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JLOS PRIORITIZES COMMERCIAL JUSTICE AS UGANDA ROLLS OUT NDP3

By Joel Mugabi

A number of institutions under the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) used the past one year to continue undertaking interventions aimed at promoting commercial justice, which essentially deals with how the rule of law regulates economic activity, defines and affirms rights and obligations, as well as clarifies to investors the laws and institutional environment for doing business.

Despite Covid19 disruptions, JLOS sector players supported the development and implementation of laws and regulations meant to support businesses, reduce poverty and promote inclusive growth in the country.

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In line with its mandate of supporting reformation, updating and enforcing commercial laws, as well as harmonization and domestication of regional and international laws, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MoJCA), one of the JLOS institutions, worked on a number of laws. Working with the First Parliamentary Counsel (FPC), who works with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to support several pieces of legislation, MoJCA published a total of 11 Acts and four of 11 JLOS priority bills, all intended to boost competitiveness in the business environment. These include: the Markets Bill 2021, and the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2020.

Furthermore, JLOS published a number of Acts in new and emerging areas of commercial justice. These were: the Sugar Act, 2020, the Biofuels Act, 2020, the National Payment Systems Act, 2020, the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act, 2020, the Value Added Tax (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 2020, the Income Tax (Amendment) Act, 2020, the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act, 2020, the Tax Procedures Code (Amendment) Act, 2020, and the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Act, 2020, the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Act, 2020, as well as the Labour Disputes (Arbitration and Settlement) (Amendment) Act, 2021.

Priority Bills published include: the Tax Procedures Code (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Tax Appeals Tribunal (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the External Trade (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

In the area of business formalization, a report for the amendment of the Business Name Registration Act, 1918 was prepared and submitted to the FPC to enable the provision for electronic registration and eliminate discriminatory provisions in respect of region and nationality. This was based on the realization that certain provisions of this law were discriminatory and inconsistent with values on non-discrimination and also affect the business environment.

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In addition, Uganda registration Services Bureau (URSB) teamed up with Uganda Law Reform Council (ULRC) and MoJCA to prepare principles for the Amendment of the Insolvency Act. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs then advised that the proposed reforms be presented as commercial sector law reforms. MoJCA also recommended that the principles for the amendments of the Companies Act and Registration of Business Names Act should be developed and consolidated. URSB also submitted Cross Border Insolvency Rules before the Rules Committee for approval. The Ministry is now in the process of consolidating the principles of all the three commercial sector laws.

In the same year of reporting, JLOS entities also worked tirelessly to ensure that access to commercial laws is enhanced. Despite making all enacted commercial laws accessible online and the regular updating court decisions of record on the Uganda on line law library (ulli), access to these pieces of legislation “still largely remains an elitist and middle to upper class outcome area,” but the sector players say they are working to ensure that these are simplified and translated into several languages.

So far, the Tax Appeals Tribunal (TAT) has been supported to compile The Law Digest and to publish it online. TAT has been compiling cases decided in the courts of law in a collection, which reports are very key for tax consultants and academicians. In the 2020-21 period, TAT prepared the second law report and submitted it to the Law Development Center for editing and publishing. The tribunal hopes to publish two collections in the current financial year.

The sector further simplified some of the rules and procedures regarding commercial justice. Some of these included the Small claims Procedure, which became operational in 2011, and has so far registered commendable success in as far as efforts geared towards reduction of cases backlog and satisfaction of court users in dispute resolution are concerned. The review of the rules governing this procedure was meant to deal with challenges such as those encountered in the execution of court orders,  as well as those concerning manipulation of the rules and reopening of cases by judicial review.

Furthermore, as part of its plan for an efficient and robust system for securities and movable properties, in line with the enactment of the Security Interest in Movable Property Act, 2019, and its regulations, URSB printed 20,000 brochures on SIMPO as well as 1,100 copies of the Act in the 2020-21 Financial Year.

The Registrar of Trademarks also created the URSB Journal to enable the publication of applications and other trademark-related information. To be published weekly in English and exclusively in electronic format in line with URSB’s agenda of digitization, the URSB Journal will be accessible on the URSB Website (www.ursb.go.ug/ursbjournal). It will also provide a statutory gazette option for trademark applications at a subsidized cost, a move expected to significantly increase and ensure the completion of applications.

Regarding enforcement of- and compliance with- commercial laws, URSB developed and submitted guidelines for streamlining enforcement operations within Kampala Metropolitan Area to Police Chief IGP Martins Okoth Ochola for consideration and approval. The Bureau also carried out compliance inspection visits in Mbale and Kasese regions to ascertain whether the laws and standard operating procedures were being adhered to. The URSB enforcement unit also carried out operations in Nateete and Nkrumah Road. Here, the team apprehended copyright infringers, some of whom were selling products with infringed trademarks while others were caught making counterfeit products. URSB kept the confiscated items at its headquarters as the suspects are arraigned before court.

In the area of harmonization and domestication of appropriate commercial laws and regulations, JLOS has registered great strides in recent years. For example, in the FY 2019-20, the sector worked on the  Cross-Border Insolvency Practice Rules, the Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, the Ratification of the WIPO Copyright Treaties, and the Ratification of the Swakopmund Protocol. But the sector reported that in the FY 2020-21, efforts to harmonize and domesticate laws  were hugely affected by Covid19 travel restrictions that made it impossible for Ugandan representatives to  fly abroad to attend regional cooperation meetings to consider regional and global laws.

But Covid19 and its negative effects aside, it is clear that JLOS institutions are doing a lot in as far as promoting commercial justice is concerned. From the development of relevant laws and regulations to their simplification and enforcement, institutions in the sector have great interest in seeing ease for businesses as well as promoting economic growth. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us atmulengera2040@gmail.com).

 

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