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Trouble brews at Makerere after suspension of Staff Tribunal judge

There is a growing sense of concern among staff at Makerere University following the recent decision by the University Council to suspend the operations of the University Staff Appeal Tribunal.

Last month, the University Council, acting on the advice of Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, implemented the suspension. In a letter written by University Secretary Yusuf Kiranda, it was revealed that the tribunal lacked a proper constitution, with particular attention drawn to the disqualification of its chairperson, Justice Patrick Tabaro, based on age-related criteria.

Kiryowa Kiwanuka, who formerly served on the Makerere University Council and chaired the Appointments Board before assuming the position of Attorney General, responded to inquiries raised by the University Secretary regarding the tribunal’s functioning.

Kiranda sought clarification on the tribunal’s proper constitution and the implications of any deficiencies on its decisions. In his response, Kiwanuka stated that the chairperson of the tribunal does not meet the age requirements for the position.

“According to the Constitution, individuals who are 65 years of age or older are ineligible for appointment as judges of the High Court. Consequently, retired judges of the High Court do not qualify to be appointed as chairpersons of the Staff Tribunal under the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act,” read Kiwanuka’s letter.

The Staff Appeal Tribunal has long served as a vital platform for dismissed university staff to challenge decisions made by the Appointments Board and seek a fair and unbiased hearing. However, the university management abruptly halted its operations, causing significant concern among staff members.

The recent suspension of the University Staff Appeal Tribunal is seen as another authoritarian move under the leadership of Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, the vice chancellor of Makerere University.

Since assuming the role of vice chancellor nearly six years ago, Nawangwe has faced criticism for his iron-fisted approach, which has resulted in the suspension of staff and students who dare to voice dissent or are perceived as holding contrary views on institutional policies.

An anonymous source familiar with the matter claimed that the university’s justification for halting the tribunal due to the chairperson’s eligibility is a mere cover-up.

The source argues that the real reason for the suspension is the Council’s dissatisfaction with the majority of decisions made by the tribunal under the leadership of Justice Patrick Tabaro.

According to the source, the tribunal had reinstated a significant number of staff members who were unfairly dismissed by the Appointments Board after fair hearings, a move that allegedly displeased the Council.

Dr. Robert Kakuru, chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), expressed no surprise at the suspension, given the irregular dismissals and suspensions of staff that the tribunal had overturned due to the heavy-handedness of the previous Appointments Board.

Kakuru criticized the Council and management, suggesting that they were disturbed by the tribunal’s decisions. He questioned the logic of the university appealing against its own tribunal and noted that the speed at which the tribunal was suspended contrasted with the delay in reinstating staff members who had won their cases.

He questioned the logic of the university appealing against its own tribunal and noted that the speed at which the tribunal was suspended contrasted with the delay in reinstating staff members who had won their cases. He viewed the suspension as an act lacking good faith and indicative of a hidden agenda.

The suspension of the staff tribunal has raised concerns among many observers, as it eliminates an important avenue for university employees facing dismissal to seek redress. Currently, a substantial number of staff members find themselves at odds with various proceedings within the institution, putting their job security in jeopardy.

Previously, students had criticized the university’s interference in student leadership and restrictions on political party involvement. Despite the criticism, Vice-Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe has shown little responsiveness to these concerns.

In response to the suspension, Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) has expressed its protest, noting that running the university without a staff tribunal is both anomalous and self-destructive, as it deprives staff members of a vital safeguard for addressing grievances.

In a letter dated May 3, 2023, MUASA Chairperson Dr. Robert Kakuru and Secretary General Christine Mbabazi expressed their shock at the prolonged inactivity of the University Staff Appeals Tribunal due to the absence of a chairperson. They questioned the University management’s request for advice from the Attorney General, citing a lack of good faith given the existing relationship between the management, the Appointments Board, and the staff tribunal.

MUASA members also criticized the process followed in seeking legal opinion and guidance. MUASA further revealed alleged plans by the university management to appoint former members of the Appointments Board to lead the staff tribunal, which they viewed as an attempt to protect their own interests.

The association rejected the Attorney General’s legal opinion, labeling it biased due to the former chairperson’s previous decisions and expressed concerns about interference in the tribunal’s operations.

MUASA called on the university management and Council to refrain from interfering with the tribunal’s management, including the development of rules and regulations.

They insisted that only individuals with unquestionable knowledge, ability and integrity should be appointed as chairpersons of the tribunal, and former members of the Appointments Board or Council should be excluded due to conflict of interest.

MUASA urged immediate intervention to reconstitute the University Staff Appeals Tribunal and prevent a miscarriage of justice for its members.

In response to his suspension, Justice Tabaro, who has chaired the tribunal since May 2019, appealed to University Chancellor Professor Ezra Suruma to take prompt action to avoid a disruption in dispute resolution at the university.

Tabaro’s legal representatives argued that only the appointing authority, the chancellor, had the power to suspend the tribunal chairperson, asserting that the University Council exceeded its authority.

They highlighted the potential conflict of interest for Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, who was previously the chairperson of the Appointments Board during the delays faced by the tribunal.

Tabaro’s lawyers further emphasized the need for impartiality and criticized the university secretary for violating the law. They highlighted the relatively calm and harmonious environment on campus over the past four years since the appointment of the tribunal members, including the chairperson.

The situation remains tense as stakeholders await further action from the university to address the concerns raised by MUASA and Justice Tabaro.

mmkakembo@gmail.com

Comments

0 #1 apollo 2023-05-24 21:51
The University Council can best be described as a charade. Before the University Convocation elections last year, the University Council wrote a letter demanding accountability for Convocation monies disbursed over many years.

Then some professor turned NRM electoral chairman made some statements, and that was the last time we heard any mention of this matter. That should inform us of the calibre and integrity of these self seekers.
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+1 #2 Lakwena 2023-05-25 10:36
In other words Apollo, afraid of their nudity of dishonesty, incompetence, corruption, autocracy (tyranny and authoritarianism),being exposed; the self-seekers spend sleepless day and night/mares in placing stumbling blocks, diversion and perversion in the path of professional and/or ethical procedures.

What is disgusting/revolting about the dressed up self-seekers is that: they want our respect.
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