INSIDE THE M7 MUNYONYO MEETING THAT LED TO CJ KATUREBE RETIRING WITH HIS FULL SALARY & MORE
By Mulengera Reporters
In September 2015 (5 months after Katurebe became CJ), President Museveni had a private engagement with a large group of judicial officers who represented others. Held on the sidelines of that same year’s Annual Judges’ Conference that was held in Munyonyo, the meeting deeply discussed inadequate welfare judicial officers endured during active service on the bench and retirement. There was a lot of listening. Judges spoke out sharing their economic difficulties and Gen Museveni, flanked by the judiciary top leadership, would speak back and forth. In the end, consensus emerged that things were bad and some quick interventions had to be improvised.
Gen Museveni saw the bench’s point especially after outgoing CJ Bart Katurebe made a case eloquently explaining how a strengthened judiciary would enhance rapid economic development and transformation (by deepening investor confidence) as opposed to impeding it. A soft-spoken Katurebe referenced on the business community’s trillions that were continuing to be tied up in commercial disputes that the Commercial Court couldn’t promptly dispose of due to resource constraints. He rightly argued that a strengthened court system would give investors the confidence that Uganda was a good environment to be invested in since disputes can quickly be resolved and in an efficient manner. Katurebe then paused and asked his audience a question that didn’t have to be answered. “Just imagine how much difference all these trillions can make for the economy while expanding the tax base for URA,” he submitted as a clearly converted Museveni nodded in approval.
Katurebe, unanimously supported by fellow judges present, suggested that expediting the enactment of the Judiciary Administration Bill was one quick intervention that could be accomplished once there was political will. Why? In there, the Bill suggested many remedies to make the judiciary more efficient in justice-related service delivery. In the subsequent submissions, several judge speakers called for reform in the way their post-retirement remuneration was being calculated and determined. Whereas the Pensions Act provided for a formula that calculated pension in terms of how long one had been a judicial officer and led to miserable outcomes as people would end up taking home so little, the judges used the Munyonyo meeting to suggest retiring with 85% of their salaries.
Gen Museveni surprised them by improving on their suggestion by recommending that they retain 100%. There was excitement in the room as judges ululated amidst dancing and jubilation. When they were done appreciating and normalcy returned to the room, the President elaborated on why he thinks judges deserve retiring with their 100% salary. Saying judges do a lot of work often staying in office till late at their less qualified/experienced fellow lawyers make a killing in private practice, the man from Rwakitura shared very painful experiences that some of the previously retired justices had endured including Amos Twinomujuni (succumbed to cancer in November 2013). Others like Leticia Kikonyogo and Herbert Ntabgoba equally struggled. So, Gen Museveni (who often gets approached to financially bail out such ailing senior citizens) had plenty of experiences to share in a bid to justify his push for 100% salary retention. But for that to be achieved, the Judiciary Administration Bill, whose enactment had stagnated in Parliament for an eternity, had to be passed. And Gen Museveni, who controls over 90% of legislative decisions, pledged support by leveraging on his ruling party’s numerical strength in Parliament.
He kept his word except that when the matter came to Parliament (where shamed Justice Ministry bosses resurrected it after some of the public-spirited MPs like Medard Segona threatened to sponsor a private members’ bill to have the same passed), MPs dragged their feet on it. Legislators, who were to later become even more resentful towards the bench after the Constitutional Court used its Mbale ruling to invalidate their two year term extension, objected to allowing judges to retire with 100% salary. They initially diminished the thing to 80%, a position Gen Museveni reluctantly acquiesced to after the Finance Ministry also weighed in explaining the financial implications such would have on the national resource envelop. The process moved on especially after Speaker Kadaga also met judges and pledged support for the Bill and expedite its enactment.
Subsequently, judiciary delegations appeared before the Legal Committee of Parliament to defend their demands and, majority members being lawyers, the Committee easily appreciated the judges’ predicament. Even then, the enactment process still took long because many stakeholders (including the Ministries of Finance, Public Service etc) had to be consulted first. In their engagements with different stakeholders, including Kadaga and the Committee, the judiciary leaders shared useful experiences from Zambia and Tanzania where all judges (not just the CJ) would, upon retirement, continue earning their salary 100% and other benefits. It was repeatedly explained that the Pension’s Act led to such miserable outcomes to the extent that the CJ Katurebe would only earn Shs6m per month as monthly pension under the old arrangement.
Then along the way, a deepened understanding and consensus began to emerge that there was need to align the judiciary leadership to be treated equally well in their retirement just like is the case for the Speaker of Parliament, his/her deputy or even the President and Vice President. Actually even the Prime Minister and deputies are all entitled to a reasonable package that is periodically paid out to them in their post-work life. It’s this desire to align the post-retirement treatment of heads of the three arms of government that saw MPs unanimously endorse the proposal (earlier this month) by opposition chief whip Semujju Nganda for the CJ & DCJ to retain 100% of their salary on retirement (as the other judicial officers including Magistrates keep 80%). This intervention by the legislature was necessary to bring the Judiciary at par with the executive and parliament whose respective heads and deputies are already well catered for.
