In what appears the beginning of a showdown between Parliament and the Executive, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has warned against interference in her work and ordered the Attorney General to “immediately” rush to court and vacate a “stupid order” restraining the House from probing the infamous Shs 6bn payout to URA lawyers and other government officials in the Heritage Oil Capital Gains Tax case.
For the first time in years, Kadaga was visibly outrage by what she described as an attempt to “gag” Parliament and “prevent it from doing its work.”
With a standing ovation from lawmakers who almost unanimously agreed that the court order was issued in bad faith, Kadaga chose to speak her mind and defend the independence and integrity of Parliament.
“I can’t accept a situation where Court will dictate how we do our work,” charged Kadaga.
Justice Kavuma’s order which touched off a storm in the House sought to “restrain parliament, any person or authority from investigating, questioning or inquiring into the impugned bonus payments and or staying any proceedings of whatever nature.”
Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana asked Parliament to examine the court order before discussing the oil bonus motion.
The court order sought by a lawyer working with the Electoral Commission, one Eric Sabiiti, was granted by Justice Kavuma last evening.
Rukutana told the house that his office too had been served with the same court order, and sought guidance on whether it was procedurally right to debate the matter against the court order.
His presentation was however, strongly objected by most of the members of Parliament who questioned the audacity of the judiciary to dictate the work of parliament.
MP Ogenga Latigo spoke passionately about the independence of Parliament under the doctrine of separation of powers, saying, “There is no way we can tell judiciary what to do.”
“If a street person can pick a court order to block Parliament discussions, what will we do as Parliament?” he wondered.
MP Oboth Oboth blasted Rukutana, saying he was either “dishonest or economical with the truth.”
He added: “My fear is that another court order might come tomorrow restricting Members from coming here”.
Rukutana said he never sought to block the debate but provide guidance and inform Parliament about the existence of the court order.
Latigo expressed alarm that judicial officials were hell-bent on undermining Parliament.
“Is it audacity or national decay that a senior officer of courts totally disregards the existence of Parliament?” said Latigo as MPs punched their seats in show of support.
Latigo, who in the 8th Parliament served as Leader of Opposition, said the judiciary was “deeply aggrieved” by the court order.
He demanded that Rukutana apologises and Parliament proceeds with business.
MP Hanifa Kawooya from Sembabule did not mince her words, revealing to MPs how Rukutana was quietly conspiring to block today’s motion.
MPs say there was conflict of interest and lack of transparency in the doling out of Shs 6bn bonus payments to URA and other government officials who were involved in the Heritage oil case.
For example, URA Commissioner General Doris Akol requested for the Shs 6bn handshake, facilitated the paper work, determined the amount each would receive including her, and also used URA resources to finance the deal.
Parliament wants to discuss and if possible form committees to investigate the controversial payments.
MPs celebrate after Kadaga asked Rukutana to vacate the court oeder
At around 5:50pm as the debate raged on, the speaker ruled that the court order’s intention was to stifle the oversight work of parliament, and described it as “stupid.”
Kadaga said Parliament was “facing an unprecedented situation where the doctrine of powers is being tested”.
She added: “This is an attempt to gag this house,” she said. “Hon members, I cannot accept a situation where a court dictates how we shall speak in this house; how we shall arrange the order paper.”
As the house cheered her loudly, the speaker went on, “This is going to the core of democracy. Court says we should debate, investigate or inquire…that (court order) is not acceptable.”
Kadaga thereafter said parliament will not debate the national budget, and that “there is no way government will secure money from the consolidated fund without discussing this matter.”
“I therefore want to direct the Attorney General to move to court immediately get this stupid order vacated.”