The Ministry of Defence officials will have to return to Parliament again after being sent out of the Defence Committee for failure to provide evidence of the letter allowing the army to deploy in South Sudan.
State Minister for Defence Jeje Odongo and the Chief of Defence Forces, General Katumba Wamala, appeared before the committee on Thursday, but without the letter allegedly written to President Yoweri Museveni by his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir.
General Jeje Odongo said he is not privy to the letter because it was specifically sent to President Museveni and the committee should write to him to access it.
Kyaddondo East MP Ssemuju Nganda said the basis for any discussion regarding the deployment of the UPDF in South Sudan would be valid only if the content of the letter from President Kiir is made available.
The Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi then brought sanity to the committee when he explained that the committee had to be mindful of Article 123 of the Constitution which gives mandate to the head of state.
The committee had invited the Defence and UPDF officials to explain the Status of Forces Agreement written and signed January 10 which they say does not favour the UPDF’s stay in South Sudan and involvement in the ongoing conflict.
Benny Namugwanya, the chairperson of the committee had scrutinized the agreement and observed that it is very general with regard to the mission of UPDF in the war-torn country. There is therefore need to understand the mandate of the UPDF while in South Sudan. Bubulo East MP Simon Mulongo also noted that there is also no timeline for the mission and there is no preamble to the opening remarks on how the current arrangement arose and what led to it.
The Status of Force Agreement defines three terms such as hosting state, sending state and visiting force which indicates that the agreement is capable of reciprocal application to the two states of Uganda and South Sudan.
The MPs also noted that the agreement only applies to members of armed forces of the State parties and there is no mention of the civilians and dependents who are employed by the sending state.
Article 4.3 of the Status Forces Agreement states that the sending state may waive its exclusive jurisdiction if in its opinion such jurisdiction would impede the course of justice and its waiver would not be prejudicial to the interests of any of the parties. The Defence committee observed that this provision offends section 41 of the UPDF Act which provides that the deployed troops shall not be subject to the law of the host country or the jurisdiction of any of its court.
On Criminal matters, the committee also observed that the UPDF Act does not provide for any circumstances of waiving exclusive jurisdiction of Uganda’s laws over UPDF in favour of another State.
The Defence State Minister asked for more time to respond to the issues raised regarding the agreement in a written document.