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Parliament demands statutory instruments on COVID-19 directives

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga chairing the afternoon plenary session.

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |  A section of Members of Parliament has tasked the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to prepare legal instruments to effect the current measures to control the spread of coronavirus disease- COVID-19.

Bugiri Municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa and West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth say that most of the recent presidential directives in line with the outbreak of COVID-19 are not reflected in statutory instruments something that has caused challenges, especially in the Justice sector.

President Yoweri Museveni has issued several directives in a bid to tame the spread of the Coronavirus disease in Uganda. Some of the directives are limitations in the movement of people, a night curfew, the closure of schools and Churches and the ban of both private and public transport. The president also banned the distribution of food and said that whoever is found distributing food will be charged with attempted murder.

Basalirwa told parliament that the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice and Minister of Health have not issued statutory instruments to enforce the directives.

“I have said here before, that Presidential directives per se don’t constitute law. Now because there is that lacuna, law enforcement officers are behaving in any way. The President did say you will be charged with attempted murder if found distributing food, with due respect, the Public Health Act under which those directives are issued has no provision on attempted murder,” Basalirwa said.

He reported that the Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake was arrested and tortured on the presidential directive on the distribution of food and that he has not been produced before the court even when the mandatory 48 hours elapsed.

He says that the Police is currently stuck with the MP at Naguru Friendship hospital debating on whether to charge him with attempted murder or not.

He said that if the President and the government are finding it difficult to lead the country under the Public Health Act, they have an option of declaring a state of emergency.

Basalirwa also demanded that lawyers be listed under the essential services providers since many people are languishing in prisons without legal representation.

The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga said that the government was afraid to proceed under a state of emergency because it would be obliged to report to the House about the exercise of their powers.

Jacob Oboth, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee chairperson said that the absence of a legal regime is either an act or omission intended to cause confusion or paralyze the country after the lockdown.

He appealed to the Speaker to engage President Museveni on the matter so that legislations are put in place. The MP questioned the President’s directives saying that they have no citation in law.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Ephraim Kamuntu acknowledged that the Executive authority vested in the President must be exercised in accordance with the Constitution and the law.

Kamuntu said that this was being done and that statutory instruments have been issued under the Public Health Act and that the situation is under constant review and that if the situation does not improve, more measures will be done in accordance with the constitution.

He appealed to MPs to be analytical and focus on the underlying causes of the situation before blaming each other on the effects and consequences.

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