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Agriculture minister usurped board powers - court

By Charles Etukuri

Added 18th August 2020 08:57 PM

Agriculture minister usurped board powers - court

Minister of agricultural, animal industry and fisheries Vincent Ssempijja during a media briefing on the control of fall army worm in Uganda at the Uganda Media Center in Kampala on April 10, 2017. Photo by Tony Rujuta

The High Court has ruled that the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja did not have powers to renew the contract for the Technical Manager, Production Dr. Wilberforce Wandera Kifudde.

High Court Judge Musa Ssekana in his ruling described the Ministers actions and illegal, null and void. He also ruled that National Animal Genetic Resources Center and Data Bank (NAGRC & DB) and its Executive Director Dr. Charles Lagu were acting within their powers to advertise for applications to fill the position of Technical Manager Production purportedly held Kifudde.

"Where a statute creates different authorities to exercise their functions thereunder, each of such authority must exercise the functions within the four corners of the statute. A statutory authority must be permitted to perform its statutory functions in respect whereof even any higher authority cannot issue any direction," Ssekana ruled.

The Judge noted that Parliament cannot be supposed to have intended that the power should be open to serious abuse by the Minister of Agriculture. "It must have assumed that the designated authority would act properly and responsibly, with a view to doing what was best in the public interest and most consistent with the policy of the statute to always ensure that the Board is fully constituted. It is from this presumption that the courts take their warrant to impose legal bounds on even the most extensive discretion and power," Ssekana said.

The ruling in effect brings to end an acrimonious attempt by Dr. Kifudde to remain in office after his contract had expired but was controversially renewed by Ssempijja.

Dr. Kifudde dragged the NAGRC&DB, Lagu and the Attorney General to court challenging advertisement of his job. Dr. Kifudde argued that, his position is not vacant since the Minister of Agriculture in absence of the Board had renewed his contract until November 2022. Kifudde also argued that during the time when the term of the Board had expired core functions of the Board reverted to the Minister of Agriculture as the appointing Authority of the Board.

Kifudde's contract expired on November 1 2019 and the Minister purported to extend it on November 3 2019 for three more years till November 2nd 2022 but yet section 24 of the Animal Breeding Act states that the Board shall appoint other employees to facilitate the proper running of the Centre under the terms and conditions of the Board.

Dr. Lagu in his Defence noted that Minister of Agriculture had no powers to appoint other employees and no amount of justification can be applied to circumvent and usurp the powers of the Board which is not possible under the Act. Therefore the contract was illegal and void ab initio and the NAGRC&DB does not recognise it and it could only be recognized by the board.

Justice Ssekana noted that the question for his court to determine was between the Minister of Agriculture and the Board who is vested with the powers to fill the vacant position of Technical Manager Production.

While resolving this question, the Judge noted that, "the powers of the two players have been clearly demarcated under the Act and no party should overlap the other in execution of their mandate as given by Parliament. The Minister's powers are confined to appointment of the board and the same should never be exercised directly without the board. This implies that at any one time the Board must be fully constituted and made operational."

The judge also noted that the law does not envisage what the Minister of Agriculture did and this would amount to an administrative coup de'tat for the Minister to refuse to appoint the Board so that he can directly get involved in the day to day management of the Centre or appointment of staff.

 

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