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Suruma to Makerere: Apologise, reinstate sacked Justice Tabaro

Justice Patrick Tabaro

Justice Patrick Tabaro

Makerere University chancellor, Professor Ezra Suruma, has issued an order to the University Council, instructing them to apologize to the sacked chairperson of the University Staff Appeals Tribunal, Justice Patrick Tabaro, and reinstate him immediately.

Suruma conveyed these directives in a letter addressed to University Council chairperson Lorna Magara. The letter was
a response to queries raised by Justice Tabaro and the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa) regarding the recent suspension of the tribunal.

In the letter dated May 22, which was seen by The Observer, Suruma questioned why the council removed the tribunal’s chairperson from office without consulting or seeking the approval of the appointing authority, who is the Chancellor of Makerere University.

He stated that the actions taken by the university secretary on behalf of the council were illegal and should be reversed. Suruma asked, “Was the removal of the chairperson of the Tribunal by the university council through the university secretary lawful? The law states that the chancellor is the sole appointing authority of the chairperson of the Tribunal, and therefore, only the chancellor has the legal authority to remove the chairperson. The prerogative of appointing the chairperson
of the tribunal lies with the Makerere University Chancellor.”

He further emphasized that the law does not grant the university council the power to issue directives for the removal of the tribunal chairperson.

“The members of the university council exceeded their powers in attempting to suspend or remove the tribunal chairperson from office. The action, which was communicated to the staff Tribunal by the University Secretary, halting all its activities, was not even copied to the chancellor, who is the appointing authority. I do not agree that the Attorney General’s opinion on this matter [delegated] the powers of appointment or dismissal of the Chairperson of the Staff Tribunal to the university secretary or the university council.”

Regarding the disqualification of Justice Tabaro based on his age, Professor Suruma argued that although Justice Tabaro had reached the retirement age of 65 as a judge, the law does not necessarily prohibit him from serving as the chairperson of such a tribunal.

“The basis for the attempted removal seems to be whether a retired judge of the High Court can be appointed as the Chairperson of the Staff Appeals Tribunal. Section 56 (1) (a) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act (UOTIA), 2001, as amended, states that the Staff Appeals Tribunal should be chaired by a person who is or is qualified to be a High court judge, appointed by the chancellor. Article 143 (1) (e) of the Constitution provides that a person qualifies for appointment as a judge if they have served as a judge of a court with unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters or a court with jurisdiction in appeals from such a court, or if they have practiced as an advocate for a period of not less than ten years before a court with unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. Retired judges possess the minimum qualification requirements as former judicial officers, given their credentials as former judges of courts with unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters,” Suruma’s letter stated.

He added that although the Constitution stipulates in Article 144 (1) (b) that a judge of the High court should vacate office upon reaching the age of 65 years, this provision does not imply that a retired judge is no longer qualified to fulfill the duties of a High court judge.

“Qualification means having the requisite qualities for the office as stipulated under Article 142 (1) (e) of the Constitution. Qualifications and appointments do not cease to exist upon attaining the retirement age. The competency to hold an office based on qualifications or requirements to speak to a strong background in law, extensive legal knowledge, and significant experience in legal practice. These attributes are not extinguished merely by retirement. If this were so, Article 142 (2) of the Constitution would not make any sense. Persons who have reached retirement age are still recognized as being eligible to serve as judges of the High Court in certain agencies...,” Suruma’s letter added.

Suruma also cautioned the University Council against further interference in the tribunal’s proceedings, as he believed it would compromise the tribunal’s independence and render it irrelevant.

“As you are aware, the tribunal has the responsibility to resolve disputes arising from staff aggrieved by the actions or decisions of management. In order for the Tribunal to carry out this responsibility faithfully, it should be able to make decisions without fear of punishment or dissolution by management due to its decisions.

“The dissolution of the Makerere University Tribunal by a letter from the University Secretary seems to be aimed at setting a precedent that future Tribunals may be dissolved if management is dissatisfied with their decisions.”

Suruma’s letter also noted that since Tabaro’s contract had only five weeks remaining, the abrupt termination of the Tribunal by the management may have been intended to intimidate future members and send a message that management has the power to punish them if they do not comply.

“I strongly believe that the independence of the Tribunal should be protected from both staff and management, and the action taken by the University Secretary on April 6, 2023, seriously undermines the independence of the Tribunal and its ability to act without fear of intimidation. In my opinion, a letter of apology should be written to the Chairperson and the chancellor, and the tribunal should resume its operations and complete the period for which it was formally and legally appointed,” he said.

Dr. Robert Kakuru, the chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association-Muasa, welcomed the intervention in the matter, stating that it was necessary to safeguard the independence of the Tribunal.

“Council and Management erred when they directed the suspension of the tribunal because they do not have that power. We hope that they will respect the guidance of the Chancellor and also respect the decisions of the Tribunal because they are adept at evading them,” Kakuru said.

In April, the University Council, following the advice of Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, implemented the suspension of the tribunal through a letter written by University Secretary Yusuf Kiranda.

The letter, dated April 6, addressed to the chairperson of the Tribunal, stated that the tribunal was not properly constituted due to the lack of requisite qualifications by its chairperson, Justice Tabaro.

Kiranda had sought clarification on the proper constitution of the tribunal and the implications of any deficiencies in its decisions. In response, Kiwanuka stated that the chairperson of the tribunal did not meet the age requirements for the position.

The suspension of the tribunal created tension among staff at Makerere University as it eliminated an important avenue for university employees facing dismissal to seek redress. The Staff Appeals Tribunal has long served as a vital platform for dismissed university staff to challenge decisions made by the Appointments Board and seek a fair and unbiased hearing.
Currently, many staff members find themselves at odds with various proceedings within the institution.

However, they are reluctant to verbally express their concerns due to the potential jeopardy it may place on their job security.

Two sources familiar with the matter stated that the suspension of the University Staff Appeal Tribunal was yet another authoritarian move by the University under the leadership of Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, the vice-chancellor, aimed at silencing the university staff.

Since assuming the role of vice- chancellor nearly six years ago, Nawangwe has faced criticism for his iron-fisted approach to the administration of both staff and students, resulting in the suspension of those who dare to voice dissent or hold contrary views to the council’s beliefs.

The growing anxiety prompted Muasa, led by its Chairperson Dr. Robert Kakuru, to petition the university Chancellor, calling for immediate intervention in the suspension of the tribunal, which they described as an act lacking good faith and indicative of a hidden agenda.

Justice Tabaro, who has chaired the tribunal since May 2019, also appealed to Suruma to take prompt action to avoid a disruption in dispute resolution at the university. Tabaro’s legal representatives argued that only the appointing authority, the chancellor, had the power to suspend the tribunal chairperson, asserting that the University Council exceeded its authority.

They also highlighted the potential conflict of interest for Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, who previously served as the chairperson of the Appointments Board.


-1 #1 Remase 2023-06-07 19:25
Suruma is completely wrong. The word qualifies means and includes but not limited to the age.

If the judge reached 65 years, then he doesn't qualify to be a high court judge. That ineluctably disqualifies him out to be the chairperson of the tribunal.
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