Under the Emoluments & Benefits of the President, Vice President & Prime Minister Act (in force since 2010), Museveni, Edward Sekandi and Ruhakana Rugunda will respectively retain 60% of their salary, upon retirement, for the rest of their lives. Despite commencing in 2010, when the President assented to it, the Act also covers all the leaders that held these similar respective positions since independence. They each are entitled to many other benefits including a fully furnished house, Shs20m for furniture every 5 years; chauffer driven vehicles, security, domestic servants, first class air travel, office staff, housing and medical allowances. There is also Shs800,000 for monthly utility expenses and first class travel abroad. For the Chief Justice and Deputy, they are (besides the 100% basically Shs26.7m salary retention) entitled to a house of Shs400m, annual medical allowance, a vehicle worth Shs200m, security at a rate of Shs15m annually, Shs600,000 for his two maids/domestic servants, monthly fuel of Shs2m, monthly vehicle repair expenses and Shs240,000 in monthly internet provision.
Gratefully, Administration of the Judiciary Bill (now Act) has been generously enacted in such a way that even former CJs like Benjamin Odoki, Wako Wambuzi and others (that preceded Katurebe) are going to benefit. In fact last week, Speaker Kadaga demanded that some realignment be considered so that even the Parliamentary Pensions Act 2007 (in force since 2011) is amended to ensure all past Speakers & their Deputies since Independence equally benefit. The Act allows all men and women occupying that office since Independence to every month earn 60% of the current office bearers’ salary (upon retirement and be remunerated that way till death). They are each entitled to many other benefits including chauffer driven vehicle, fuel provision, security guards, domestic servants and medical care for them, spouses and other family members. The state also spends Shs660,000 per month as contributions towards their water and electricity utility bills.
There has lately been a misunderstanding by some social media users who have construed this very comprehensive Judiciary retirement package to be a deal of tokenism between Gen Museveni and CJ Bart Katurebe who have had a history of closely working together since the 1980s when they first met (See related reporting here https://mulengeranews.com/5-years-into-the-job-katurebe-ends-his-tenure-as-cj-but-how-will-be-remembered/). Nothing could be further from the truth because the reality is that things like retiring to a house of Shs400m and a vehicle worth Shs200m have been an established practice for the Ugandan judiciary for years. That is why Katurebe’s predecessors like Odoki and Wambuzi each were treated the same. Stinking rich Wako Wambuzi got both a house and vehicle (or cash in lieu of the same) as he retired and the same was repeated for Odoki whose 2013 departure preceded Katurebe’s entry.
Even other judges like DCJ, PJ and other lower ones have each been retiring with a house and car or its money equivalent. It happened for DCJ Steven Kavuma and will certainly happen for Alfonse Owiny Dollo when his day comes. Whereas the CJ gets Shs400m for a house, the other judges get between Shs250m and Shs300m for the same item-and Shs180m for a vehicle.
The only difference now is that this same arrangement (and much more) has been fortified in the law that has newly been enacted (i.e. the Administration of the Judiciary Act). Previously, the Judiciary PS would (having budgeted for the same) get the money allocated by the Finance Ministry or even Parliament to cater for such retiring judges’ purchase of a car and house. This had become a practice only rooted in a cabinet resolution and it was merely an ex gratia payment that the retiring officers continued being paid simply because the executive pleased to (without any serious compulsion by the law). The ex gratia way of paying off retiring judges, however, had its own problems as the Judiciary accounting officers had to always explain such payments without the same being adequately rooted in an enabling law. It was routine raised as a query by the Auditor General in his reports and subsequently by PAC which acts on such audit reports.
The new Act, during whose debate many opposition MPs made useful contributions, has only provided a legal work for the judiciary to continue enjoying such financial benefits and much more including establishment of the Judiciary Council and an autonomous Judiciary Account whereby PS Pius Bigirimana will now be financially facilitated directly without being lumped together with the rest of JLOS institutions under the Justice Ministry.
The new law also clarifies on the powers of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) when it comes to authorizing judicial officers seeking to go for non-judiciary assignments and subsequently desire to get out on unpaid leave and subsequently come back. Examples of such include being appointed to serve as say IGG like has been the case for Irene Mulyagonja and Faith Mwondha before her. The other implication of the new Act is that judicial officers will have no justification to be lazy, inefficient or even corrupt because their post-retirement economic fears have finally been responded to. This is the reason why when impropriety was implied on the Masaka Registrar last week, anger against him was wide spread among judiciary circles (see related reporting here; https://mulengeranews.com/masaka-deputy-registrar-suspended-for-abuse-of-office/). Under the new law, all judiciary expenses will directly be charged on the Consolidated Fund just like is the case with Parliamentary Commission which doesn’t fall under any Ministry. All this had been envisaged under the 1995 Constitution when the CA Delegates enacted the relevant provisions under Article 128 of the Constitution for which the new Act now becomes the enabling law.
There was only one coincidence which possibly has resulted into the misconception some of the social media users have exhibited by falsely claiming that this is just Gen Museveni rewarding his longtime friend Bart Katurebe. And this relates to the timing of the assent by the President turning the Bill into law (Act of Parliament). By some coincidence, Museveni signed it off a day before Katurebe eased out of the CJ office on the account of age having clocked 70. He actually rang Katurebe to say “I have done my part.” But even without this (timing) being the case, Katurebe (like all his predecessors) would nevertheless have benefited (retaining 100% of his salary; which ironically was specifically suggested into the Act by influential opposition MP Semujju Nganda, a petitioner in the Togikwatako case, who naturally must have been aggrieved by the Katurebe-led Supreme Court decision upholding the age limit amendment).
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