The Administration of the Judiciary Bill, 2018, which proposes hefty retirement benefits for judges, threatens to open a bitter row, pitting the judiciary against NRM MPs who are loudly opposed to the fat packages.
NRM MPs last Wednesday rejected the draft legislation, which proposes hefty retirement benefits for the chief justice, deputy chief justice, supreme and court of appeal judges, high court judges and other judicial officers.
The proposed law aims to operationalise constitutional articles, which support the judiciary as an independent arm of government. Article 128 provides for the independence of the judiciary, makes it self-accounting and protects its administrative expenses and emoluments charged on the consolidated fund.
The bill also provides for the retirement benefits of judicial officers, which have been a subject of contention for some time. The judiciary has complained several times that a lack of this law has hampered its budget cycle and effectiveness. The bill was drafted in 2012 and has been before cabinet since December 2013.
The bill tabled in the House on May 29, last year was referred to the parliamentary committee on legal and parliamentary affairs for scrutiny. When the committee tabled its report before the House, it kicked up a storm in the NRM caucus convened to debate the bill.
According to sources, the caucus meeting unanimously rejected the bill, citing the judges’ refusal to grant a two-year term extension for the 10th parliament and, a ‘lack of money’ to pay the ‘exorbitant’ retirement benefits.
Sources that attended the caucus meeting at the office of the prime minister last week said the meeting turned rowdy as soon as Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire tried to justify the lofty retirement benefits.
“They [judges] abused us. Let the 11th parliament pass it, but not the 10th. Government has no money,” a source quoted one MP as having said.
“That is when members started shouting. Everyone was speaking against that bill. When Hon Waluswaka argued that the judges had abused us that we came to parliament without knowing how to use forks, didn’t know Kampala streets and blocked our two-year term extension in Mbale, almost everyone said no to the bill,” a source added.
James Waluswaka is the Bunyole West MP.
“It was a stormy meeting. Indeed we were reminded about Justice Kakuru’s remarks in Mbale. Some people in the 10th Parliament are sons and daughters of chiefs. How could they not know how to use forks? That is how the bad blood started,” a source said.
The MPs faulted Justice Kenneth Kakuru, the only dissenting judge, for not ruling in favour of scrapping the age limit clause from the 1995 Constitution in Mbale in July last year.
“Otafiire told us that judges have no business deals outside court but we have evidence they have chambers and their spouses have businesses; in Kikuubo…what is the meaning of doing business, is it selling charcoal?” Another source said.
Kole North MP Bonny Desales Okello said “the bill cannot pass the moral test” as its motive addresses the plight of one arm of government- Judiciary.
“These people are better remunerated than others. They have vehicles and good pay while in service. Why would they need allowances to a tune of 100% of their monthly salaries? That is greed and I don’t think the public will be happy with us if we passed such a law,” Okello said.
According to a member of the legal and parliamentary affairs committee, when Speaker Rebecca Kadaga asked the committee to harmonise its position with the minister of justice, the two reached an agreement during a retreat recently in Munyonyo.
“What we expected was instead pre-empted by the caucus. As a committee, we had harmonized our position…,” a source said.
Interviewed on Monday, Usuk MP Peter Ogwang said the caucus did not reject the bill but only raised some observations and concerns.
“We are appealing to the judiciary and executive to go and look at some of the issues raised. We are aware that the judiciary has challenges, which are affecting its performance. We are of the considered opinion of first providing enough money which is required by the judiciary to execute its mandate,” Ogwang said.
“It is not that we rejected it [the bill]. We are also aware of the challenges judges go through when they retire because the law does not mandate them to have private business. So it is an issue, which we made clear to the executive to go back and look at how we can have a win-win situation but giving those in retirement 100% as per their request when there are challenges in the judiciary in terms of doing their work is not proper planning,” Ogwang added.
Ogwang described as diversionary the suggestion that the caucus opposition to the bill was payback to the judges for rejecting the two-year term extension for the 10th parliament.
