Monday, March 5, 2012


The public always likes a good show, and for the most part this parliament has provided just that.

The NRM MPs slighted during the last polls by the party hierarchy are getting their own back, ministers now understand the true meaning of “No one is innocent” scampering for cover before being forced to resign kicking, screaming and -- when all else fails resorting to blackmail, in an attempt to hang on.

More recently MPs set their sights on the central bank but their “irrational exuberance” may have got the better of them on that one. More about that later.

Two weeks ago the constitutional court pronounced itself on a petition filed by Severino Twinobusingye questioning parliament’s authority to urge ministers named in the recent oil probe to step down as well challenging whether the ad hoc committee to address the matter was constitutionally put together.

The five judges of the constitutional court agreed that parliament had no power to compel the ministers under suspicion to step down pending the completion of their investigation and were critical of the house’s conduct in coming up with the resolutions, which were “passed in a very emotional, hostile and unparliamentarily fashion, perhaps, unprecedented in the history of this country since her return to parliamentary democracy”.

Despite this, four judges thought the ad-hoc committee was constituted constitutionally and that to rule otherwise may be seen as an attempt by the court to interfere in the workings of parliament. Justice Steven Kavuma differed.

Kavuma held back no punches in ruling that the conduct of the house “offended the principles of natural justice”, the ad-hoc committee’s set up was “fundamentally flawed” and that “it was irredeemably tainted with unconstitutional acts of the whole house from which it was constituted and from which it drew its character and derived its authority”

Arguing that separation of powers does not mean the constitutional court should not exercise its role to point out when excess have been committed by the other arms of government he said, “Parliament acted unconstitutionally and it is the duty of the court as the custodian of the constitution, to so find as such.”

While the court’s ruling was being communicated MPs were still basking in the afterglow of having caused the resignation of ministers Syda Bbumba and Khiddu Makubuya.

The ministers are alleged to have helped inflate, by billions of shillings, compensation claims by businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba. Basajjabalaba lodged the claim following the cancelation of his tenders to lease Nakasero and Owino markets.

Unsatisfied by those scalps they mounted pressure for the resignation or sacking of central bank governor Emanuel Tumusiime Mutebile.

Mutebile on request of then finance minister Bumba wrote a letter of comfort to banks Basajjabalaba owed money, to stay action on the beleaguered businessman who had fallen back on his debt payments.

MPs added to Mutebile to their list of most wanted, arguing that he overstepped his mandate in guaranteeing the businessman’s loans.

The long and short of it is that Basajabala had borrowed money from the banks and was having problems paying it off. He appealed to the finance ministry for help since the government owed him about sh140b for cancelling his leases to the city markets. The finance minister asked the central bank to help Basajabalaba. In Mutebile’s judgement a letter of comfort to the banks was his best course of action.

He wrote to the banks assuring them that Basajabalaba was good for the money – given written assurances by the finance minister, and that if the compensation did not come through by a stipulated time the central bank would make good on the loan and square their accounts with the government later. And there is a paper trail to that effect.

It is hard to see what Mutebile’s fault is in the whole arrangement.

Never mind that they have no constitutional right to cause the governor’s dismal, MPs argued he should have queried the size of the compensation, but that is the role of the auditor general. They argued he should have queried the legality of the compensation but that again is the role of the attorney general. They argued he should have refused to pay afterall, “Didn’t he smell a rat?” But as the banker of the government who is he to say no to the client when he has all supporting documentation?

It was reported that the cabinet sub-committee exonerated the central banker of any wrongdoing and will report to parliament as much.

We are all for parliament keeping the executive on its toes. We are all for parliament going hammer and tongs after the corrupt, we mere mortals actually enjoy seeing the high and mighty squirm in their seats as details of their wrongdoing are revealed.

But as the justices of the constitutional court counseled, parliament needs to guard against degenerating into a village crowd, meting out mob justice at the slightest provocation in the belief that their cause justifies whatever means they apply.

Parliament is critical to the building of a strong democracy, maybe the MPs need to seat back and better appreciate the enormity of their responsibility and act accordingly.

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