther Afoyochan (Zombo DWR), received Shs400m apiece in the one-off payment.

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In their April 12 petition seen by Sunday Monitor, the petitioners informed Dr Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa, the tribunal boss, that they are aware that her jurisdiction and functions in enforcement of the Leadership Code are limited to matters brought before her by the Inspectorate of Government. 

The petitioners, including Eron Kiiza, Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, Anthony Odur, Peter Arinaitwe, William Muhumuza and Philip Karugaba, however, hasten to add that the “matter that has been in public domain … needs urgent attention.”

They add: “We, therefore, challenge the Tribunal as a citizen bound by the Constitution, to heed the higher calling of Article 8 (a) of the Constitution to act based on principles of national interest and common good and cause the commencement of the above prosecution, on a suo moto jurisdiction basis, and deliver to the people the cherished promises of the Constitution and much needed justice.” 

Article 8A (1) of the Constitution, on which the petitioners base their argument, states thus: “Uganda shall be governed based on principles of national interest and common good enshrined in the national objectives and directive principles of state policy.”

Twice shot down
The matters of the impugned service award were made public when leaked documents surfaced during the online exhibition dubbed #UgandaParliamentExhibition. 

The exposé was spearheaded by Agather Atuhaire, a journalist-cum-lawyer from the Agora Discourse—an online activism NGO, and Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, a Makerere University philosophy lecturer.

The leak compelled the National Unity Platform (NUP), Uganda’s leading Opposition party, to do some house cleaning that has since resulted in the suspension of Mr Mpuuga as its vice president. Initially, the Nyendo-Mukungwe lawmaker appeared to have apologised for taking the service award. Attempts by NUP to replace him with Mr Francis Zaake (Mityana Municipality) as a commissioner in the House have thus far been unsuccessful.

Despite being raised on the floor of Parliament, the subject of the so-called service award has twice been shot down by House Speaker Anita Among. On the first occasion, Speaker Among told the House rumours from social media cannot be discussed on the floor of Parliament. 

“Honourable members, I will never, and I’m saying, I will never give you an answer on hearsay, on rumour mongering. And we’re not going to run this House on rumour mongering ...Me to answer you on hearsay? On things you have cooked on social media because I have said no to ‘bum shafting’? I will not, next item,” Speaker Among said during a March 16 plenary session.

On Thursday, this past week, during the presentation of the 2024/2025 ministerial policy statements for some agencies, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County) asked Speaker Among to allocate time to discuss the impugned service award.

“…..where in, members read the profligacy of this House, where upon the allegations of the handshake to the commissioners was debated, whereabout, the back bench commissioners were given money ranging from Shs400m to Shs500m and you undertook that an opportunity will be availed to us to have this matter thoroughly debated, concluded and put to rest,” he said.

In response, Speaker Among said: “By the time I leave my house very early in the morning, I have come for serious business. Let us dispose of some Ministerial Policy Statements.”

Mr Ssekikubo’s persistence only provoked the ire of the Speaker, who is also the Bukedea Woman representative in the House.

“I have very important issues that are statutory in nature to be handled so if you don’t respect the chair … much as I try to be patient, don’t touch the wrong side …,” said Speaker Among.

Not even rejoinders from LoP Joel Ssenyonyi swayed Speaker Among, who firmly blocked any debate on the service award.

Third time lucky?
Mr Kiiza told Sunday Monitor that “we are demanding ... an urgent action.” Mr Kiiza and his other petitioners insist that the conduct of the said leaders in participating in the May 2022 meeting—chaired by Speaker Among—in which they had a personal interest is in breach of Sections 9 and 12A of the Leadership Code Act 2002, prohibiting conflict of interest.

“The Rule of Law has been defined as ‘a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards’,” reads part of the petition.

“It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency,” it adds.

The petitioners noted that the tribunal, which is funded by money from the taxpayer, cannot be forced to stand idly by when the Leadership Code mandates them to protect the public from impunity of some leaders.

“The public confidence in the tribunal will suffer greatly if the wheels of justice can simply be stopped by the recalcitrance of the IGG in not prosecuting this matter,” the petitioner further aver.

Residents from Rubanda District, where Ms Akampulira—one of the beneficiaries of the service award—serves as the woman House representative, recently asked her to resign over the Shs400m pay packet she received.

Elsewhere, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the NUP principal, continues to describe the reward that was extended to Mr Mpuuga as “dirty money.” He has vowed to fight his erstwhile vice president to the bitter end.