Lawyers sue Ugandan gov’t over failure to constitute UCC tribunal

Lawyers sue Ugandan gov’t over failure to constitute UCC tribunal
NETPIL has filed a petition at High Court that compels the Attorney General to establish the Communication Commission tribunal. The petition also seeks to regulate the powers of the UCC

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Two lawyers have sued the Government of Uganda for failing to constitute a tribunal to resolve disputes at the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).

The two lawyers, Gloria Linda Nagami and Arthur Junior Nsereko have filed their case before the Civil Division of High Court in Kampala.

They argue that the Uganda Communications Act provides for a Tribunal after one year from the date on which the Act is published in the Gazette. The UCC Act was published in the Gazette on January 18, 2013, meaning that the Tribunal should have come into force on January 18, 2014.

However eight years later, the tribunal which is supposed to comprise the Judge and two other persons appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission has never been constituted.

According to the UCC Act, the tribunal is supposed to hear and determine all matters related to communication services arising from decisions made by the Commission or the line Minister.

The lawyers note that the failure or omission or neglect of the government to operationalize the UCC Act for all these years is illegal, unreasonable and unjustifiable. The applicants also allege that such neglect occasioned gross and continuous abuse of the human rights of citizens and has hindered their access to justice.

The matter is supported by two affidavits of the applicants who state that in December 2020, they wrote to the Judicial Service Commission asking them to act on the same but the Tribunal had never been made.

They add that on August 17, 2020, under their organization, the Network for Public Interest Lawyers Limited (NETPIL) petitioned the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga over the same but they were not successful.

According to the applicants, the failure or neglect by the government to establish, constitute and operationalize the UCC Tribunal has led to the improper and inadequate implementation of the UCC Act of 2013.

“That I know several cases filed in courts challenging the decision if the UCC has been dismissed for being improperly filed without exhausting the existing alternative remedies and more particularly the UCC Tribunal,” reads Nsereko’s affidavit in part.

According to the lawyers, the dismissal of such cases has hindered the citizens’ right to access justice when they are referred to a non-existent Tribunal to solve their dispute and complaints.

The applicants are now asking the court to extend the time within which this application should be filed and then make a declaration that the government’s failure or neglect to constitute UCC Tribunal is illegal.

Nagami says they also want the court to compel the Attorney General to constitute the tribunal within six months from the day court will make its ruling as well as costs.

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In 2015, the Auditor General issued a public report in which he advised that the absence of a Tribunal to boost the amicable resolution of disputes among operators and UCC stifles the communication sector’s operational environment in Uganda.

The report also indicates that such a failure affects the commission’s ability to promote competition, including the protection of operators from acts and practices of other operators.

In 2019, Vincent Bagiire, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Information Communications and Technology revealed that the Tribunal could not be constituted due to a shortage of funds.

The case is yet to be fixed for hearing.