There is no law that allows a parliamentary committee to discipline legislators for their conduct outside the precincts of the House.
This is part of the arguments raised by the lawyers of Francis Zaake, the embattled Mityana municipality member of parliament in their submission to the Rules, Privileges and Discipline committee that is investigating him for alleged misconduct and use of unparliamentary language against the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among.
The March 1, 2022 submission, signed by Eron Kiiza and Benjamin Katana, was sent to the Rules, Privileges and Discipline committee Chairperson, Abdu Katuntu.
The committee started the probe on the directives of the deputy speaker following a complaint of misconduct raised by the Bardege-Layibi Division MP, Martin Ojara Mapenduzi on the floor of parliament and proposed to move a motion for Zaake’s removal from the parliamentary commission, the top most organ of the House.
He noted that Zaake’s outburst on social media about the deputy speaker was in breach of the code of conduct for a Member of Parliament particularly a requirement to conduct themselves in a manner, which will maintain and strengthen the public trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament.
“…last week, the nation woke up to a rant by a Member of this House, a Commissioner of Parliament, the honorable Zaake Francis through his known social media handles where he insulted the integrity of this House and above all, the integrity of the Office of the Speaker,” Mapenduzi said in relation to a tweet on Zaake’s social media handle.
He explained that Zaake’s conduct is likely to bring the House into disrepute.
Zaake appeared before the Rules Committee together with his lawyers Eron Kiiza and Benjamin Katana on Monday and challenged the jurisdiction of the committee to investigate matters outside the precincts of parliament.
As a result, the committee gave his lawyers up to Tuesday to make submissions in regard to their objections.
“The Rules of this committee spring from Article 94 (1) of the Constitution enjoining Parliament to frame rules to “regulate its own procedure, including the procedure of its committees.” The article is appropriately titled “Rules of Procedure in Parliament.” It is not Rules of Procedure outside Parliament,” reads part of the objection by lawyers.
The lawyers add that Jurisdiction is a creature of a statute and it must be expressly stated before it is assumed.
They add that civil and criminal remedies exist for dealing with real, perceived or suspected social media incents or offensive rhetoric and it is not the work of the Rules committee.
“What crimes, civil wrongs, disparaging remarks, unethical conduct against the Deputy Speaker or Members of Parliament committed outside Parliament are matters for such institutions as Police, Courts or other non-parliamentary related organs are empowered to handle,” the lawyers further argue.
They say that it would be careless for the committee to be guided to handle, for instance, a matter where a Member of Parliament grabs the spouse of the Speaker or Commissioner of Parliament, or for a Member of Parliament to be brought before the committee for unhealthy remarks about parliament at burial ceremonies.
“Things or remarks, however annoying to the Speaker of Parliament or another leader in this House, that happens outside this House or its precincts, including on social media should be handled there- outside the House and outside this committee,” further reads the submission.
According to lawyers, supreme law demands that only impartial tribunals dispense judicial or quasi-judicial functions and that people who appear before the Rules Committee are entitled to the reality and climate of independence and impartiality guaranteed by Articles 28 (1), 42 and 44(c) of the Constitution.
“With the Deputy Speaker Rt. Hon. Anita Among as personally and individually interested and concerned in this matter as she confessed before referring the matter to the committee, nothing short of a miracle would see the committee make recommendations adverse to those of the Deputy Speaker,” they submit.
Article 28 of the Constitution provides that in the determination of civil rights and obligations or any criminal charge, a person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law.
On the other hand, Article 42 provides that any person appearing before any administrative official or body has a right to be treated justly and fairly.
“The Deputy Speaker made it clear, before giving the committee an ultimatum of two weeks, that the matter the committee is handling personally concerns her. She even said that if the Speaker was not indisposed, she would have stepped aside. The Deputy knew very well that she was referring a personal, individual grievance to the committee in a grotesque abuse of office,” Kiiza argued.
He accuses Among of settling a personal score using parliament’s committee yet she is the boss of the committee that reports to her.
“It is handling a matter in, which she is playing the victim after mocking a torture victim,” Kizza adds.
The lawyers say that no justice can emanate from the committee because both bias, partiality and lack of independence on one hand and lack of jurisdiction on the other, delude the committee of the jurisdiction to handle the matters the Deputy Speaker referred to the committee.
Zaake and his lawyers are expected to appear before the committee today to physically present their objection and receive a ruling from the probe chairperson, Abdu Katuntu.