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Rules committee has jurisdiction to investigate MP Zaake: Katuntu

MP Zaake before the Rules committee.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Rules, Privileges and Discipline Committee of parliament has the jurisdiction to investigate and discipline any legislator for their conduct outside the precincts of the House, the committee chairperson Abdu Katuntu has stated.

He delivered the verdict on Wednesday following an objection raised by the lawyers of Francis Zaake, the Mityana Municipality MP questioning the mandate of the committee to investigate him for alleged misconduct and use of unparliamentary language against the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Anita Among.

In their written submission to the committee on Tuesday, Zaake’s lawyers Eron Kiiza and Benjamin Katana, challenged the jurisdiction of the committee to investigate matters outside the precincts of parliament.

They noted that the committee spring from Article 94 (1) of the Constitution enjoining Parliament to frame rules to “regulate its own procedure including the procedure of its committees.” The article is appropriately titled “Rules of Procedure in Parliament.” It is not Rules of Procedure outside Parliament,” reads part of the submission. They argued that jurisdiction is a creature of a statute and must be expressly stated before it is assumed.

However in his ruling, Katuntu emphasizes that rule 5 of the Code of Conduct under Appendix F of the Parliament Rules of Procedure provides that members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner that maintains and strengthens the public trust and confidence in the integrity of parliament and never undertake any action, which may bring the House or its members generally into disrepute.

Zaake and his lawyers were no show before the committee during the ruling. The committee clerk Aida Kusiima informed the members that she had received a call from their law firm indicating that Zaake had withdrawn his instructions for representation. She also noted that her calls to confirm whether Zaake was going to appear before the committee went unanswered.

In his ruling, Katuntu said that his Committee has ably identified and considered the applicable provision of the law indicating that it has jurisdiction to adjudicate and determine complaints against Zaake. “Learned Counsel for Hon. Zaake premised their contention on Article 94 that provides that subject to provisions of this Constitution, Parliament may make rules to regulate its own procedure including the procedures of its committee.”

“The committee’s view is that whereas the title alludes to rules of procedure in Parliament, the actual rule empowers parliament to make rules to regulate its procedure including the procedure of this committee,” said Katuntu. He noted that the rule does not in any way restrict parliament to making rules of procedure governing the conduct of its members only during proceedings in parliament or within the precincts of parliament.

“To do so, would be to create an absurdity. Article 94 of the Constitution enacted the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Uganda, Statutory Instrument 21 of 2021. These are the rules that regulate the conduct of business as well as the conduct and discipline of Members of Parliament,” Katuntu explained.

He noted that Zaake and his legal team did not venture into the provisions of the said rules under which his committee derives its jurisdiction to demonstrate that the complaints before the committee fall outside the scope of complaints that should be adjudicated.

On the complaints of bias, partiality and lack of independence, Katuntu, said that Zaake has been given every opportunity to appear before the committee and present his case.

“We did write to Hon. Zaake informing him of his right to Counsel, we also asked him if he so wishes to cross-examine any witness who is going to appear before the committee. We also informed him that he is free to attend all proceedings of this committee,” said Katuntu.

He added that the committee has in the past agreed to a request by Zaake for adequate time to appear before the committee, which was granted and another request by his lawyers to submit objections regarding the jurisdiction of the committee.

Katuntu said that it is unfair for anybody to accuse the committee of bias, partiality and lack of independence, adding that they are not acting on behalf of the Deputy Speaker but rather on behalf of the parliament of Uganda.

The committee resolved to continue with its investigation and scheduled a meeting on Thursday to interface with the Clerk to Parliament regarding a complaint by Zaake on withdrawal of his security team.

Katuntu also said that his committee will be meeting officials from the Uganda Communications Commission-UCC before breaking off to write their report they expect to present to parliament on Tuesday next week.

How the probe started   

The committee started the ongoing probe on the directives of the Deputy Speaker following a complaint of misconduct raised by the Bardege-Layibi Division MP Martin Ojara Mapenduzi on the floor of parliament. He proposed to move a motion for Zaake’s removal from the parliamentary commission, the top most organ of the House.

He noted that Zaake’s outburst on social media about the deputy speaker was in breach of the code of conduct for a Member of Parliament particularly a requirement to conduct themselves in a manner which will maintain and strengthen the public trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament.

“…last week, the nation woke up to a rant by a Member of this House, a Commissioner of Parliament, the honourable Zaake Francis through his known social media handles where he insulted the integrity of this House and above all, the integrity of the Office of the Speaker,” Mapenduzi said in relation to a tweet on  Zaake’s social media handle.

He explained that Zaake’s conduct is likely to bring the House into disrepute. Zaake first appeared before the Rules Committee together with his lawyers on Monday and challenged the jurisdiction leading to the verdict.



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