In a surprise ruling on Monday, Justice Steven Kavuma ordered Parliament not to “investigate, question or inquire” into the Shs 6bn bonus payments to 42 government officials who won at least $700m from a capital gains tax dispute between Uganda, Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil.
And yesterday during Parliamentary debate, an angry Speaker Rebecca Kadaga called Justice Kavuma’s order stupid and suspended indefinitely House sittings until the order is expunged from the court records.
The ruling followed heated debate. Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukatana attempted to block debate on the motion by Mbarara Municipality MP Michael Tusiime calling for an investigation into the Shs 6bn cash reward, christened the presidential handshake.
To block debate, Rukutana reminded MPs of Justice Kavuma’s order blocking debate on the cash reward but the lawmakers shouted him down. Kadaga told the House that Parliament had not been duly served and made reference to Section 4 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, which prohibits any court orders when the House is in session.
Despite heckles from both sides of the house, Rukutana stuck to his guns, reminding MPs that as attorney general, he is duty-bound to advise Parliament on legal matters.
“I will repeat, for the record, that we were just served with the court order, we are respondents, we are not petitioners,” Rukutana told the MPs.
But MPs James Kakooza (Kabula), Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South), Ogenga Latigo (Agago North) and Anifa Kawooya (Sembabule Woman), among others, rubbished the court order, arguing that it erodes Parliament’s independence and the doctrine of separation of powers.
“If we are to take court orders beginning with this one, prepare to obey one that stops you [speaker] from sitting in that chair,” Oboth-Oboth said.
The MPs were joined by State Minister for Urban Development Isaac Musumba, who also shot down Rukutana’s argument. Kadaga rejected the court order, first doubting its authenticity but when Rukutana brandished more papers to prove that Parliament had been served, Kadaga stopped debate and directed the attorney general to have “the stupid court order” vacated.
“We are facing an unprecedented situation where the doctrine of separation of powers is being tested. This is the first time a court is operating in anticipation even when an issue has not come to this House. This is an attempt by the court to prevent this House from doing its work. I cannot accept a situation where a court dictates how we shall operate in this House, the court is interfering with the oversight powers of this House,” Kadaga said as MPs cheered.
“It is going to the core of democracy in this country. Honorable members, this order says we should not debate, we should not inquire, not investigate; that’s unacceptable. There’s no way we shall deal with the budget without talking about this matter, there’s no way the government will secure money for the petroleum fund without talking about this matter, there’s no way we’re going to capitalize Uganda Development Bank without talking about this matter,” Kadaga said.
“I want to direct the attorney general to move to court immediately and get this stupid order vacated,” she said.
MPs applauded as Kadaga further roared, “I want the rights of members to be fully reinstated, in the circumstances, I will adjourn this House sine die (indefinitely), no more work to be done from today, no more plenary sittings until you have vacated this order.”