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Parliament, AG feud deepens

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga
Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga

The recent Constitutional court order that attempted to bar Parliament from debating the controversial oil handshake bonuses to high-ranking civil servants has resurrected an old feud between the legislature and the office of the Attorney General.

Trouble came after the Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukuutana appeared to defend some of his staff who had secured the gagging order to silence MPs and other Members of the Public.

The Attorney General’s reaction sparked anger among MPs who accused government of misleading Parliament, an institution that is supposed to defend Parliament.

The MPs are now calling for government to allow Parliament to get an independent legal counsel to advise and defend Parliament.

Ndorwa East Member of Parliament Wilfred Niwagaba dubbed as one of the NRM rebel MPs is one of those calling for the divorce.

“I would strongly advise that the Parliamentary Commission opens up a legal department and employ competent legal officers to represent it,” Niwagaba said.

Niwagaba based his argument on the fact Parliament is being administered by the Uganda Parliamentary Commission which he says is established by Act of Parliament’s which gives it enough administrative stature capable of representing itself in matters of law.

Article 119 of the Constitution defines the Attorney General as the principal legal advisor to government, Parliament inclusive. The AG is, therefore, mandated to represent government in courts of law or any other legal proceedings to which the government is a party.

“It is funny to continue tolerating such a situation where those who are representing it are colluding with those who are pursuing it,” Niwagaba adds.

The first vote of no confidence in the AG’s office came from the Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza who threatened to sue the Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana for allegedly, “confusing the very institution he is supposed to guide.”

Whereas Tochi Member of Parliament Peter Okot hailed Speaker Kadaga for liberating the House from encroachment by the Executive and Judiciary, he insists that this will not end until the institution is accorded independence from the AG’s Office.

“This is the only way to stop this collusion and to ensure the meaningful implementation of the doctrine of separation of powers,” Okot says.

Precedent

In 2016, Parliament went to the Constitutional Court over a petition regarding the NRM ‘rebel MPs’. During the case, the Speaker clashed with the then Attorney General Peter Nyombi who according to Parliamentarians took sides with the NRM Party which sought to throw them out against the will of the Speaker who wanted to retain them in Parliament.

“It was so ugly because Peter Nyombi who was supposed to represent the interests of the Speaker was bitterly clashing with her pursuing the line of those who had dragged Parliament to Court!” recalls Niwagaba, who also cites the CHOGM case as another area where the AG’s office alleged lack of professionalism in representing Parliament was exposed.

Niwagaba added,: “And what is saddening even further is that in all these unfortunate situations the Executive has been consistently using the Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma as a single individual.”

However, while some MPs agree with the institution of Parliament parting ways with the AG, they are hestant about according it a fully fledged legal department warning that it will be a recipe for disaster.

Mawogola County MP Joseph Ssekabiito is one of those who have expressed apprehension about the move arguing that it will breed acrimony between the Executive and the Legislature in events where the later will be tempted to drag the former to court using its legal department.

As a way to hamonize operations between the Executive and Parliament regarding this matter, Ssekabiito suggests a Constitutional Amendment that takes away the power of appointing the Attorney General from the President to Parliament.

“No wonder the unfortunate status quo is that the AG is duty bound to give priority to his appointing authority who is the President. As such the Attorney appointed by Parliament will give priority to Parliament’s issues,” Ssekabiito argues.

Efforts to get a comment from the Parliament’s Director of Communications Chris Obore were futile as he did not pick our calls.