EXPOSED: Why ministers refused to vacate offices

City Lawyer Male Mabirizi submits in Court recently (FILE PHOTO)

Kampala – A section of former ministers have defended a move not to vacate offices and hand over instruments of power, after their counterparts were dragged to court for executing ministerial mandates despite their tenure elapsing, saying they are clueless on who to hand over to.

Last week, Hassan Male Mabirizi filed a suit against four former ministers; Matia Kasaija (Finance), Edward Katumba Wamala (Works), Jeje Odongo (Internal Affairs) and Benny Namugwanya (Kampala) for allegedly continuing to work despite their term of office expiring when Museveni took his 6th oath as President.

All the four Ministers are accused of holding press briefings, actions Mabirizi argues amounts to impersonating which is a crime the minister in the respective ministries, are crimes contrary to Section 381 (1) of the Penal Code for which the accused should be arrested, charged and prosecuted.

When some of the former Ministers were asked after taking oath as MPs on Thursday, they all admitted not handing over their offices to the Permanent secretaries, and instead blamed Museveni for delaying to name new cabinet members they could handover offices and instruments of power to.

Obiga Kania, former Minister of State for Internal Affairs described the confusion within cabinet as a dire situation, but denied knowledge of any Minister now who is doing substantive ministerial work.

This is despite the fact that Jeje Odong, his former senior Minister of Internal Affairs is named in the suit for having presided over the handover office at National Identification and registration Authority (NIRA). One wonders if Obiga wasn’t invited to the ceremony by officials of the Ministry.

Obiga added that his fellow former cabinet members would be holding instruments of power, but the reason why they are holding onto the offices is because they aren’t sure of who to hand over the offices to.

He said: “The constitution we have is to be operationalized by other directives, so there should be directives over when the next government ends, how do we transit to the next one. How do you hand over to whom do you handover? Everybody assumes that the president therefore must have an automatic hand to who?”

Reminded that the Permanent Secretary takes charge when the office of Minister becomes vacant, Obiga replied, “If I hand over something, I must handle it responsibly just like I was given it responsibly. I was given all the instruments under the law.”

Obiga who is now MP Terego East County blamed Mabirizi for blowing up the matter. “It was a simple matter, I see a lot of hyperbole by Ugandans, but these are very simple things, they will be over in two weeks. Let these things not divert us,” noted Obiga.

Former Minister of Disaster and Preparedness, Hilary Onek after his oath as MP Palabek County in Lamwo district admitted being clueless about developments in Kampala, saying he had been holed up in Lamwo for the past fortnight and needed time to acquaint himself with issues of cabinet handover.

On why he hasn’t handed over his office, Onek said he can only handover office if there is someone to handover to and if you have nobody to handover to, then that office is still busy.

Hamson Obua, former State Minister for Sports struck a defiant tone saying the executive authority of Uganda is vested in the President, who is equally vested in the mandate of appointing Ministers.

“The most fundamental question we must ask is, whether there is a lacuna in the law. As far as I am concerned, I haven’t handed over because the Executive of the authority is vested in the President and in law, what isn’t prohibited is allowed,” said Obua.

Jeje Odong, former Minister of Internal Affairs who was named in the suit, laughed off the suit stating that the Government doesn’t work in a vacuum, adding that until there is somebody to hand over, he will still hold on to his office until there is a substantive Minister of Internal Affairs to handover to.

Reminded that the former Deputy Attorney General, Jackson Kafuuzi had encouraged his fellow former cabinet members to stay away from their offices, Jeje said the legal position is slightly different, “I wish I could advise you to get in touch with the Attorney General. There is something verbal and something written by law.”

Charles Engola, former Minister of State for Defence admitted to still holding onto his office until President Museveni revokes his appointment.

He said, “No, I haven’t handed over, I was appointed by the President, he must evoke the appointment. I can’t hand it over when nobody has replaced me, do you know who is going to replace me? So tell the President to appoint somebody to take over my office, I will hand it over.”

A defiant Peter Ogwang, former Minister of State for ICT said he would only hand over office when new leaders are appointed.

However, Markson Oboth (West Budama Central) MP, also former Chairperson Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, wondered why the former Ministers are still holding onto the offices.

“They should be able to handover to the Permanent Secretaries which has been the precedent before. I don’t know why this time they are hanging on. That is the practice, so when a new government comes on, on 12th May, there is no cabinet.”

However, his counterpart, Ongalo Obote, former Chairperson Rules, Discipline and Privileges Committee who was hesitant to weigh into the subject argued that the President is the appointing authority and it is up to the president to announce this cabinet is fully dissolved.

Ongalo however admitted the confusion in cabinet raises issues that have to be addressed with clarity.

He cited the decision by the President to issue a proclamation for the first sitting of the 11th parliament before he was sworn in as president for the fifth term.

“I thought, does this make sense? The president should be sworn in first before he makes a proclamation. It created a conflict for the previous presidents to make proclamations for the next governments. These things arise because of a lack of acquaintance with the way our constitution works,” noted Ongalo.

Jonathan Odur (Erute County) blamed President Museveni saying the crisis could have been avoided if the President had stepped in time and named his cabinet.

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