“We respect the rule of law; that is why we made that amendment here. When it went to the courts of law, it was dismissed and that is the reason we [NRM] did not appeal. I was elected for five years, which I am serving. I don’t want that to be used as blackmail,” Ogwang said.
Legal committee chairman Jacob Oboth- Oboth said Minister Otafiire should step in and convince parliament since the caucus is raising similar issues raised by the committee.
“Even in the committee, there are certain things we did not agree. When you say you have to give them an equivalent of 100% of their salary, that is when someone says what is the motivation for them to work,” Oboth-Oboth said.
He said members raised concerns about the 100% allowances.
“Others were for moderation and that is the process of making a law. Not everything that comes should be endorsed. Some of us had said the 100 % would be too much, others said that we could do 75%, they are all proposals and as a committee, we had proposed 50%,” Oboth-Oboth said.
He however, took issue with some executive directors of certain companies who earn more than judges.
“We need to do a comparative study and analysis to ensure their salaries are increased and have an independent judiciary. We don’t want them to say more than the Lord’s Prayer. We should avoid leading our judicial officers into temptation [due to insufficient remuneration].
Currently, a High court judge earns about Shs 10m a month.
What the bill offers
Retired Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice
*A monthly allowance equivalent to the basic salary of a sitting chief justice. That shall be paid for life.
*A furnished house or a one off payment of Shs 400m.
*An annual medical allowance equivalent to that of a sitting chief justice.
*A chauffeur driven car or a one off payment of Shs 200m.
*Travel first class when the retired chief justice is on official business.
*An allowance of Shs 15m per year payable in lieu of security.
*Fuel to attend any official government business or state function.
*Two domestic servants or payment of Shs 300,000 per month.
*Secretarial services allowance of Shs 150,000 per month.
*Subsistence allowance at the prevailing government rate when the retired chief justice is required to travel inland on official government business.
*Subsistence allowance at the prevailing government rate when the retired chief justice is required to travel abroad on official government business.
*A fuel and vehicle repairs allowance of Shs 2m per month.
*A consolidated allowance of Shs 235,000 per month for airtime and internet.
Deputy chief justice
*A monthly allowance equivalent to the basic salary of a sitting deputy justice.
*A monthly housing allowance equivalent to that of a sitting deputy chief justice or a one off payment of Shs 38m.
*An annual medical allowance equivalent to that of a sitting deputy chief justice.
*A chauffer driven car or a one- off payment of Shs 180m.
*Travel first class where the retired deputy chief justice is on official business.
*Security provided by the state or an allowance of Shs 6m per year.
*Fuel to attend any official government business or state functions.
*Subsistence allowance at the prevailing government rate where the retired deputy chief justice is required to travel inland of official business.
*A fuel and vehicle repairs allowance of Shs 1.8m per month.
*A consolidated allowance of Shs 205,000 per month for airtime and internet.
Retired justice of the Supreme court and justice of the Court of Appeal
*A monthly allowance equivalent to the basic salary of a sitting justice of the Supreme Court/ court of appeal
*A monthly housing allowance equivalent to that of a sitting justice of the supreme court or a one-off payment of Shs 300m.
*An annual medical allowance equivalent to that of a sitting justice of the supreme court/court of appeal.
*A chauffer driven car or a one off payment of Shs 150m.
*A monthly allowance equivalent to the basic salary of a sitting principal judge for life.
*A monthly housing allowance payable to a sitting Principal Judge or a one off payment of Shs 350m.
*An annual medical allowance equivalent to that of a sitting principal judge.
*A chauffer driven car or a one off payment of Shs 160m.
Judge of High court
*A monthly allowance equivalent to the basic salary of a sitting judge of the High court.
*A monthly housing allowance equivalent to that of a sitting judge of the high court or a one-off payment of Shs 300m.
*An annual medical allowance equivalent to that of a sitting judge.
*A chauffer driven car or a one off payment of Shs 150m.
The chief registrar, registrar, deputy registrar, assistant registrar, chief magistrate, senior principal magistrate grade one and principal magistrate grade one are all entitled to a monthly allowance equivalent to the basic salaries of those holding their former offices for life upon retirement.