Court Permits Parliamentary Appointments Committee to Vet Presidential nominees

Gavel. PHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK

Kampala, Uganda | THE BLACK EXAMINER | The Constitutional Court has upheld the practice of conducting closed-door vetting of presidential nominees by the Appointments Committee of Parliament. The court ruled unanimously in favor of this process, asserting that it does not compromise transparency and accountability.

This decision was reached by a panel of five Constitutional Court Justices, including Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, Catherine Bamugemereire, Muzamiru Mutangula Kibeedi, Irene Mulyagonja, and Monica Mugenyi.

The case stemmed from a 2015 petition filed by the non-profit organization Legal Brains Trust, along with journalists Simon Kaggwa Njala and Sulaiman Kakaire, against the Attorney General. The petition sought to interpret rule 153(2) of the Procedure of Parliament 2012, which stipulates that the proceedings of the Appointments Committee of Parliament should be conducted behind closed doors.

The petitioners argued that this rule contradicted constitutional provisions that emphasize the promotion of transparency and accountability by providing the public with timely, accessible, and accurate information. They contended that by not ensuring that the Appointments Committee’s proceedings were generally open to the public and the press, the rule was incompatible with a free and democratic society.

They stated, “The impugned rule conceals the process through which high-ranking public officials are sought, vetted, and approved, and thus disempowers the public from effectively knowing about, scrutinizing, and participating in the appointment of individuals who will make decisions affecting their rights.”

The petitioners requested the Court to declare the parliamentary rule inconsistent with the constitution and to order Parliament to provide them with access to all audio, video, and audio-visual recordings of the Appointments Committee’s proceedings conducted since the implementation of the disputed rule. They also asked the Court to issue a permanent injunction preventing Parliament from enforcing the rule or similar regulations that excessively conceal the committee’s proceedings.

In response, the Attorney General, represented by State Attorney Claire Kukunda, urged the Court to dismiss the petition, arguing that the rule was established in accordance with the constitution to safeguard the privacy rights of the nominees.

In their judgment, the Justices agreed with the government’s position, emphasizing that unrestricted sharing of personal information could lead to a variety of consequences and dangers for individuals, including reputational damage, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, identity theft or fraud, financial loss, physical harm, intimidation, discrimination, and feelings of disempowerment.

Justice Mulyagonja, in her lead judgment, pointed out that information revealed about candidates’ earnings, offices of profit, and qualifications could attract salacious comments from both the press and consumers of news.

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