Uganda’s parliament plans to start work (today) Tuesday reviewing President Yoweri Museveni’s list of justices to fill vacant positions at the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court.
Medard Lubega Sseggona, a member of parliament, says only members of the legislative body’s Appointments Committee are allowed to be part of the vetting process.
“What is strange about this particular Appointments Committee is this committee does not present a report to the floor of parliament. In other words, while it acts for us, they do not report to us,” said Sseggona.
President Museveni presented his list of candidates to the speaker of parliament last week and the review process was designed to meet requirements set out in the constitution.
The candidates include Lillian Tibatemwa, deputy vice chancellor in charge of academics at Makerere University, and Richard Buteera, the director of public prosecutions.
Critics have said they doubt parliament will thoroughly vet the candidates. They argue the process is little more than a public relations exercise meant to satisfy constitutional requirements. Sseggona agrees.
“All other committees of parliament make reports on particular issues placed before them by the speaker on the floor of parliament and we approve or disapprove or make amendments,” Sseggona said. “Now the strange thing with this particular committee is that we do not exercise that function.”
He says there are calls to amend the rules of procedures that outline the work of the Appointment Committee.
“I must confess that the president and the presidency, as an institution in this country, remain unjustifiably strong, so much so that the executive hand extends into the legislature and this is quite unfortunate,” continued Sseggona. “The presidency extends to the legislature to the extent that some people have described as the rubber stamp parliament [and] that whenever the president wants his will done, it is indeed done.”
Sseggona called on citizens to put pressure on their representatives in parliament to ensure the nominees are thoroughly vetted.
“They must also play some part in terms of influencing their members of parliament, particularly those who sit on the Appointments Committee, in terms of bringing forth information that they think discredits somebody’s candidature,” he said. “Because we are dealing with a very volatile institution, and an institution that is supposed to be impartial, independent and neutral.”
Legal experts have expressed concern that there has been a shortage of judges in the judicial system. This was confirmed by Justice James Ogoola the head of Judicial Service Commission after he recently appeared before parliament’s Legal Affairs committee hearing.