Last week, the Constitutional court issued a verdict stating that the decision to remove FRANCIS ZAAKE, who represents Mityana Municipality in parliament, from his role as a parliamentary commissioner was declared invalid due to the lack of the required quorum for approval.
Zaake had faced censure for allegedly using inappropriate language towards Speaker Anita Among, following comments she made that appeared to question his claims of being a torture victim.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, Zaake took the matter to court in an effort to have it overturned. In an interview with Muhammad Kakembo, who is a two-time parliamentarian, Zaake expressed his frustration, arguing that both Speaker Anita Among and Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa had prevented him from speaking in parliament since his censure. He believes this action is unacceptable, particularly as he is a representative of the people.
What was your reaction to the Constitutional court’s ruling that declared your censure as a member of the Parliamentary Commission to be unlawful?
I was relieved to see that the principle of the rule of law, which I strongly support, was upheld. However, it was concerning that the institution responsible for creating laws, which is parliament, failed to adhere to them. This highlights a troubling contradiction: we fail to follow the laws that we ourselves have established.
Moreover, parliament disregarded the fundamental concept of natural justice, which dictates that an individual should have the chance to defend themselves before being convicted. Despite my presence via Zoom, I was not given the opportunity to speak. In this situation, the presiding officer assumed the roles of the accuser, judge, and executor, which is unacceptable. Additionally, they lacked the necessary quorum to censure me.
I believe it is crucial for parliament to start adhering to both the laws of our country and its own procedural rules. We’ve heard rumors that the attorney general plans to appeal the decision, but I prefer not to comment until I see what action the Attorney General actually takes.
However, I would like to emphasize that it’s rare for the government to challenge decisions made by the Constitutional court. Consequently, I believe they should implement this decision. It would be highly embarrassing and unfortunate if parliament, the body tasked with creating laws, were to disregard a court ruling.
Fortunately, parliament has already indicated that they respect the court’s decision. This statement alone gives me confidence that the ruling will be enforced.
Part of respecting the law can mean appealing the decision…
In my view, respecting the law might indeed involve appealing the decision, as long as the process is carried out lawfully. I did not initiate legal action for my own benefit; rather, my goal was to ensure that constitutional norms are upheld in our country.
I also wanted to emphasize that victims of torture should never be trivialized or ridiculed. When such incidents occur, those responsible should face severe consequences to discourage similar actions in the future. Unfortunately, it is often the taxpayers who bear the financial burden of these legal proceedings.
Parliament should issue a public apology for failing to adhere to the law. After all, its role is to oversee the executive branch and ensure they are following the law. When the institution meant to enforce the law is the one violating it, it leaves one wondering where Ugandans can turn for justice.
Why does parliament lose in court?
The Constitutional court has frequently found parliament to be lacking in its adherence to the law. I believe the primary reason for this is that MPs often allow their emotions to override the established procedural rules. If the Constitutional court held the same authority as the Supreme Court, Robert Kyagulanyi might very well be our confirmed president today.
Unfortunately, many rulings from the Constitutional court are often disregarded by the Executive branch. For example, the court has invalidated several clauses in the Public Order Management Act, which the police had argued gave them the authority to regulate public gatherings. Additionally, the court has ruled multiple times that trying civilians in military courts is illegal.
Yet, these decisions have largely been ignored. Let’s hope that Parliament does not follow the Executive’s lead in this regard.
We’ve heard members of the NRM accuse you of double standards. They claim that when you win in court, you praise the judicial system, but when you lose, you argue that the courts have been compromised. What’s your response?
- The Constitutional court has often ruled correctly, and I’ve won nearly all the cases I’ve pursued in court. For example, I won a case that accused me of fleeing from Arua, and it was officially recorded that I had been tortured. I also won a torture case against the state and was awarded compensation of Shs 75 million, although the amount has not been paid yet.
While there are some fair-minded judges, the majority of our citizens do not experience justice through the court system. Given what most people go through, it’s easy to conclude that justice is lacking in Uganda. If there were genuine justice in this country, we wouldn’t still have political prisoners.
What stands out for you in all this saga?
The humiliation I’ve endured is remarkable. I’ve been publicly embarrassed in front of my family and constituents. Imagine going to work only to find your office locks changed. They even came to my home, broke in, deployed numerous soldiers, and confiscated my parliamentary car.
Furthermore, they’ve withheld my earnings, and most significantly, they prevented me from speaking in parliament, despite my role as a representative of the people.
You mean you no longer speak in parliament?
Indeed, they do not allow me to speak, regardless of how many times I stand up or raise my hand, and this applies to both presiding officers.
There was an instance when I came fully prepared, armed with the constitution and rules of procedure. I cited all the laws that granted me the right to speak, but I was dismissed. I wanted to discuss the crucial issue of torture, given that I am a victim myself. Ultimately, I had to assert my right to speak by forcefully raising points of procedure, which led to the suspension of the House.
They referred me to the disciplinary committee, but it has yet to convene. The entire experience is deeply disheartening.
Have you tried to reach out to the presiding officers (speakers)?
How do I signal that I want to speak? The guidelines for interaction are clearly outlined in our rules of procedure. Even if we have differing viewpoints, once we are in an institution like parliament, we must cooperate in accordance with the law rather than through backdoor negotiations.
I entered parliament as a representative of the Ugandan people at large, and specifically the residents of Mityana municipality. I am not supposed to engage in any clandestine dealings with anyone. As a commissioner, I served as the chairperson of the audit committee. I now wonder who is auditing parliament.
Is that why we’re seeing the purchase of numerous cars and the construction of mansions? Who is scrutinizing these expenditures to ensure that public funds are not being misused?
Is it true you were leaking information privy to you as a commissioner.
If they have evidence that I’ve leaked information, they should proceed against me legally, as I understand that leaking confidential information is a crime.
The committee I chaired is an internal audit committee; the committee open to public scrutiny is Cosase. When I heard my colleague, Joel Ssenyonyi, announce that he planned to audit parliament, I was thrilled.
Written by Muhammad Kakembo