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Court halts removal of Charles Musekuura as UNBS Chairperson

UNBS Council Chairperson Mr Charles Musekuura

Kampala, (UG): The High Court in Kampala has ordered a temporary injunction halting the suspension of Mr Charles Musekuura as chairperson of the National Standards Council that oversees the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS).

The order was issued by Civil Division Judge, Justice Musa Ssekaana in a ruling delivered on Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

“It is hereby ordered that in the interim, the court stops any implementation or effecting the orders under challenge until the determination of the application for interim on November 1, 2023, at 12:30 pm,” the ruling signed by the judge reads in part.

Subsequently, UNBS’ legal counsel’s office wrote a notice to the Executive Director informing the head of the institution of the order from the High Court of Uganda.

“I am writing to bring to your attention a significant legal development concerning the position of Mr. Charles Musekuura as the Chairperson of the National Standards Council (NSC),” the notice read

According to the legal council, the order from the court effectively halts any actions or orders by the Minister seeking to remove Mr Charles Musekuura from his role as Chairperson of the NSC.

“This Order in effect means Mr Charles Musekuura is to continue holding the office of Chairperson of the National Standards Council until further directives from the Hon. Justice Ssekaana Musa. I have attached the Order for your reference,” the notice stated.

Mr Musekuura had been dismissed by Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives Minister Francis Mwebesa and replaced by Eng James Kalibbala also a council member.

Background

In a letter dated October 11, Minister Mwebesa directed Mr Charles Musekuura to hand office with immediate effect but gave no reason in the sacking letter for his decision which he said was in the exercise of powers of a minister granted to him by the Constitution, whose applicable provision(s) he did not cite.

UNBS is domiciled under the Trade minister, making the line minister, in this case, Mr. Mwebesa, the political overseer and appointing authority of members and chairperson of the National Standards Council.

However, in light of his abrupt sacking, Mr Musekuura challenged his sacking from office, describing the action against him as illegal.

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“The UNBS Act only provides for the position of chairperson and envisages that the chairperson cannot be dismissed; so, it didn’t cater for an acting chairperson. By him (minister Mwebesa) asking me to hand over [to Eng Kalibbala], I will be handing over to an imposter,” he said.

He added: “I am still studying the letter before deciding what course of action to take next. The good thing is that there will not be a board (Council) meeting in the next two weeks; so, I am not in a hurry to make a decision.”

Mr Musekuura argued that a chairperson of a Council of a statutory regulator cannot be fired abruptly for undisclosed reasons and without a fair hearing as required by the rules of natural justice.

“Even shamba boy (gardener) would be told why he is being fired. A board chairperson is a very important position and you cannot just wake up and fire him or her without giving the person a reason and without a fair hearing. There are procedures for hiring and firing,” he said.

He added: “[The minister is] saying the Constitution has given him power, but doesn’t state the article, he is saying my contract is terminated forthwith but does not give the reason, where is the natural justice if the termination is true?”

Early in the month, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Ms. Beti Kamya warned Minister Mwebesa to remove his nose from the ongoing procurement process for the provision of Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVOC) services, a project under UNBS.

In a letter dated October 6, 2023, the IGG indicated she had learnt that Minister Mwebesa was exerting his undue influence on the members of the Contracts and Evaluation committees and in the process usurping the powers of the Accounting Officer.

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“The office of the Inspectorate of Government is still investigating the allegations of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives and other related allegations of which are of a grave nature involving interference corruption and malpractice in the procurement process,” the IGG wrote in the letter, directing this is to direct the Minister to desist from interfering in the matter with immediate effect.

Kamya said that the Minister risks criminal charges including abuse of office, influence peddling, corruption, and bribery of public officials, and directed him to let the Accounting officer perform his obligations independently under the law.

“Section 26 of the PPDA Act, No. 1 of 2003 makes the procurement process an overall responsibility of the Accounting Officer of the procuring and disposing entity (UNBS in this case),” the IGG explained, adding that law mandates all procurement to be conducted in a manner that promotes transparency, accountability, and fairness to maximize competition and value for money.

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