NSSF inquiry; Parliament has capitulated
The independence of our national parliament has come under trial once again after the Speaker, Mr Edward Ssekandi, made a rather ridiculous ruling about whether members of parliament have powers to investigate errant cabinet ministers.
Ssekandi’s decision has also left the country wondering whether the taxpayer whose money was misappropriated in the NSSF-Temangalo land scandal should continue to foot the bill for the endless commissions of inquiry which are not only very expensive but also whose recommendations never get to see the light of day.
It’s also common practice for governments to employ the commissions of inquiry to buy time and divert public attention and subtly suppress dissenting views. Instead of using the commissions to restore public confidence about the way the country is governed , the inquiries like in the case of the National Social Security Fund land saga serve the purpose of humiliating the victims- in this case the workers- whose hard-earned savings the NSSF managers are mandated to manage.
But before we address the legal issues and Mr Ssekandi’s interpretation of the law to suit the powers that be, let us pose some questions here. If indeed, Ssekandi, as the Speaker, (and he has a legal mind too) knew that Parliament had no business investigating ministers for contraventions of the law like political influence peddling, conflict of interest and general abuse of office, why did he allow the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises to go ahead with their investigations?
And these investigations were conducted within the precincts of Parliament in full public view and lasted nine weeks. That’s besides the numerous caucus and cabinet meetings called by the President to save the embattled Security Minister Amama Mbabazi and Finance Minister Ezra Suruma, costing millions of taxpayers’ money.
The nation needs to be reminded that although the primary role of Parliament is to make laws, that alone does not extinguish its inherent powers under the constitution to rein in members of the Executive when they abuse state power. Parliament is mandated by the constitution to defend the constitution and promote the democratic governance of Uganda.
It’s also a cardinal principle of law that the constitution is supreme and therefore takes precedent over any other enabling law like the Leadership Code. The constitution provides that if any law or any custom is inconsistent with any provision of the constitution, the constitution prevails and that other law or custom shall to the extent of the inconsistency, be null and void.
Mr Ssekandi, with due respect, made a gross mistake when he relied on an erroneous interpretation of the law to suggest and rule that a committee of Parliament does not have powers to investigate errant public servants like ministers and make recommendations including sanctions against such wrongdoers.
This is because article 90 of the constitution is very clear; it mandates Parliament to appoint committees with powers of the High Court. This in effect means that these committees have unlimited jurisdictions like the High Court to inquire into any matter, make decisions and even pass a sentence/sanctions.
It’s disappointing and a very sad development for the country that the Speaker and Parliament are ready and have surrendered their supervisory authority and constitutional independence to the Executive arm of government. Parliament has betrayed the people of Uganda by succumbing to the manipulations and coercion of the Executive and not serve to protect national interests. But there comes a time, like in the just concluded elections in one of the world’s leading democracies- the US, when the voters or the citizens reclaim their constitutional supremacy and say; it’s enough!
Mr Sserwanga is an advocate and journalist