The Leadership Code Tribunal: How hard can it bite in the fight against corruption, abuse of office?

The Leadership Code Tribunal: How hard can it bite in the fight against corruption, abuse of office?
Hon. Dr. Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa, the Chairperson of The Leadership Code Tribunal (LCT).

Kampala, Uganda | By Edward Ronald Sekyewa | The Leadership Code Tribunal (LCT) that was sworn in by President Yoweri Museveni on 24th July, 2020 embarked on its task of adjudicating breaches of the Leadership Code of Conduct, mainly abuse of office and government property by public officials.

LCT is provided for under the Constitution of Uganda and was actualized by the Leadership Code Act 2002 which was amended in 2017 and again in 2021. The current LCT is the first one, whose members were appointed to serve for a period of 5 years renewable once, after which members cannot serve any further on the Tribunal. The decisions of the Tribunal carry the same weight as decisions of the High Court.

The 5-man tribunal is chaired by Hon. Dr. Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa as the Chairperson, Hon. Asuman Kiyingi as the Deputy Chairperson and members Hon. Didas Bakunzi Mufasha, Hon. Joyce Nalunga Birimumaaso and Hon. Jane Okelowange, all appointed by the President on advice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) with approval of Parliament. 

The LCT Chairperson Hon. Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa told this writer that the Tribunal has so far done a lot of work to set up internal structures and procedures that are necessary for smooth operations and adjudication of cases brought before it.

“When we took office in July 2020, we started with the pre-adjudication phase for a year where we had to establish processes, systems and controls in preparation for the second phase, which is the actual adjudication of cases. It is in our second year of operation that we began handling cases in the Tribunal,” Hon. Karugonjo-Segawa said.

She added that the LCT operates independently and has the power and capacity to handle cases of breach of the leadership code of conduct without fear or favor, irrespective of which government official is brought before it.

“You know that the leadership code of conduct is for all leaders right from the President to the lowest therefore if any of those leaders at any time finds him/herself before this Tribunal, they are all treated the same way. The law has given us the teeth and we are ready to bite,” she emphasized.

Cases handled by the Tribunal are either forwarded to it by the Inspectorate of Government (IG) or by private citizens who may be dissatisfied by the Inspector General of Government’s denial to grant them information mostly about the declarations of wealth of public officials. 

The Tribunal has so far handled cases ranging from abuse of office and government property and non-declaration of assets. When it comes to abuse of government property, many government officials who should be enforcers of these rules, mainly permanent and under – secretaries in ministries and other accounting officers in government agencies are the biggest abusers, making it hard for them to hold their junior officers accountable when they themselves are doing the same, especially when the abuse of government vehicles. 

The highest profile case handled by the Tribunal so far is one where the Inspectorate of Government (IG) dragged the Under Secretary in the Ministry of Health who was also in charge of Transport at the ministry, Mr. James Tukahirwa, before the Tribunal accusing him of abuse of government property. In this case, the IG stated that Mr. Tukahirwa had used two trucks with registration numbers UG 6945M and UG 6646M that were donated to the ministry for COVID-19 response to ferry construction materials to his private construction sites in Kyegegwa, Kazo and Ntugamo districts plus another site at Munyonyo in Kampala.

Mr. Tukahirwa pleaded guilty of the charges, claiming that he thought the trucks donated to the ministry for COVID-19 response were part of the ministry staff welfare package. While he prayed for a warning or caution from the Tribunal, the IG asked to have him dismissed from Public Service. In its ruling on 20th April 2022, the Tribunal ordered him to pay damages of 22.5 million shillings and ordered Public Service to demote him to a lower position.

This writer attended another hearing before the Tribunal where the IG accuses the Mayor of Ishaka-Bushenyi Municipality in Bushenyi district, Mr. Nestor Richard Byaruhanga of abuse of government property. It is alleged that Mr. Byaruhanga took a brand new Pajero vehicle that had been donated to the district a day before for a private engagement over the weekend and ended up crashing it in the swamp where police found it the following day. The IG wants this official to pay for the damage that he caused to government and also be demoted or relieved of office.

In his defense, the Mayor claims he was on official duty to meet another government official to discuss the improvement of water supply in the Municipality, which meeting dragged on late in the night. He adds that while driving home late at night after the meeting, he got an accident and that is how the vehicle ended up drowned in the swamp.

During the proceedings, Byaruhanga’s lawyers also raised the question of whether the LCT has the powers to demote or relieve him of his office because he is not a civil servant but a politician elected by the people of Ishaka-Bushenyi.

