MAKERERE – Famed for running probably the best law school in the region, Makerere University doesn’t seem to put theory into practice as alarming heavy court defeats this week brought Uganda’s premier academic institution into the spotlight.
The university will pay at least UGX. 500 million in court awards including heavy damages after the High Court in Kampala found it’s management culpable of handling two staff matters and another student issue in a shabby way.
In the first award, High Court in Kampala ruled that the interdiction of Makerere Deputy Academic Registrar Margaret Etuusa was illegal and ordered the university to pay her up to UGX. 350 million in compensation and damages.
Makerere was also ordered to reinstate Ms. Etuusa in her position, with the court faulting the institution for contempt of lawful orders after it refused to return her to office even when she had secured a court order.
Makerere will also pay more than UGX.120m to Dr. Stella Nyanzi for violating it’s Staff Appeals tribunal by failing to promote, paying and reinstating her on the job as the Staff Appeals Tribunal had previously ordered.
The High Court Civil Division Judge Lydia Mugambe ordered Makerere to compensate the renowned researcher, promote her to the rank of Senior Research Fellow, pay all her salary emoluments and then reinstate her on job.
In the third case, a Ph.D. student, Yusuf Sserunkuma was awarded UGX.25m after the court found Makerere University of illogical alteration of a student’s Ph.D. supervisory committee with some major changes coming in after the second draft of his dissertation.
The High Court also ordered Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Makerere Institute of Social Research-MISR to refrain from the administration, supervision, and examination of his doctoral thesis.
In all the awards, the Court has condemned the Makerere management under Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe to the penalty of about UGX. 500M, with most of them stemming from violating its Staff Appeals Tribunal decision.
The court noted: “It is, therefore, wrong for the respondent (Makerere University), which set up the Appeals Tribunal for this purpose to be the one that disregards or circumvents the Tribunal’s decisions. The respondent has an overarching duty to implement the decisions of its Staff Appeals Tribunal,” ruled justice Mugambe.
Adding: “It is not within its powers to cherry-pick which ones it implements and which ones it circumvents. The respondent officers who overtly or covertly refused to implement the tribunal decisions were in contempt. Issue one is, therefore, resolved in the affirmative and the applicant (Dr Nyanzi) is entitled to remedies. The applicant is awarded general damages of UGX.120m.”
Commentators say this is an iceberg of grave mismanagement and misconduct by the leadership of VC Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe and his administration.
City lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde who has been so much involved in Makerere legal battles says administrative cancer at the university is alarming.
“The court has observed a long-standing culture of contempt of court that is why [Makerere Deputy Academic Registrar Margaret] Etuusa was given all the money [UGX. 150M], just because they [University] did their own things, the court had told them to stop,” Ssemakadde said.
He claims that many staff are suffering in silence because it’s not everybody can afford the cost of litigation.
“These are not the most representative cases, grave things have been happening for the period that nears four years now,” he said citing the cases of Erias Nuwagaba the former personal assistant to the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Stella Nyanzi’s case among others.
He said all these people were reinstated by the tribunal but the Nawangwe administration acted against the tribunal.
“In most of these things that vice-chancellor acts with impunity, he can’t sit down to negotiate with his colleagues, he thinks that by becoming a vice-chancellor, it gives him authority to do harm to others,” he added, accusing the vice of using his administrative powers to do harm.
Ssemakadde also links Mr. Bruce Balaba Kabaasa, the former Chairperson of the Appointments Board for having fabricated many of the cases against staff members.
On April 16, 2019, the Staff Appeals Tribunal headed by Mr. George Omunyokol made pronouncements on more than 11 cases that found the university Appointments Board at fault.
In the cases, for instance, the Tribunal found that Mr. Nuwagaba was dismissed without any fair hearing and ordered for his reinstatement, payment of his salary benefits arrears arising out of his dismissal since May 2018.
The tribunal had also ordered that he continues occupying the university house until the matter is disposed of.
Mr. Ssemakadde contends that none of the orders by the tribunal have been respected.
He says university managers at Makerere are showing a bad example to the young people who aspire to live in a society that respects the rule of law and good governance.