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MPs Disagree on Regulations for Judges on Special Assignments

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On Tuesday, the Public Service State Minister, David Karubanga, said public officers appointed, seconded and assigned outside public service have to apply for unpaid leave. He explained that secondment applies when a pensionable officer is employed with an international body, which has a quota to be filled by Uganda for a maximum of 5 years.
26 Feb 2020 07:06
Justice Byabakama taking Oath as Chairman of the Electoral Commission

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Parliament has failed to pass the Administration of Judiciary Bill, 2018 following a disagreement among the legislators provision for judicial officers seconded, appointed and assigned duties outside the judiciary.  The Bill seeks to provide for powers and administrative independence of the Judiciary.  

The Bill specifically provides that judicial officers appointed, seconded or assigned to an institution outside the judiciary shall apply to the Chief Justice for leave of absence.  The bill proposes that the Chief Justice may grant the applicant leave of absence without pay and other benefits for a period not exceeding 5 years.  However, it proposes that the period of absence shall be counted as part of the officer’s period of service.    

It also provides that the Chief Justice may request the appointing authority to “appoint another person to serve in the capacity of the officer who has been granted leave of absence on such terms and conditions as the Judicial Service Commission may determine.”  

Though the legal committee that scrutinized the Bill and recommended that such judicial officers should be replaced amidst the inadequate number of judges, the proposal generated mixed reactions from legislators.   While considering this particular provision on Tuesday, MPs failed to agree on the duration of the special assignments and whether or not such judicial officers should return to their positions in the judiciary after completing their task.  

The House deferred discussion of the provision, for the second time after MPs failed to pass it on Thursday last week. The Speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga directed the Justice and Public Service Ministers to harmonise their positions on the matter and propose terms of service for judicial officers on special assignments.    

On Tuesday, the Public Service State Minister, David Karubanga, said public officers appointed, seconded and assigned outside public service have to apply for unpaid leave.  He explained that secondment applies when a pensionable officer is employed with an international body, which has a quota to be filled by Uganda for a maximum of 5 years.     He says the duration when seconded officers are away from the public service is pensionable and their position isn’t filled.    

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Karubanga however said the duration of unpaid leave for officers appointed or assigned outside the mainstream public service is not pensionable and that their positions can be filled when they are away.  He said parliament should consider providing specific regulations on the three scenarios in the Judiciary Bill.    

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The Attorney General, William Byaruhanga proposed that judicial officers appointed and seconded for duties outside the judiciary should apply to the Judicial Service Commission-JSC for leave without pay.  He explained that although the judicial officers shall return to the judiciary after completing the special duties, the JSC should exclude the time they were away on unpaid leave when computing their retirement benefits.   

Byaruhanga proposed that to fill the vacuum left the by the officers, the Judiciary should appoint officers in acting position to fill the gap left by those seconded for special assignments.  

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However the Ndorwa East MP, Wilfred Niwagaba, said the proposed retirement benefits are not pegged on years of service for judicial officers. Kumi Woman MP, Monicah Amoding, said the years of service must include when officers were also on special assignments.  

 

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  The Kilak North MP, Anthony Akol and his Ngora counterpart, David Abala said it would be unfair if judicial officers appointed in acting positions don’t get retirement benefits yet they could have filled the position for over 5 years.

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The Bugweri County MP, Abdu Katuntu proposed that special assignments should be for only  two years after which, the judicial officer should be replaced to ensure that judicial services are not interrupted. 

   

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The Jinja East MP, Paul Mwiru proposed one year while both Karubanga and the Attorney General, Byaruhanga said that a 5 year period is more plausible.  Kadaga noted that MPs should consider harmonising their proposal with the Public standing orders.        

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Following the heated debate, the Legal Affairs Committee Chairperson, Jacob Oboth asked Kadaga to defer discussion on the Bill to next week. Oboth said the committee will caucus with MPs and government on the sticky provisions in the Bill including the one on retirement benefits for top judicial officers and financial independence of the Judiciary.   Some of the judicial officers who have served on special assignment include Court of Appeal Justice; Simon Byabakama who appointed Electoral Commission Chairperson in 2016, Justice Irene Mulyagonga, the former Inspector General of Government and her predecessor, Justice Faith Mwondha among others. Kadaga thereafter deferred the discussion to next Tuesday. 

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