Their argument reminds us about the judgement of the Constitutional petition filed by John Ken Lukyamuzi against the Attorney General and the IGG after he had been ordered by the IGG to vacate his office as a member of the 7th Parliament because he had failed to disclose his assets, which was in breach of the Leadership Code Act 2002.

In his petition, Lukyamuzi argued that the IGG was not the Tribunal referred to in the Leadership Code Act 2002 and therefore had no powers to throw him out of Parliament.

In their ruling on 26th March 2007, the Justices of the Constitutional Court maintained that without the Tribunal as indicated in the law, the IGG as the major enforcer of Leadership Code Act had acted within her powers to throw “John Ken, the Man” out of Parliament.

One would think that an institution like the LCT would most likely fall under the Judiciary but that is not the case; it is within the Office of the President under the Department of Ethics and Integrity. The people who are currently supervising the LCT could at one point find themselves before the same Tribunal, and it is for that reason that some members of the Tribunal are not comfortable with that arrangement, preferring to become an autonomous entity.

On the matter of having the LCT under President’s Office in the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity, the LCT Chairperson said that the issue is not under which ministry they fall, but the ability to deliver on their mandate. However, she appreciates the fact that having the Tribunal without its own budgetary vote is an issue that has to be addressed to enable them do their work efficiently.

The Leadership Code Tribunal: How hard can it bite in the fight against corruption, abuse of office?
LCT team members from left to right: Hon. Joyce Nalunga Birimumaaso, Hon. Didas Bakunzi Mufasha, Hon. Jane Okelowange, Hon. Asuman Kiyingi and Chairperson Hon. Dr. Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa handing over a Report to the DPP, among others.

However, two members of the Tribunal, Hon. Asuman Kiyingi and Hon. Joyce Nalunga Birimumaaso, have filed a petition to the Constitutional Court seeking to have the Tribunal declared independent and self-accounting, and if not, have it placed under the Judiciary.

“Our mandate covers all public officials right from the President, Ministers, MP’s, Permanent Secretaries, and it is for that reason we do not want to be under an entity whose leaders are potential respondents before the Tribunal. We hope the outcome of the Petition will be able to address that issue,” one member told his writer.

Another issue the petition seeks to address is the security of the members’ tenure at the Tribunal vis-a-vis the dispensation of their work. The current members were appointed on 5-year contracts renewable once. This implies that any member can only serve for 10 years and that only if the term is renewed because it is not automatic that any of the members will have his or her contract extended for another 5 years to serve on the Tribunal. 

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For officials exercising judicial functions with powers of the High Court, they are of the view that this period does not give them room to handle their work properly without fear or favor. Some members may find themselves trying to “tread carefully” and avoiding to “step on some toes” to appease the appointing authority because they know that contract renewal is always a time of reckoning. The petitioners want their tenure secured like Judges in Courts of laws so that they are not intimidated to act in a particular way because they have to have their contracts renewed when that time comes. 

Falling under the Department of Ethics and Integrity puts the Tribunal in a precarious position of having no budgetary vote with no specified funds to carry on with their mandate which is hindering it from conducting its activities effectively.

“We want to conduct some of the hearings from the regions where they emanate to ensure the citizens in those areas can participate and be aware about the work of the Tribunal, but that and many other things can’t be done at the moment because we do not have a vote and entirely depend on the available funds forwarded to us by the Department of Ethics and Integrity,” Hon. Bakunzi noted.

Many Ugandans will agree that government properties, especially government vehicles are highly abused by government officials. On this, Hon. Bakunzi urges the citizens to be vigilant and whistle-blow those abuses to the Office of the IGG.

On whether LCT has the guts to handles cases involving “fat cats” who may appear before them, Hon. Bakunzi said that “the institution has the laws which guide its operations but still needs to be strengthened so that members adjudicating cases before the Tribunal do so without fear of repercussions.”

Ms. Sheila Lamuno, the LCT Registrar and Legal Advisor said that the Tribunal enjoys good working relationship with all arms of government, adding that they have so far handled and completed 9 cases. The Registrar is also tasked with following up the Tribunal’s decisions to ensure that they are put into effect. 

It is in LCT’s plan to establish regional offices and hear some of its cases from the districts where they emanate so that citizens can participate more in the Tribunal’s activities. About what they intend to achieve during the remaining period of their 5-year term, the Chairperson pointed to their commitment to expeditiously handle cases before the Tribunal in a fair and just manner so that they leave no case backlog at the time of handing over.